Lisa Ellis, Room to Read Director of New Country Operations, visited our staff and projects in South Africa last week and met a teacher who personifies the values of Room to Read -- dedication to students and a love of learning.
One of the most motivating teachers I ever had was my third grade teacher, Miss Gilchrist. She not only made learning fun and interesting by using pictures, books, and other materials in the classroom, but she very obviously loved teaching, and learning as well. Her enthusiasm was inspiring as it was infectious -- even to an eight-year-old.
Imagine my happy surprise when I found a carbon copy of Miss Gilchrist teaching in a poor, rural primary school in the Eastern Cape, where Room to Read South Africa got its start. I was visiting the area last week for various meetings, but the highlight of the trip was a visit to one of our schools.
The road to the small village was dotted with cows and goats grazing on the hillside and near the road. We turned off the main road and travelled a few kilometers down a winding, pot-hole filled dirt road. Our destination was Makhazi Primary School whose student body included approximately 300 children and whose staff included an amazing teacher, Mrs. Vuyiswa Dlephu.
Mrs. Dlephu had been trained as a librarian by Room to Read staff in 2007. She spoke passionately about all of the things she had added to the library since it first opened, such as a corner section with current newspapers and magazines, and a room filled with artwork made by the children and local posters about hygiene. She described the assistance she gave the other teachers on how to test the children on what they learned from the books and other materials in the library. Room to Read had not just found a teacher to train as a librarian, but we had presented a motivated teacher with the resources and professional development to inspire her entire school -- teachers and students alike.
When I asked her how long she had been teaching, Mrs. Dlephu proudly told me 20 years -- it’s the only job she’s ever had. She explained that while she had received her teaching diploma years and years ago, she had only recently finished her bachelor’s degree in education. She was then pleased to tell me she had just applied for a master’s program and planned to do her research thesis on needed improvements to the education system, especially as it relates to her community.
With a big smile on her face, she said, “I want to be a role model for my children and for all the children who have been through this school. You can never stop learning!” She went on to say, “I have always been a teacher and I always will be, no matter how much education I get. I will never leave this community!”
I left that school hoping that the community realized what a tremendous, encouraging, motivating, and committed teacher they had in Mrs. Dlephu, the Miss Gilchrist of South Africa.
Read more about our work in South Africa on our website.