My name is Khari-Sma Mashego. I am 26 years old and I live in Dwarsloop, Mpumalanga. I was fortunate enough to be part of the Basic Education Employment Initiative (BEEI) program from 2020 to 2022 (phase one, two and three) and worked as a Teachers’ Assistant (TA) and Reading Champion at the same school (Masana High School) in all the phases. I was studying towards a diploma in teaching English as a foreign language when I applied to become a TA. One, I needed the money to finance my internship because I was planning on leaving the country to teach English in South Korea or Japan as soon as I obtained my diploma. And two, I needed the experience.
I was so excited to be placed in the English department and under the leadership and mentorship of MamNxumalo and Sir Mashile respectively. MamNxumalo has been an English teacher and Head of Department for over thirty-three years. New brooms may sweep clean but it’s the old broom that knows the corners, and I knew that there is no one better qualified to teach me the corners of the English language. Sir Mashile on the other is an incredible academic, with his finger on the pulse of cultural influences on teaching and learning. Working with him has challenged me to broaden my horizons by taking my studies a step further, go to graduate school and master whatever it is that I’m passionate about.
As a TA, my day to day tasks included carrying out administrative work such as typing question papers, photocopying, filing and preparing other supporting teaching material. I also prepared mark sheets and captured marks and assisted with classroom management. There’s quite a few things I enjoyed doing as a TA: I enjoyed proofreading the learner’s essays, talking to them and basically establishing a good rapport with them. This gave me a look into their teenage world-the never-ending struggles of being a teenager. Boy, I felt sixteen again! But I think taking care of the minor details (like printing, distributing paperwork and classroom management) is what I enjoyed doing the most. I discovered that I enjoy keeping and maintaining order. But above all, I enjoy lightening the burden of another. Although it looked like an insignificant task to do, it made a huge difference, allowing the teacher to fully focus on preparing effective lesson plans, thus improving teaching quality and effectiveness. However, these well-prepared lessons didn’t always run as smoothly as one would like as they were often interrupted or sometimes even brought to an abrupt halt by issues such as bullying, poor self-esteem, family affairs, learning disabilities, medical or spiritual emergencies (some learners would suddenly go into a trance) just to mention a few. Granted, identifying these issues is part and parcel of the teacher’s job, however I do not think teachers have the professional capacity to tackle them.
So what is the way forward? I believe the BEEI did support teachers in and outside the classroom to some extent, but the initiative also spotlighted how this help was not enough. One social worker or psychologist or guidance counsellor per district is not enough. Teachers are struggling to meet all of the learners’ needs; they need help. Every school should have at least one resident social worker, psychologist, guidance counsellor and nurse. High enrolment schools will obviously need more than one. However, this will take time and money, in the meantime we need the BEEI to continue, to provide much needed extra hands in the classroom to assist teachers.
As for me, I am joining the drive to remake quality education accessible to all learners, especially those in public schools. I went back to school so that I could gain admission to university and become a teacher myself and later on an educational psychologist. Overall, I am grateful for the rewarding experience this opportunity has afforded me and will forever hold teachers in high regard because the phenomenal work they do.