I began life as a teacher and, at a function a few weeks back hosted by a friend, a guest – one of those “new money” types – asked me, “What do teachers make?”
I was about to launch into a tirade about equating money with inspiring the next generation of innovators and leaders, people who will go on to shape all our tomorrows, but then I recalled a TED Talk a few years ago hosted by a Brooklyn-based teacher, Taylor Mali.
It turns out that when a similar question was posed by a lawyer friend, Mali deflected the obvious by explaining light-heartedly that he can, among others, make a C+ test result feel like the learner has just reached Everest, and an A- result feel like a slap on the face!
Although Mali’s response was clearly tongue in cheek, the reality is that for people like Mali and, indeed, thousands of my colleagues throughout this country of ours, choosing to teach as a career was never “to make” money.
Yes, there are probably thousands of people with teaching qualifications who are now CEOs, professionals and successful entrepreneurs. And, yes, like many young teachers, I also used my teaching qualification to travel and work overseas. However, in my case, I taught as I travelled in order to explore, to learn and to grow. Most importantly, though, I connected during my travels with like-minded people who are also intent on making a difference.
South Africa is my home and I chose to teach as it’s the only way I knew how to make a sustainable and meaningful contribution to our society. These days, though, I no longer work in a classroom but at a specialist institute that trains some of the best teachers in our amazing country.
So, what do I make?
Same as before.
I “make” impressionable minds question, collaborate and problem-solve. I help sow the seeds that will one day flower into a set of skills requisite for jobs that have yet to be invented. And, finally, I do what I do because I firmly believe that what I do will have, as chaos theorists argue, a “butterfly effect” that will be felt by generations of South Africans to come.
In a society where millions of children live in rural areas while their parents try their level best to provide for them by working menial jobs hundreds of kilometres away in our urban surrounds, the teacher becomes, to use the Latin phrase, in loco parentis (the adult that becomes responsible for the child). This means that the teacher becomes the role model, not a role model.
Role models don’t only lead by example, their very presence inspire life journeys, motivate generations and empower tomorrow.
A recent informal survey conducted among first-year student teachers across the Embury Institute for Higher Education’s campuses in Durban, Pretoria and Midrand revealed that millennials, i.e. students in the age category who are preparing for the National Senior Certificate examinations as we speak, want more than just qualifications that lead to jobs. Cliché as it may sound, the survey indicates that there seems to be a very real desire among this generation to, in want of a better phrase, change the world.
Teaching is no longer about delivering content and assessing students’ ability to recall chunks of information; it is ultimately about shaping the world’s future through the help and support of people who are trained to care: people like Mali who are dedicated, compassionate and for whom integrity is everything.
So, what do teachers really make?