In this highly acclaimed, Times book of the week novel, the stories of 100 exceptional South African teachers are laid out to serve as motivation and a reminder that not all is despondent in our country’s education system.
The book was conceptualised and compiled by Times columnist Jonathan Jansen, with the help of two journalism students, Nangamso Koza and Lihlumelo Toyana. Its stories were all sent in by Times readers responding to a simple request in the Times: “Submit a story about the teacher who made the greatest impact on your life.” Even though the call for stories was surrounded by the dreary reports on the struggling education system and the underpaid, underqualified, unmotivated teachers, it didn’t take very long before responses to the request began to stream in. The result of the eager offerings of the nation is a book that praises and rewards the teachers who went beyond their stipulated contract to ensure the safety and education of South Africa’s learners.
Great South African Teachers is full of short yet powerful accounts of educators who touched lives in very special ways. As is the goal of any good book, the content also reached out and touched me many times, calling memories and experiences and questions to mind as parallels between strangers and my own life were drawn. Of these, the one that resonated the most is the simple, one-page account of an anonymous Business Economics teacher, sent in by Frangelina Lekhanya. To Lekhanya, this teacher stressed time and time again that one’s economic background could not be used as an excuse for failure, and that even if it takes longer than one hoped, if one believes in oneself one could mould oneself into something in the future. Coming from my background where every penny counted, with my personal success measured by the standards of the institutions I am a part of and the pride of those mentoring me alike, this piece struck a deep chord.
“She said humility is a strength and when I humble myself God will lift me high… People of substance have humility and they always show gratitude towards people around them; they appreciate even the smallest things in their lives; they are approachable, teachable and, most importantly, they are good listeners, which makes them dynamic speakers.”
While the book is edited for grammar and spelling errors, the fact that the stories are submitted by a multitude of people means that sometimes the writing is stilted and a little difficult to follow seamlessly. That being said, the content is raw and real, and I guarantee there will be at least one story that strikes a chord as deep within you as the one that was struck inside me. The passion and creativity and general love of the teachers mentioned in this book are a testament to those who help ensure the future of our country and our loved ones, making flipping through the pages and reflecting on their content more than worthwhile.
“It is important for undecided youth to know, through these stories, that teaching is a calling that many choose not because of the degree of material wellbeing they can attain, but because of the degree of social wellbeing they can impart to students and to society. Many of these great teachers in this book had options. But they chose teaching because they could make a difference,” writes Jansen in the introduction to the book. “It’s our hope to inform, but more importantly to affect.” In this regard, the book meets its goal almost at once.