A Day in the Life of a Teacher

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK It is almost as if you have to pay attention to each and every one, run up and down and even sweat a bit. In most cases, you have to be very fit and wear a welcoming smile. If you thought we were talking about an athlete here, think again. This is more or less a day in the life of a Grade 1 teacher. Before the school bell rings at half past seven in the morning, Hannelie Saunderson, a long-time teacher at the Elim Primary School in Khomasdal, is waiting at the door for the new arrivals of 41 children in Grade 1C. Most of the little ones are frantic and nervous on their first day as they run around making a lot of noise in the playground on their first day of school As a mother of two boys herself, Saunderson has the motherly instinct, skills and patience to attract these children’s attention in a short moment. “Come on children, get together now, please stand in one straight line,” she would say loudly in a fir but friendly voice. Having been a teacher in lower primary education for the past 26 years, getting such a large classroom of new children together comes as second nature to this experienced woman. “I treat them like my own. You have to be like a mother to them and, being a mother myself, this comes quite naturally for me. When they look at you with their innocent eyes, you can see how they watch every single hand movement you make and how you talk. They practically hang onto your lips,” explained 47-year-old Saunderson, sitting comfortably in the staff room chair during break time. Usually, the first day at school for most of the little ones is a scary experience. Some cry profusely for their parents, others sit idle in corners, while some just run around making a noise and play with each other. But what is it that Saunderson has been doing all these years to discipline these learners. “I just talk with them as a parent and they know if I raise my voice a little bit, they will respect me as their teacher. In the beginning, I hug them and make them feel comfortable,” she said. As soon as the parents leave them behind, she engages them into active oral work like singing, teaching them the Our Father prayer or even Bible stories, which they love so much. After welcoming the learners, she gives a “Theme for the Week,” like, for example, on personal hygiene or my family tree. “Being a teacher and playing a guardian role for these kids takes a lot of energy but, at the same time, it is gratifying to see how they grow and progress in class when you teach. You have to determine whether the child is shy or is free-spirited and eager to ask questions. In that way, you can tell what kind of attention to give each one,” said Saunderson. Yet, with each of three Grade 1 classes accommodating over 40 learners at Elim Primary School, how do the teachers cope? Principal of the school, Ursula Damens, says that although the classrooms may be overcrowded, quality teaching is the key principle at all times. “We have worked out a good strategy to cope with this situation. Teachers must in fact equip themselves in order to cope with a big class like having small group work, dividing the learners into smaller groups and giving each one the attention he or she requires,” explained Damens. Nowadays, most children are not disciplined and there has to be a great deal of effort on the part of teachers to handle them. Saunderson is of the opinion that times have changed with regard to discipline, as children are noisier and harder to manage. “There is time for children to play and time for work in class,” she said that day whilst teaching her class the alphabet. She says to avoid noise that comes especially from small children, one has to keep them busy in a productive way. Common experiences for some children on their first day at school is that some could relieve themselves while sitting in class, being too shy to ask for the toilet. “Some are so shy that they wet themselves,” says Saunderson, adding that she always gives them a helping hand by showing them already on day one where the toilets are on the school premises. Sometimes, parents bribe their children with little special treats in their lunchboxes to lure them to school. However, Principal Damens discourages this move, saying that bribery is not a good thing, because education is a lifelong learning process. “Parents should instead prepare their children at home before bringing them to school, just by talking to them,” she added. Parents are also advised to be supportive of the children’s education, by getting to know the teacher and becoming more involved in the school’s fundraising activities. Back to Saunderson, having been a primary school teacher for almost her whole life, she still has a lot of energy left to deal with the little ones running around and making a noise in class. So, her advice to new Grade 1 teachers this year is: “You must have a lot of energy and be very fit, because Grade 1 learners are hyperactive!”