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Two San Souci Teachers Speak Out Anonymously About Racsim At The School

*The identities of these teachers are known to SA News Blog. We have decided to not disclose their identities in order to protect them from harassment and victmisation.

Cape Town - 4 September 2016

Teacher #1 :

I have debated with myself all day as to whether or not I should mail you, but I believe there are certain things that should be said.

1.       This is definitely not the first time these issues have been raised. About 10 years ago a delegation of about a dozen teachers went to NAPTOSA and raised these issues among others, chiefly bullying. It was prompted by the teachers having been told that Pavlov’s dogs were more intelligent (than the teachers) because they could be trained.

2.       About 5 years ago there was a ‘whole school evaluation’ in the 4th term. Again a group of senior teachers raised these issues – hair, language policy, intimidation, etc – with the team tasked with evaluating the school. The result for these teachers was effective demotion where it was possible and where it was not, the eventual complaint of insubordination which resulted in a disciplinary hearing of the two teachers and insubordination recorded on their files. All of these teachers were made to ‘pay’ for their ‘disloyalty’.

3.       The claim that no teachers challenged these issues but simply carried them out is simply not true. The hair ‘code’ is ridiculous – and it was challenged as such – in a country where many people are affected by HIV/AIDS, rape, discrimination, where some children come to school hungry, etc to be fixated on navy blue – not black – hairbands is ludicrous. I know that does not reflect on the racism inherent in the hair rules, but it is what I remember raising on a number of occasions. The challenges had no effect in changing policies.

4.       To my mind, more insidious is the language policy because it denigrates people’s relevance and importance in society. BUT again, this policy was challenged by certain staff members; and for about a year, the official policy (based on sound educational practice) was that while the Language of Instruction is English, SL learners could be assisted to understand by other learners explaining and discussing the particular matter/interpretation/etc in the mother tongue; but, of course, final testing reverts to English. Most educators at the time could not speak isiXhosa, so the plan depended on learners helping each other. This policy lasted a maximum of a year and was replaced by the draconian nothing-but-English-or-Afrikaans policy. The fact is that many teachers turned a deaf ear to the speaking of other languages outside the classroom, deeming it the inalienable right of students to talk to friends in whatever language was preferred by them.

5.       The suggestion was made, on numerous occasions, that with the school population what it is, isiXhosa was an obvious subject to offer – the objection was there wasn’t enough demand to enable funding of three language departments.

6.       There were challenges and opposition to draconian punishments that were handed out for minor infringements. I could go on and on – numbers of teachers put their careers on the line to try to mitigate the situation, but there is a limit to what one can achieve when faced by a very powerful opponent.

7.       The final point I wish to make is a plea that while you expose racism and discrimination and unfair practice, you do not lose sight of the good things that Sans Souci has done – the hundreds of young women (including all the prime movers in this movement) who have been given a sound academic grounding and have been encouraged to explore their ideas, to think critically and creatively and to reach their potential and who were consistently treated with respect by some teachers. There are many, many doctors, OTs, Physios, dentists, engineers, lawyers, businesswomen, teachers, etc, etc, etc who have been helped to achieve these milestones by education, opportunities, encouragement, and so on from the school. Please don’t throw that under the bus with the hair and the language, as iniquitous as they are.

8.       I am glad from the depths of my heart that the unfair and bigoted policies have been brought out into the open, but please also work towards a healing and a fair deal for everyone so that it’s not just about destroying, but also about re-building – I think we owe it to the current learners.

Teacher #2 :

To all the pupils and teachers I did not speak up for, I am sorry.

My teaching experience at Sans Souci was scary to say the least. Even though I am almost middle aged, I felt as if I were back at school myself, albeit a far stricter one, the minute I walked down the corridor towards the staff room and heard the gate lock behind me.

I had some amazing colleagues and there were many incredible teachers, some of whom are still there. Many teachers gave far beyond their monetary compensation- both of their time and energy.

In fact there are scores of high achievers at that school: there is a rigorous academic program, clubs and societies as well as a phenomenal music and art department. I always feel so proud when I see posts about Sans Souci pupils winning medals for music or going all out to make their functions a success. There are, and have been, so many talented, bright, interesting and kind pupils at Sans Souci.

However,  I often felt afraid, like the the worst teacher ever and was so overloaded with work- we had to do double the number of assessments required by the department- that I became completely stressed and always felt ill and nauseous. Every day I felt terrible.

And teaching in an environment where teachers had to be 'policemen' with regards to petty discipline issues as well as the ridiculous language policy, was not easy. I started mid-year and was the third English teacher that year- the girls were wary of me and I could sense it was a case of 'us' (the pupils) versus 'them' (the staff). Granted there should be a respectful distance, but antagonism does not make for effective learning.

The main reason for the antagonism was that there was, and presumably still is, a constant harangue about things not being done properly and staff, me on some occasions, being called out and berated in front of the rest of the staff. There was no deputy principle and so the main authority is the principal, Charmaine Murray. She makes all the final decisions even at the expense of staff and pupils. An example is a 'mini-exam' that was introduced in non-exam term as well as tests and assignments required. I amount of marking and preparation I had at any given time was excessive.

The irony is that the CAPS curriculum is fairly progressive and the issues and some of the themes generated by literature such as 'Animal Farm' and 'Othello' are racial stereotyping, leadership vs dictatorship and education. I learned a lot from class discussions and felt often that there was so much relevance teaching there, that the discussions we were having could potentially change me and them- to make us really think about issues, to create a better future South Africa. But of course it doesn't work that way if everything is an hypocrisy- I was so afraid of my classes making a noise, of being told off, of someone bursting through my door to 'check up', of the intercom being switched on as someone listened in, that I tried harder and harder to keep order- I felt I must become colder and less feeling- how insane is that?

So I never really got to know any of my pupils properly and that's a shame.

I support your campaign. I believe that among you are our future leaders.


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