Monica Hendricks’ journey into the study of education in South Africa started with her as a high school teacher of English as a second language. She remembers the job to be rewarding, but also extremely challenging and frustrating at times “Children pass. Even when the pass rate was 40%. The problem is that that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re proficient. And it’s also very hard to get children to do well – to excel at language,” she explained.
In light of this, Monica decided to go back to studying, choosing Grahamstown as her home while she did her Honours degree full time. “I thought I’d easily get a job. I was going to study, I’d have more qualifications, so I’d easily get a job. But I didn’t,” she said with a small laugh. Her backup plan was to work part-time and continue her studies, an act that led to her getting a fellowship to do her PhD.
“I researched my way into academia,” Monica summarised. Her doctorate focused on an area she was, and still is, immensely interested in: children’s literacy. “What makes them literate in the eyes of school, what kind of literacy school writing develops in learners and writing in English as a second language. What people write, how they write and how much they write in school and in leisure time – who writes, if they write at all. That’s what I wanted to dig deep into,” she said.
During this time, Monica became part of the Institute for the Study of English in Africa (ISEA), where the focus of her work had been, and remains, teacher education. Teacher education is one of the many branches that ISEA focuses on, with other such examples being the Masters in Creative writing, Word Fest at the annual Grahamstown Arts Festival, the Shakespeare Society and the annual Teacher’s conference. Monica spent ten years delving into and developing teacher training before being made the Director of ISEA in 2013, where her oversight branched to the number of projects and focuses ISEA is involved in.
Even so, her own interest remains language and teacher education, and in particular the movement toward setting South Africa much more firmly into a multilingual setting and the issues, benefits and growth that surrounds that movement. “I think the little things we do are making a difference,” she said.