October 29, 2013

If You Can Read This… ~ Sanja Cloete-Jones

“Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.”


I am the daughter of a teacher.

Which might have been fine if only my mother could have found the strength from somewhere to resist being a really good teacher.

Because the children of people with a vocation are orphans of a kind.

They wait hours for their parent to come home…only to be told that there was more work to be done. They play for their team on the hockey field week after week with no one they could call their own to cheer them from the sidelines. They are forgotten at ballet, sitting forlornly under the lonely streetlight, waiting, long after all the other girls had been picked up. They ate dinner by themselves. They had to get used to being lumped with 30 other kids whenever anyone referred to their mother’s children. They were used to a mother who worked into the small hours of the morning. A mother whose first coffee was stone cold before the first rays of sunlight curiously crept over the pages and pages surrounding her. They arranged their own optometrist appointments and attended by bicycle, unaccompanied by any adult. When they were sick they were shipped off to their grandmother’s until they were well enough to function as an orphan once again…to make their own lunch for school.

They felt ever-so-sorry for themselves! (Can you tell?)

And spent many an hour dreaming of how different life would be if only they had a different kind of mother.

Preferably the kind their friends had.

Mothers who were always ready to rush to their rescue when they forgot their PT clothes, their lunch or their favorite ribbon. Mothers who had the time to drive them around personally for every appointment and the energy to write love notes to provide a little surprise with their carefully packed school lunch. Mothers who had only their own children to worry about and who were… a little more… proficient at being motherly.

Somehow, in spite of all this terrible neglect and all the fervently wishing that my mother would be sacked, at the end of my childhood there we both were, my mother and I, having apparently survived.

But it took me years to get over myself.

To accept that it all was not quite as blighted and bleak as I might have painted it.

To remember the pride in saying yes, that is my mother.

The teacher who took in a bunch of six-year old hooligans year after year and turned them into reading, writing, sum-doing machines in the space of 12 months… without breaking their spirit.

The woman who never stopped teaching herself and still spends hours in extra lessons to help children for whom learning is a challenge with a patience that is as long and as tall and as wide and as mysterious as all of the universe.

The woman who replaced all the chairs in her class with big balls before it was ‘a thing’ to make learning more fun and assist with concentration… (and render me quite motion sick whenever I visited this sea of bobbing kids!)

The woman who made it quite clear when South Africa was struggling with integration following the end of Apartheid that a mutual language would be the only entrance exam any child would ever have to pass to be accepted in her class.

To acknowledge that the love was always there. In larger quantities than I was ever in danger of running out of.

And more than that.

To also realise that my mother has raised an independent girl, the kind of girl who knew her arse from her elbow when it came to life. A girl who could deal without needing a whole lot of hand holding. A girl who valued working harder than is strictly needed, into the night and early in the morning. A girl who took her time to find her own vocation but did not rest until she too burnt with an insatiable zeal for her work. Until she could clearly see the lightning behind the eyes in the mirror.

A girl who is now, in turn, brazenly raising some damn independent kids who take education dead-seriously and think working with passion for a living is the only way forward.

… and when you have thanked them, spare a thought for the poor, suffering children of those teachers.

I am who I am because my mother is a teacher.


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Ed: Sara Crolick

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