So where’s the media tonight? Was my overriding thought at Tuesday’s farewell for Di Berry, retiring headmistress at Rustenburg Girls Junior. Why aren’t they here? Why don’t they come and listen and report objectively, see for themselves, take the time to understand stories- whole stories, not single stories- of those who selflessly devote themselves to education.
What a great pity that the large majority of people have little understanding for what they get to read in newspapers and bombarded by on their social media feeds. Wouldn’t it be constructive if people could be more discerning about the brief and perspective of the reporter, more mindful of the single story they are fed, the limited sources of the material, the varying ethics of the press, the issues of economics and the need to sell copy.
And how sad that drama sells and good goes (mostly) unnoticed.
It’s been a full few weeks for me personally and emotionally- more so because I willingly choose to put myself out into the arena and voice my opinion. I don’t know why I do it sometimes but mostly it’s because I battle not to. I find it hard to let things pass when I feel an injustice is done. I find it infuriating when people feel their opinion is worthy but their knowledge of hard facts and credible background information is unimportant. That’s the trouble nowadays with social media I suppose. Everyone’s view counts. Or at least that’s what they think when in fact only informed or substantiated opinion should attract any value.
But enough about this.
I’d rather talk about celebrating education as the year draws to a close. 2018 saw each of my four offspring at different educational institutions: one at UCT, one at Stellies, one at High School and one at Junior School. And the end of Junior School is significant in many ways but mostly because I reckon I’m finally done with lunch boxes!
At the end of the function on Tuesday evening I introduced myself to one of the speakers ( I loved his reference to Adichie’s TED talk of the single story which I’d shared myself sometime this year and think it’s unbelievably important) and asked if he would mind if I shared his speech here. I would like to have shared some sentiments of the representative from the WCED too but his speech was so lengthy that he eventually broke off into song! It was wonderful.
I think it’s a good way to end off the year on a positive note and to be honest, I think we all need more good stories!
Here’s to a happy, celebratory, festive year end to you all!
Be safe, be kind and remember,
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not. (Dr Suess , of course)
Farewell Speech to Di Berry
I first met Di as an aspiring, young, bright eyed and bushy-tailed student teacher in 1998.
At that stage, Di was a Grade 5 teacher at Wynberg Boys’ Junior School, and I had been fortunate to be placed for an entire term by my College at the school on ‘teaching prac.’
Back then, there would have been no computer on the desk, no Smartboard, no Google Chromebooks or iPads, and certainly no Wi-fi in classrooms to connect to the internet.
The first time I walked into her classroom as a student though, I remember looking around, and pondering the space…… thinking, whoever teachers in this classroom, the children are incredibly fortunate to have her.
As an aspiring teacher back then, we were cautiously eased into the profession by spending many hours, observing good teaching, modeling various teaching methodologies, and trying to put what we had learnt into practice.
She struck me as incredibly organized, and devoted, with her classroom filled with rich examples of pupils’ work, desks in co-operative group seating arrangements, books, games, and puzzle corners in every nook and cranny, and a teacher’s table situated in the front right corner of the classroom with a plethora of colourful markers, an organized planner….. and a jar of sweets.
On the desk during one such lesson observation, I recall seeing a brand-new copy of the now iconic Harry Potter series. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone. Remember, this was 1998, and JK Rowling had not been heard of. Di clearly was ahead of her time, and she could sniff good literature a mile away.
I spent about 10 weeks observing Di and her colleagues teach various lessons, asking her questions, getting feedback on my lesson plans, and then finally mustering the courage to have a go with teaching a few lessons of my own in front of a class of about 32 intimidating Wynberg Boys….
This was an immensely worthwhile grounding in the teaching profession that year at Wynberg Boys’ Junior, as any young, aspiring new teacher in the profession will testify.
Having completed a thoroughly enjoyable and successful ‘teaching prac’, I was fortunate to be offered a full-time position to teach alongside Di in my first year of teaching at Wynberg Boys’ Junior.
We had the most incredible amount of fun that year, whilst at the same time, being ever conscious of how to improve our classroom practice, and looking towards innovative ways of bringing lessons to life for our grade 5 learners.
I must confess, I was an incredibly competitive young teacher, and there was no way my Grade 5B could be outshone by the Grade 5A class of Mrs Berry. Anyways, Di, always seemed to just have an amazing knack for the classroom, and I could only watch and learn at her most incredible example.
That first year of teaching with Di helped shape much of the joy that I still hold for classroom teaching, which in no small measure is testament to Di’s encouragement, motivation and support that year.
Be that as it may, fast forward to 2012, and our return as a family to South Africa, and encountering Di this time as the Headmistress at our daughter’s new school.
I am now a parent of two girls, currently in Grade 6 and Grade 4, girls who hold incredibly strong views, girls who speak courageously, who listen intently, are avid readers, writers, and dream-catchers, and girls who bounce out of bed in the morning insisting that they need to be at school 7am SHARP ……because they will be missing out on all the fun at school!
I’m fortunate that both my daughters are inspired by the positive culture, energy, dreaminess, and creative curriculum provided by the school under Di’s astute leadership these past 11 years.
Learning is not what happens between 4 walls from 8am to 3pm from Monday to Friday. At Rustenburg, learning is much more than that, a partnership between parents, teachers and the school.
A partnership and relationship that requires ongoing work, patience, listening, and compassion. A relationship that ultimately places the best interests of children in the care of professionals who have their best interests at heart.
We have been fortunate that our girls have experienced such an incredibly nurturing and warm environment these past 6 years, and this is in no small measure to the dynamic leadership brought to this delightfully charming school here in Rosebank.
So, my experience of Di as a new teacher in the profession, evolved into a new relationship with Di as a parent upon entering the school 6 years go, and then this year, having the privilege to be working with Di and her Senior Management Team as part of the school’s governing body.
Now, it is at this point, where, I will NOT Be quoting Dr. Seuss. However, a Harry Potter quote is probably more apt.
‘When in doubt, go to the Library’ – because that’s what Hermione does. ‘When in doubt go to the library.’
Libraries are sometimes perceived as quiet, musty spaces, with creaky floorboards, and stained old pages in books.
However, libraries are also changing spaces, spaces where knowledge is shared, where people gather, where ideas are debated, issues confronted, and new fresh perspectives taken.
May I be so bold to extend this quote, by saying that the values that we so enjoy about libraries, about learning, about new ways of thinking, has been a hallmark of Di’s legacy at Rustenburg….not just in the confines of a fixed space with books, but in the hearts, and minds of all those who have been fortunate to learn and teach in its corridors, its playgrounds, its classrooms and beyond under her stewardship.
I suppose, there were times these past few weeks, when it would have been so easy to simply seek the solace of a library.
However, Di true to form, confronted the challenges with purpose and a healthy dose of leadership and managing a dynamic school in a turbulent time.
These are indeed turbulent times for our communities, our schools and our country. Leading a school is never easy, and being the headmistress or principal of a high performing, outstanding school such as this is certainly not for the faint hearted.
It has been a rather rocky road these past few weeks, with much column space, opinion, and words shared across platforms both online and face to face.
However, whilst navigating the turbulence of the past few weeks, I’m reminded of a TED Talk shared a few years ago by the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, where she speaks of ‘The Danger of a Single Story’.
“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”
In our story as a school, as a community of parents, teachers, learners, and friends, we all have stories to share, to give and to listen to.
In closing, Di, thank you for YOUR story, a story that is woven in the fabric of this school for the past 11 years. A story of creativity, empathy and courageous leadership.
Your story of dedication, utter professionalism, commitment and compassion has indeed been a profound and rich one for all of us.
We wish you good health, and happiness in your retirement, and thank you for your contribution in the lives of so many at Rustenburg Girls’ Junior School.
December 4th 2018
educator; former colleague; current parent; and member of the School Governing Body at Rustenburg Girls Junior School.