Teacher, You’re a Firefighter, says Levana's Head…

 On my beat at Levana Primary School...

I was chatting to Ivor Nober, proud principal of Levana Primary School in Lavender Hill. Today I was briefed on amongst other interesting developments at the school, the talent show, “Safe Road To Fame”, that the seven schools in the Lavender Hill belt will be staging in August. This show is going to be a stellar event because our children, despite their depressed circumstances, have unbelievable talent.

Levana Primary Staff and SGB Chairperson at the Care& Support and Life Skills Symposium held in March
Now, about three years ago, Ivor and his staff had their first icy winter season. They experienced a wobble because the school was labelled a “poor performing” school on the  Learner Performance league tables. Ivor and his staff were deeply stung; their body language mirrored  the vulnerability of their own learners.
Yet, this distressing academic league table status catapulted Ivor and his staff on to the high road to excellence. There was a different energy as Ivor steered himself and his colleagues to transform the school. 

Bullet cartridges found in the Grade R class playground on a Monday morning
So, between bullet shells found on the school grounds near the Grade R classes and threats from a gang to “take out” a family of three children to “teach their father from a rival gang a lesson”, the school inched closer to a better sustainable learner performance. We see the nodes of growth visible in their creative parent education drives, the expanded extra-curricular programme and the sustained professional development programmes staff members attend throughout the year.

Of course, Ivor doesn’t know that my flashback is triggered by his halo of quiet confidence and a serenity that glows – a very different Ivor of not too long ago. I asked him what has brought about this shift, this difference I now see. It is quite amusing to see Ivor – usually sharp-witted and a knack to make me howl with laughter, searching for words. After a bit of weaving here and there,he becomes the storyteller to share his life experiences, journeys that seldom make the research shelves. He switches from one analogy to the next. I am fascinated by the story of how a musician’s recording can reveal his(her) emotional and spiritual state, especially those of sadness without the musician’s intention to share such personal, soulful feelings. And then, Ivor makes the following analogy.
Levana , Harmony and Crestway School Governing Body members at SGB Training Workshop

“You see, Sharon,” says Ivor, half-talking to himself, “a teacher is like a firefighter. When a firefighter signs up, he signs up for life. He knows he is going to get burned and carry scars for life while he saves buildings or lives. That is the risk that he is prepared to take willingly. He knows that pain and suffering are part of the job, that is his chosen vocation. Teachers are like firefighters. When you sign up, you know you are going to get burned. You know you are going to carry scars when you are done with your task. You will carry scars – physical ones, psychological ones and spiritual ones. And you know this when you become a teacher and therefore you are prepared for your vocation – developing children, saving lives. You don’t give up.”
Morning Briefing session before the school day starts at Levana

I rest my case. League tables on their own belong in a mechanic’s workshop. Here in township schools we can measure REAL  learner performance in the context of the struggles of township life, where poverty and crime compete with our firefighters for supremacy. When community schools get the balance between high quality teaching and learning and the notion of care right, we are winning against all odds.

 When I leave Levana, a convoy of a faith-based NGO pull up, gearing themselves to give each of the 1000+ learners a cap, scarf, gloves and a bowl of steaming food – unsolicited by the school. 
I felt an inner peace, knowing that I too was a beneficiary of firefighter teachers in my township school and their efforts were not in vain.


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