“It feels like this is the day my Lord God the creator has made just for me,” said Priscilla Maluleke on receiving the prize for the Most Amazing teacher of the Year 2013 in the Limpopo village of Marulaneng on Friday 24 January. PEP launched the competition in 2012 to help find and acknowledge the many South African teachers who are doing good work and who are doing something amazing – over and above their responsibility as a teacher. In 2013 Mrs. Maluleke was nominated by a Grade 7 learner, Trevor Chauke, for being a mother to him when his world started to fall apart. Of the ten finalists nominated for the competition and profiled on e.tv, Ms Maluleke received over 70 000 public votes. The selection committee felt that she most embodied what an amazing teacher should be.
Trevor Chauke, a Grade 7 learner at Leubaneng Primary School, was one of many that wrote to PEP. He writes of his teacher: “She stood by my side during the time that my mother was sick until she passed away. My granny was also sick and I had to do everything for her and the three children of my mother. I was confused and sad but my teacher came in and helped me amazingly.” When Trevor’s mother was sick – and later died – it was his teacher who stepped in to support. She visited the family home every day, helping with cleaning, cooking and supervising children. She helped the mother work out her regime of medication and bought her a watch so that the medicines could be taken at the right time. She took on as many adult responsibilities as she could – so that these could be spared from the shoulders of Trevor, the eldest child – at least for a period of time. When Trevor’s grandmother fell ill and died shortly after, his teacher again stepped in to run the household. Mrs. Maluleke runs a programme at the school to help orphans and vulnerable children – and there are many in this community. She works from a small and sparsely stocked room every afternoon after school doing simple things with the children that a mother would do – sewing torn jerseys, polishing shoes, washing and ironing clothes. She raised funds for a small boxes of toys, clothes and books and along with the domestic chores that she helps with, she also reads to the children and supervises educational play. For a primary school child heading a household, this space allows him to be a child for a short time thanks to these simple acts of nurturing from someone who cares. In the words of PEP Marketing Director Nobesuthu Tom, “every mother gives back to a child for another mother.” In a school with many orphans, this teacher is a mother to many.
What struck me on Friday was the significance of this event in a small rural community that receives little press and little attention. It was a celebration as joyous as a wedding. Driving from Johannesburg, we were welcomed by a procession of cars on the side of the road and a crowd of people singing and dancing with Mrs. Maluleke looking splendid in an orange dress made especially for the occasion. After our rental car was decorated with ribbons and balloons, we joined the procession through the village, with Mrs. Maluleke and Trevor leading in a green Peugeot convertible – royalty for a day. The school was packed. All the local Ndunas were represented as well as several pastors and politicians, community groups sat together in matching colours and the owner of a local funeral business sponsored the tents and provided his vehicles for the procession. There was music, choirs, traditional dancing, food, speeches and a general air of exuberant celebration. I felt blessed that along with my colleagues from PEP, I could share in such a day as part of the work we do at Social Innovations
lead the procession to meet the crowd at the formal event.
The community was flooded with resources on that day. The school received an intensive intervention to boost literacy and numeracy in the intermediate phase, the winning teacher received R15 000, Trevor received PEP vouchers to the value of R5000. But I truly got a sense that more valuable than all of this was the fact that the quiet and dedicated work of this amazing teacher was being recognised and acknowledged. And her achievement was the achievement of the village.
Teachers receive a lot of bad press
in South Africa. They are seen as an obstacle, rather than as a solution to solving the educational challenges that we face. But I believe that there are many amazing teachers out there in the schools, villages and towns that are far from the spotlight of media and political attention. Their stories need to be told. Not only is Mrs. Maluleke teaching her classes their ABCs; she is
teaching them about compassion. Trevor and his peers are growing up with the imagery of what it means to care. In a country plagued with violence and uncaring, that can only be a good thing.