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Empowering Generations: 50 Years of Transformative Education and Community Impact

KellerGrit, Leadership, Mind Brain Education Science, Relationship-based Teaching Leave a Comment

The Spark of Determination

In a journey spanning five decades, the transformative power of education and community involvement has reshaped the lives of many, including mine. At the age of 15, my father became increasingly aware that his over-active son was rapidly losing interest in sitting through “youth fellowship” on a Sunday morning and was making it reasonably clear, around the dinner table, that his season of going to “Sunday School” was drawing to a close.  I had always been a compliant child, and for the first time he noted a teenage determination in his son that was going to be hard for him to  convincingly argue.  My Dad was an expert at “the debate” and I seldom won, but quickly learnt to manoeuvre around his tactics.

The Men’s League: Pillars of the Community

The Methodist Church’s Men’s League stood as a beacon of guidance, ensuring the development of godly virtues among the youth. Legends like Bert Pfuhl and the Prest brothers were not just figures of authority but mentors who embodied the essence of inspirational teaching stories. Their dedication was evident in events like Movie Night, which became a cultural staple, weaving the fabric of community and camaraderie among the young attendees.

Wayside Sunday School: A Lesson in Community Service

 It was 1974, at the peak of the anti-apartheid movement, where students were taking to the streets to violently express their outrage against a minority regime determined to retain control.  In the midst of this, a 4X4 Landrover full of youngsters drove into Bonteheuwel, collected a few “local’ teachers before gathering in one of their homes for preparation.  In this cramped, but welcoming space, we planned the activities over a glass of Oros juice before heading out to a poorly maintained playpark, where a group of enthusiastic youngsters awaited the friendly toot from the Landrover’s horn.  

That playpark is still there today – and visible from the N2 close to the airport. Every time I drive to Cape Town international Airport on my way to speak at a Conference or work with teachers or students, I always remember those wonderful days.  The kids followed the landrover like the Pied Piper – knowing that they would sing, dance, hear a short story, enjoy a cup of Oros and a few biscuits and then play soccer against the teachers.

A Turnaround in Mathematics: The Rochford Influence

1974 was also a year when my Grade 9 Mathematics teacher, who regarded me as an “utter idiot” and “bloody fool”, took six months leave.  He was replaced by Kevin Rochford – an undergrad from Australia who had come to UCT to study his for his BEd and Masters.  

Within six months, Dr Rochford, who later became an Associate Professor at UCT, had turned a “bloody fool” into a lover of Mathematics.  His skills were simple and dynamic.  

Gavin Keller

He took a group of boys who had been streamed, based on their marks achieved in standardised tests and who had little chance of ever passing Maths, into youngsters who were passionate about the subject.  My Grade 9, March Report had these words next to Mathematics – “Pathetically weak!!!” I hated Maths and I hated the teacher even more. But the new teacher was quiet, but focused.  He greeted each of us at the classroom door by name and referred to us as Mathematicians.  He punctuated the lessons with dramatic stories and amazing magic tricks.  He engaged us, made meaning out of what we perceived as a meaningless subject and smiled often. In fact he always smiled.  He simply, believed that we could all do Mathematics.  The six month injection by a charismatic teacher resulted in me doing Maths Higher Grade to Matric and going on to teach Mathematics.    

The Ripple Effect of Mentorship

50 years later I look back on the many experiences  the impact that these powerful people had on my life.  I had an opportunity to meet both Cairns Bain and Prof Rochford in my School Hall.  At a Grandparents Day, Cairns introduced himself to me and thanked me for the wonderful experience his grand children were having at our school.  I shared with him that, it is not I that needed the thanks, but rather, his training on the pavements of Bonteheuwel.  He modelled commitment, connection, planning, warmth and a passion for his belief.  We cried together as we reminisced.

The Teacher’s Hope for Tomorrow

Prof Rochford brought a group of post-grad education students from UCT to our school to run a Science Expo.  It was dynamic and quite simply, mind blowing!   I went over to introduce myself to him and he was quick to recognise how beautifully our children were engaged in the Expo.  When I told him that I learnt so much from him, his eyes filled with tears.  We seldom, as teachers, get to see our fruit – in action.  Sadly, Prof Rochford died tragically in his Mowbray home in 2008 when burglars shot him while he was putting his car away in the garage.

Despite the feeling of being burnt out – that pervasive sense that we have lost control over what happens in our classrooms because of district or provincial mandates, the immense workload and timelines that cause so much anxiety, regardless of the cognitive dissonance about what should be going on in our classrooms compared to what is actually happening, along with the lack of recognition and a terrible feeling of isolation in your classroom – don’t give up.   Know your impact. The teacher is indeed the only hope for a better tomorrow.

Are you leaving an impact on the children you teach?

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