South Africa: Newly Qualified Teachers Wrap Up 'Bumpy' Maiden Year of Teaching

"When we teach well, we develop a subtle form of immortality because people remember the way we do things, and what we have taught reverberates generations down the line," Lydia Cairncross, the head of the University of Cape Town's (UCT) Department of Surgery.

It's with this intention that this year's Newly Qualified Teachers (NQT) Project cohort stepped out of their comfort zones and into their classrooms to start careers as NQTs in schools across the country. They were armed with strength in character and prepared to shape, empower and inspire the young minds they came into contact with.

Teaching is no mean feat. It takes courage, tenacity and loads of patience to get teachers through just one day at the blackboard. But for the cohort of NQTs, the reward of teaching outweighs the occasional headache at the end of a long day.

Steering new teachers

The NQT Project is an initiative of the UCT's School of Education (SoE) and provides essential support for young teachers who have entered the classroom for the first time. The project focuses on developing their professional resilience and provides them with the academic and psychosocial support they need to navigate their first year in the field. This year marks eight

"We know the NQT [year] is an enormous year of becoming, and there have been highs and lows and triumphs and tears."

In celebration of their inaugural year in the classroom, NQTS, their loved ones and academics from UCT and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) - the NQT partner university - raised a glass to the cohort's achievement, celebrating the beginning of their teaching careers. The event was held at the new SoE building on middle campus on Wednesday, 15 November.

"To the NQTs, we are here to celebrate you, to acknowledge you, and to recognise you. We are here to be your cheerleaders and just to say a huge well done for getting to this point of your NQT year. We know the NQT [year] is an enormous year of becoming, and there have been highs and lows and triumphs and tears. But these rights of passage are important and that's why we hold this graduation to say well done," said Dr Kate Angier, the chairperson of the NQT Project.

A godsend

For Abdul-Malik Majiet, a geography and life orientation teacher at Darul Arqam Islamic High School, the NQT Project was a guiding light as he navigated his first year in the classroom.

The network and support structure the initiative provided was invaluable, especially during a stressful time when he was asked to teach technology - a different subject than the two he was trained for. This request, he said, was dauting and came during the first term as he tried to find his feet at the school, familiarise himself with the new environment, its ways of working, and the learners. But thanks to his NQT network, he was inundated with tips and ideas on how to structure his technology lessons and how to approach teaching the unfamiliar subject.

There have been many highlights along the way. However, he said, when the time came for him to finally teach geography, his Grade 10 class attained a 100% pass rate for two consecutive terms - a high point for any teacher, especially one who just started his career. For Majiet, being a teacher is more than just instructing learners; it also involves schooling them on what to expect in the real world, and teaching life lessons that they can use in the future.

"I always try to go beyond the curriculum, and what I mean by this is to teach my learners about life - lessons that they can take out there and use in their daily lives when they leave school. I encourage debates on global issues in my classroom. This fosters a different learning environment and encourages necessary engagement among learners," Majiet said.

Over the past few months, he has also learned to be innovative, especially when the ill-discipline challenge raised its head among his learners. He canvassed his classes, and based on their response, drafted a code of conduct that included specific classroom rules and regulations learners need to abide by. To reward good behaviour, Majiet plays music while learners complete their classwork, which contributes to a relaxed classroom atmosphere.

One valuable lesson he's learned this year that has stemmed from one of the NQT Project workshops was not to lose sight of who he is outside the classroom. He has learned the importance of "me-time", and to continue doing the things he loves so that he can make an impact in the classroom.

A lifetime commitment

Le-Tanya Fourie, a foundation phase teacher at Rosmead Central Primary School in Claremont, described teaching as a calling and lifetime commitment to the next generation. She kept this top of mind as she faced various hurdles during her inaugural year in the classroom.

Despite the bumper year, Fourie said her learners have kept her passion and motivation for the craft alive. Witnessing their development in the classroom and on the playground, and knowing she had a hand in that has been an "immensely gratifying experience" and reaffirmed her effective teaching techniques.

"It has been a wonderful year of learning and growing with my learners. Their continuous, authentic feedback despite their young age has helped me to alter my teaching approaches to fit their needs," Fourie said. "I strive to create a classroom environment that fosters upliftment, and witnessing the benefits thereof has brought me so much pride and joy."

But things have not always been smooth sailing. The lack of support for NQTs in the workplace and toxic management creates "environments dominated by powerplay and politics" in schools. As a result, Fourie said, some schools place little emphasis on the well-being of learners. Administrative burdens, unrealistic deadlines and requests are just some of the challenges teachers are faced with every day. And although they differ vastly from one school to another, she said it needs to change to better support teachers while they're at work.

"I am deeply grateful for the support the NQT Project provided me. It opened my eyes to so many things about the profession."

Like Majiet, the Grade 3 teacher credits the NQT Project for providing her with a safe space. The programme's support system helped her face her mental health challenges head on and provided her with the motivation she needed to place her well-being first. Further, she said, the opportunity to regularly connect with fellow NQTs was a refreshing experience and made her realise that others share her challenges as well.

"I am deeply grateful for the support the NQT Project provided me. It opened my eyes to so many things about the profession. It helped me to remember that teaching is a passion and if it's your passion you'll never stop educating. So, I encourage those who become teachers to stay the cause," she said. "Don't give up because it's difficult. Tough times won't last, but passion and the teachings you impart will."

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