Mandela Rhodes Scholars
Mandela Rhodes Scholars

Committed to teaching in the midst of smog: Five turnaround strategies for rural schools

By Lehlohonolo Mofokeng

There is no shortage of evidence that our basic education is in shreds. That being said, the question that we should be asking ourselves is: how do we get out of this mess? How do we ensure that our learners, in spite of an already established culture of mediocrity, start to believe in a new redefined reality—that of aspiration, courage, holistic excellence, resilience and thought leadership? The answer lies, although not limited to, in us teachers. Below are five approaches I propose on how we can turn our township and rural schools around

1. Discipline should not be left only to certain teachers
Successful teaching and learning process hardly ever takes place in a disruptive learning environment. Have you ever been to a school where learners rush to a specific teacher’s class and drag their feet to another teacher’s? The answer to this is that both teachers have lain, albeit different outcomes, a solid foundation on what they expect from their learners. What I have observed is learners have different behavioural attitudes towards teachers on the basis of the teacher’s stance on discipline.

2. Substitute the counterproductive tendency of overreliance on experience with daily lesson preparation
There is this tendency among teachers who have been in the system for long not to prepare for lessons as they used to in their early years. This is ascribed to teaching the same content year in year our without fail. High performance literature clearly points out that elite performers prepare as though they have never been doing what they do for decades. What this teaches us is to be a world-class teacher you need to always think of yourself as an amateur.

3. Add unpredictability and intellectual rigor in the lesson presentation
Nothing excited me during my school days than teachers whose lessons had something new every day. These are the teachers who constantly challenge learners to think beyond the obvious, to question the status quo and think about their own thinking. These are the teachers who perpetually challenge their learners to ask the why and how questions as they deal with the outside world.

4. Be a model of excellence
Do you regularly model excellence to your learners? Do you constantly challenge them to obtain higher grades or you are one of those teachers who will applaud a learner even when they get a lowly 40%? Do you share with them your personal milestones so that they realise that you walk the talk? What professional or personal development project have you successfully undertaken from which your learners can draw inspiration?

5. Leave no stone unturned
One of the greatest injustices any teacher could do to their learners is not cover the curriculum. If we are to teach for excellence in our township and rural schools, we need to start giving the curriculum delivery our full attention that it deserves. Do not only teach only the topics you enjoy or master. In case you are not sure of a particular topic, instead of skipping it, call upon your colleagues from your school or outside to present it to your learners.

Lehlohonolo Mofokeng is a teacher, Mandela Rhodes Scholar, and co-author of Your First Year of Varsity

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