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Diary of ex-teacher

Jamataka Primary School classrooms that are built by corrugated iron PIC: KEOAGILE BONANG
Whenever the issue of the education mess crops up, there’s always one question on everybody’s lips, “what went wrong, where, when and how?” We like to pretend we never saw it coming for then we won’t be forced to “talk to the man in the mirror and ask him to change his ways”.

In the 18 years of my career as a teacher, I have witnessed rot in the education ministry. First at schools. Leaders at schools are rotten to the core! Hard workers who excel are sabotaged. It is the lazy ones who spend time in leaders’ offices snitching and gossiping who get promoted.  The situation has embittered hard workers and made the work environment toxic. In another matter, the practice of leaders recommending subordinates for promotions is wrong on all levels! In most cases, hard workers are astute characters who will not think twice about calling a leader out on their misbehaviours, bullying, oppressive tendencies and hypocrisies. Now, how do you expect somebody that you called out to recommend you for promotion? The result is that government loses star performers as some leave the teaching profession while others die alive at work. In teaching hard work doesn’t pay. To elucidate I’ll share a bit of my harrowing experiences in the 18 years that I taught.

When I started work in 1999 at Matsheng JSS, I got a shock of a lifetime when I found the school library closed. It had been for three years. The explanation I got from teachers of English and Senior Teacher Humanities was, there was no teacher librarian. For the life of me, I couldn’t get my head around how people teach, English especially, without a library. The receptive skill of reading is as foundational to all language teaching, as English is the bedrock of the curriculum. Day two of my career I was in Mogokgo’s office, lecturing him on the value of a library to education. I refused to leave until I was given permission to open it. I toiled with support of my mentor, the now Deputy School Head Tlogatloga JSS, Tlhabologo Nageng, to get the library up and running. She would come from Molepolole on weekends to even train library monitors. She assisted me make a shopping list. (The library vote had monies close to 50G from the three years it had been shut). I had minored in Music and didn’t know anything about running a library, but Thabbz taught me all I needed to know and was literally a phone call away.

In my school, the only people who supported me were the Bursar, the supplies department and learners! Not a single teacher lifted a finger to help! When the Teacher Librarian position was created a year later, the teacher who had said he had not opened the library because there is no teacher Librarian, was appointed to go for further studies automatically becoming the teacher librarian. The Snr Tr Hum recommended his friend without an iota of shame. They would later elbow me out of the library until even the English club suffered as the daily reading hour was interfered with. Not even Mogokgo stood for justice. I was left in the lurch after all my hard work!

As if the above was not enough, I was given a streamed (As and Bs) Form 3 class, that had not been taught. You can’t teach English without a library. Koore, they wanted the class to fail in my hands so that I carry that monkey on my back the rest of my life.  But when God loves you, He will stand up for you even when you have strayed from Him. I worked overtime, taught during afternoon and evening prep, as well as weekends. In the end, I produced four As from that class and the lowest grades I got were Cs. And that was my first year as a teacher, at age 25. My God is goodoo! The boy who gave Matsheng JSS merit that year came from that class.

Still at Matsheng I coached netball, traditional dance, started an aerobics club and assisted the Boarding Master with the Choir. I started the English Club and revolutionised the teaching and learning of English. I cultivated the culture of reading and in no time almost every learner wanted to borrow a novel from the library. Whereas learners initially hated English, they grew to love it and the language became the school’s most popular subject in less than six months of my teaching there. We would monthly have Poetry slams and there was a debate league that ran.  But I left Matsheng four years later, tail between my legs transferring to Moruakgomo JSS where I taught for year before going to Nanogang.

As sports coach, I produced sterling results. Under my mentorship, children experienced victory as they excelled and got medals both in athletics and netball.  By year 2009 I gave learners an opportunity to lift a national championship trophy as the Nanogang JSS netball boys’ team became national champs with an unbeaten run. I have produced from the dusty school grounds, athletes who have gone on to wear blue, black and white. But that counted for nothing. When promotions came, School Heads looked at their friends and apple polishers.

In 2009 I transferred to Marulamantsi JSS and was in 2010 voted Cluster Secretary with Kagiso Serathi as chairperson.

As a teacher of English in Gaborone, Teacher Training and Development (TT&D) used ME to teach other JC teachers how to teach English. I spent sleepless nights researching, preparing and making handouts, for free! Twice TT&D organised a workshop for teachers in the South East region and I was the resource person. I delivered with dignity and never complained. I’d get calls from as far as Mogobane from teachers whenever they struggled to teach something. Whenever the Gaborone West cluster got new teachers of English, I’d be asked to induct them and did it gladly. But when promotions came, my name vanished off people’s minds.

In 2012, I went to UB for my Degree and when I finished, I was transferred to Kgale Hill JSS. When I went back, I found the cluster dead since Serathi had been

transferred to Naledi SSS. Deputy School Heads begged me to be cluster chair and resuscitate it and I stupidly agreed.

In 2012, the Botswana Examinations Council (BEC) attempted to change the JC English exam without consulting teachers. I averted the scandal by talking to the then Assistant MoESD Minister, Keletso Rakhudu, motivating why changing the exam at the time would be catastrophic. The principle is that BEC should inform teachers at least 12 months before changing the exam, to give teachers ample time to prepare learners. However, this time, BEC had ignored that rule and sprang the change up on teachers. Due to my intervention, 2012 Form 3s were spared the trauma. The new changes were thus introduced in 2013 after informing teachers in time.

Same year 2012, The Voice newspaper ran an article on the novel Chanda’s Secrets. The novel has some expletives and I guess some zealot ran to the newspaper without first establishing the context of the expletives. The novel teaches mainly about HIV/AIDS and also carries deep messages relevant to children in this day and age. The context is that a man was caught trying to rape his step-daughter and in shame hurled profanities at the girl and her mother. This is the part that The Voice newspaper missed.

As a result, there was brouhaha and Cabinet wanted the book removed from schools. Curriculum Department was requested by the then MoESD Minister, to explain why such a book was taught. I happened to be at Tlokweng Education Centre, where I was in a week-long workshop teaching South East Region teachers how to teach literature, especially new texts, of which Chanda’s Secrets was… The Principal Education Officer from Curriculum came and asked me to write a report on why the novel should be taught which I did. To date, the book is being taught! But did it amount to anything? No!

While teaching at Nanogang, we had a case of a teacher who had MH issues and this affected her work. For two years, I taught both her classes and mine. If her classes clashed, I’d combine them and teach in the school Hall. In total, the classes were eight and term in, term out I marked for the classes. Never did the learners fail. I worked weekends and holidays, but never did I get any promotion!

In my entire career I have had track a record of excellence both in and outside the classroom. I took in children whose parents did not want, put them together and restored hope in them. At age 25, while teaching in Matsheng I took in the first abused child and fostered her and that became the story of my life. But promotion I got none. I have seen teachers who cannot even set a Form 1 grammar test promoted over me!

After 18 years of no promotion, I applied to UB for MA in English, especially that I graduated first class, for which I got admitted. I went through all the proper channels starting with the Deputy School Head to the School Head, sought advice from the Regional Office where I was guided on how to apply. My study-leave application reply took long and would only come in September after I was advised by an officer at TSA to register and start school. In the end, I was fired for missing work while studying. Interestingly, August 2016 at Oasis Motel when we launched Botswana Association of Teachers of English (BATE), in the presence of the then Assistant Minister MoBE, British Council gave sponsorship to two teachers and they were given paid study leave. To date nobody has told me why the same could not be extended to me.

Initially, I juggled work and studying, but it ultimately became heavy and I missed work. I was thus fired! I lost both my job and MA! 2017, 18, 19 I battled depression and I thank God for my Pastor Mmoloki Mogokgwane and shrink Mrs Thato Molefhi for my sanity.

Having given 18 years of my life to teaching I was rewarded with an unfair dismissal. I am in the streets and can’t even afford a bar of soap because I wanted to better my life.

What emerged from my tussle with the ministry officials over my study leave is that MoBE has no study leave policy. The basis for giving one is BIAS and FAVOURITISM...nobody was able to explain to me why I did not qualify for full time paid study leave because other teachers have.

These might be my experiences, but this is exactly what happens in teaching. Star performers don’t get promoted. It is the lazy wizardry gossip-mongers, snitches and apple polishers who get promoted. There is also corridor talk of thigh power being at play. There might not be proof of such, but I know young female temps who were asked for the thigh in exchange for their contract renewal.  At present, schools have teachers who are bitter, discouraged and only go to work because they need the pay. It is this that has led to the exam results that get poorer each waking day.

Even the Performance Development Plan strategy does not work for it still goes back to the person.

There has to be an altogether new system where promotions are done on merit PURELY. 

Until there is transparency and justice, MoBE will continue experiencing this decline in results because teacher morale is lower than lowest!

I am arguably one of the best teachers of English in my generation. Under my leadership, Gaborone West cluster schools always topped the nation in JC English results. As a result, the cluster always dominated the top 10.

 “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and no nothing.” -Albert Einstein 

*Mmaotho Segotso is a former secondary school teacher. She also writes weekly “Educational Speaking” column for Mmegi

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