The Herald (South Africa)
Care for your kids, teachers told
Former Bethelsdorp resident shares advice from US experience
TEACHERS at schools in the northern areas need to change their approach and explore new methods to rescue pupils from the social ills they are faced with daily in their communities.
This was the message from St Claire Adriaan, who has been recognised for his teaching and expertise in education in the US, where he is now based.
Adriaan presented a workshop entitled “Teaching with Poverty in Mind” to teachers and principals at three Helenvale schools yesterday.
“Our children need someone to believe in them.
“Their teacher should be the one person who never gives up on them,” he said.
“School could be the one place where no one is hurting them, where no one is screaming at them.
“We need to give our learners respect to gain their respect. Building that relationship is the key factor.”
Adriaan, 50, was born and raised in Bethelsdorp. He attended Bethelsdorp High before studying teaching at Dower College, the former UPE and Rhodes University.
He said he had faced a similar challenge in 2008 when he was sent to Albert Wicker Elementary School in New Orleans.
As part of the New Schools for New Orleans campaign, teachers from the Charter School System were sent to assist in the opening of new schools following Hurricane Katrina.
Adriaan said he had not expected to be sent to an existing, poorly performing school.
“Out of 56 schools in New Orleans, it was 56th based on the students’ test results.
“It is located in the povertystricken Seventh Ward in New Orleans and the situation is similar to the northern areas, with gangs, a high murder rate, poverty and other societal issues,” he said.
“The kids seemed as if they did not want to learn, as if they did not care. We could have 24 fights a day.
“But we managed to turn things around and three years later it was named one of the top 10 performing schools in Louisiana.”
He said he had started a strategy of taking an active interest in the pupils.
“You need to be interested in what they are doing inside and outside the school. As principal, I started greeting each child by the hand. I made eye contact with them.
“As a teacher you cannot hold grudges against the children . . . You need to start off each day as new.”
He said teachers were often the last resistance standing between a child and a life of crime and unemployment.
“If we push our children out of the classroom and out of school, we are pushing them towards a life of gangsterism and jail.
“In New Orleans we started our day at 7.30am and ended at 5pm. From 5pm tol 6.30pm we had an after-school programme . . . to keep our children off the streets for as long as possible.”
Adriaan, now a Los Angeles school head, said every child deserved a champion.
“Kids may forget your name or your face but they will never forget how you made them feel,” he said.
Alpha Primary School principal Dr Charlotte Hendricks, said she believed Adriaan’s message had had an impact on those at the workshop.
“It will help to empower them to become that light to give our children hope,” she said.
Adriaan also announced that he was sponsoring a R5 000-a-year bursary to a matriculant at Bethelsdorp High for study towards a BCom at NMMU.