Where have all the good teachers gone?

– Teaching starts and ends with “good teachers” –

Distinguished dignatories manifested in the present Public Education Officials, Leaders of the extended community, the Principals and educators present. The founder of Edu- Build, the lecturers, our candidates for graduation today, and family members in attendance, I greet you once again this year in the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour, resurrected Lord and imminent returning King. Upon being asked to deliver the keynote again this year,  I asked the organisers if there was no one else or if they received any money from my address of last year that they felt obliged to call me back again. If any money has come, I shall be forced to get my tithe from such.

Gladys Knight an icon in her own right as a means to introducing the famous Boyz To Men hit song  “End of the road” decries the departure of true rhythm and blues music and its legends,  Mrs. Knight says “Ooh, I wane go back to a time when the music touched your heart and your soul and your mind and your body! I wane go back to a time when music made ya feel like falling in love!

One day, I was driving down the express way and this song came on the radio – I had to pull over to the side and stop coz I felt like just getting out and saying OH THEY FINALLY FOUND THE MESSAGE, THE FINALLY FOUND THE MAGIC! I wanted to tell them THANK YOU! Thank you Boyz to Men for telling this one more time :

Gladys Knight  in a paraphrased sense ask where a Nat King Cole, Marvin Gaye, the Spinners and Teddy Pendergrass have gone in her cry for a revival  of R & B soul stirring, she really laments the bankrupt state of music exemplified in remixing and hip hop genres of bootilious giratic bling- bling music dictate, which pretty much has defined the canvas of our music in 21st century embrace.

Knight upon hearing the words and lyrics of END OF THE ROAD exclaimed “they finally found it”.

I have given our address for today a title named “Where have all the good teachers gone” No different to what Gladys Knight asks in the preamble of the Boyz To Men hit “End of the Road”.

As we celebrate 17 years of democracy it has become imperative to ask the critical question what is the state of our education in such democratic embrace? For me this question as convoluted as some may make it out warrants an honest response. I think perhaps that question is best understood in asking my subject for today “ where have all the good educators gone’

In SA today according to those who know we have a pre-tertiary system that inculcates 13 million learners, 390000 teachers (educators) and more than 27000 schools. Our annual expenditure on the part of our fiscus for education constitutes a growing 20% with a steadily growth from R140billion in 2008/9 to a planned R165 billion in 2010/11. Professor Jonathan Jansen the Vice Chancellor of the Free State University is on record to assert, “no African country spends as much as 5.4% of public expenditure, as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) on education”

It is further argued that the no-fee schools now constitute over 64% of South African Schools in which, theoretically, learners do not pay for their education.  In 2009 alone R5,6 million was spent on 18000 schools to feed children.  Jansen states that in Higher education; a small system of 23 Universities, spending jumped form R7, 1 billion in 2001/2 to R15.3billion in 2008/2009 and is expected to stand at R21.3 billion in 2011/12. Stating these here is to make the case our education is not troubled by  a money problem, for our existing budget would be the dream of any developing nation.  We have established that we have no money shortage and our fiscus is very liberal towards education.  Yet we have the same pathetic results, where than can the problems lie ?

In his chapter South Africa’s Education System in the book ADVOCATES for CHANGE as edited by Moeletsi Mbeki, Professor Jansen identifies 5 major problems that beset our education system. I shall briefly raise them to congregate my challenge on the axis of “where have all the good teachers gone”

He identifies 5 critical challenges, whilst there could be more these for me hamper productive education system, not only  does he identify these as  the  problem areas but he equally advances for these to be the solution for the current crises.


I shall resist the temptation to say anything on the four due to the brevity of our time and the vastness of such subject field.  Suffice to say I concur with Professor Jansen and consider this his analysis as timeious, informed and speaking to the problem areas of our education system.

Those who know will confirm that Professor Jansen and I share diverse political views as our political postulations and interactions attests, yet I fear no contradiction in acknowledging unequivocally that on the assessment of his problem analysis of our education system we are in sanguine unity and extend him due credit which he rightfully deserves in both academic and praxis embrace.

The first he cites namely a lack of systematic routines and rituals. I shall use as my departure point to give meaning to my postulation “WHERE HAVE ALL THE GOOD TEACHERS GONE” 

Jansen, argues that the majority of schools simply do not enjoy the systematic routines and rituals that account for productive schools anywhere in the world.

It is worth noting that in his books there are only a small percentage of schools in SA exemplified in middle class white or middle class integrated where those routines and rituals have been long established under the old regime of governance in politics and education.

He highlights the following : “These rituals and routines entail schools that start on time and end on time, where teachers and principals are at school every day, where class attendance is monitored and reported, homework is issued regularly and on a planned school -wide basis.

Where regular tests are scheduled and parents informed in advance, feedback on tests and assignments is swift, carrying high informative – value for individual learners over the course of the school year. Where sports and sporting events are held regularly with required attendance for non-participating students, disciplinary codes are enforced and disciplinary cultures are not questioned, teachers carry multiple tasks of which teaching is only one. Where regular reports go to school governing bodies receive regular results on school and learner performance. Where absence from school is a serious matter and dutifully recorded and explained by the absentee learner. Where individual care is balanced with individual discipline.

Where Schedules are set long in advance and errant teachers and learners are promptly confronted about their behaviour. These schools have carefully planned budget, and fundraising from outside regularly undertaken. School grounds are clean and broken facilities are quickly repaired. Security is tight, awards feature prominently in the annual school calendar and a culture of achievement  – from academics to sports to the arts  – is instilled in every classroom”

Reading Professor Jansen I could not but say that was school the way I grew up.

The critical component for me in this analysis resonates in the imperative nature and central role of the teacher.

Our current system informed by an overstated role of organized labour is not geared towards the production of decent, competitive, rewarding education outcomes.  The prevailing situation of our education manifested in a lack of these routines and rituals argues for a departure or evaporation of educators the way we have come to know.

Yes, I was raised in apartheid education, where education was informed by a draconian system of race defined definition yet as a product of such evil system classified as Coloured Education, notwithstanding the lack of what we had as infrastructure at both Crystal High, Hanover Park (where my dad was teacher too) and later Woodlands High School in Mitchell’s Plain we had a culture of order, the same Jansen is arguing for in his routines and rituals contention.

If we fail today it is not because of a lack of resources nor is it as result of lack of Government sensitivity manifested in political commitment it is squarely a lack of an ethic of “good teachers” that have left, we do not know why and to where?

Our 2011 Matric examination was almost scuppered by teachers in the Eastern Cape who on the eve of our final exams threatened to go on strike over their desire for someone to be fired.

We live in a society where in my book there are one too many people in the education system that lacks a coherent understanding, a congruent commitment and passionate resolve to teach. I am not sure why we have so many teachers today whom I will deem ‘cheque-teachers” who simply show up at work to get paid.

In the USA and the UK no different to RSA teachers do not make great salaries, the excuse of salary therefore does not hold. What we lack with our modern teachers in which an ethic of the least for the most is advanced is a sense of will to be teachers in the most practical of meanings.

Teaching I have held has little to do with the glorified pedagogics, it  has little to do with being learned but it has to do with a will a sense of calling a vocation informed by a legacy in which one seeks to take pride at the final product of your tutelage.

Such conviction will motivate one to go to the highest level of education, prove the best in pedagogic definition and aspire to be a guru in ones subject field, yet stay in close proximity to the students one serve.

If we ask today where have all the good teachers gone, it is not to argue there are none left, for those who remained must be celebrated and Edu- Build as a institution from inception seeks to feed the first level of education namely the early childhood development system with what I choose to call “ the good old teacher ethic”.

If we ask today where have all the good teachers gone, it is a cry like that of Gladys Knight when she asks where are the real achievers who invoked a sense of reverence and discipline?

Where are those who tolerated no excuses from scholars or fellow teachers? Where are the principals who instilled a sense of dignity and holy fear, who knew how to run and manage the school as a learning centre, in which teachers were read the riot act and were held accountable in every aspect of what constitutes teaching as a profession.

Where are the inspectors of yesteryear who would show up unannounced and observed the school schedules, in praxis and theory? I remember clearly how both my parents would go to school with that knowledge as a reality hence their love for teaching and their excelling as educators.

In a season where SADTU (South African Democratic Teachers Union) has advocated a doing away with the need for such inspector- based education because the least accountability SADTU members want the least they get.

SADTU has as late as two days ago rejected the notion and intent to link the salaries of teachers with their performance. It is clear that organized labour is not serious about performance or productivity, they want to keep us immured by their politicization of our education in which they wish to dictate the meridian of or what constitutes education in which over 20% of our fiscus is spent on the rightful need for education yet the results prove a gross disparity.

When we say today where have all the good teachers gone is to ask, teachers to teach again, to let our children count and to prioritise our children’s future and desist replacing such for a shortsighted or myopic self-centred interest.  Teachers must condemn the politicizing of our education in a democratic context for teachers must teach.  Teachers must shoulder responsibility for our pathetic pass rates at all levels where 30 % has become our 100%.

What  makes us so different to an India where the acceptance rate at University level is 100% and we play around 30% as a standard?  The president  of SA, J. G Zuma in perhaps the first historic gathering of principals in Durban in 2009/2010 pleaded the fact that teaching as a 6 hour activity is in most public schools a piped-dream, for the average teaching hours are as low as 2,5 hours a day. The question becomes, if our students only have access to 2,5 hours a day at whose hand is this taking place?

In conclusion we have come to celebrate these 40 graduates today, because we are convince they will help us exclaim like a Gladys Knight they finally found it, they finally found it … for Teachers have found their love for teaching and is willing to underwrite what Jansen calls the basis routines and rituals that lends itself to productive education system where the outcomes are not a guess but a formality for the ethic of and subcultures of work proves prevalent at all turns,

If I may quote myself  from my most recent book “Through the prism of my soul” “With this hope we must echo into the abyss of indifference until our echo becomes a channel through which we can pull ourselves out. With this conviction we must ask ever so loudly where have all the good teachers gone, for we are in dire need of a tomorrow. With such determination we must see the break of dawn until we are all free from the enslavement of hypocritical irresponsibility and our children are blessed beyond measure to lead us when we no longer can lead’

Today we say Mayibuye (return) all good Teachers, Mayibuye those who love our children, Mayibuye all teachers who want to teach and please quit all those  who cannot stomach the discipline and demands of teaching in its rudimentary context.

I hope that such will be the role and intent in theory and praxis of those who are graduating today that they will give us all reason to exclaim in unison as we bellow the words of Gladys Knight “they finally found it, they finally found it….

Thank you for the privilege to share,

Dr. Clyde N. Ramalaine (Author of : Preach A Storm – the Preacher a theology of Preaching) (2011), Through the Prism of My Soul ( Political Commentary Volume) (2011) and Tradewinds are Blowing due in February 2012

Delivered at the 2nd Edu- Build Educators Graduation (November 30, 2011 – Boksburg)


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