“I was nervous to teach, but then all of the students started running to me, greeting me with tight hugs and introduced themselves, even though in my head I already had my whole introduction rehearsed. This made me not nervous anymore and I told them my name.” One of Thanda’s newest After-school Facilitators, Slindoh, describes her first day teaching in March.
Children who complete up to grade 12 spend an estimated 13,000 hours in a classroom under the guidance and support of teachers. A teacher’s influence has a profound impact on how children develop and grow. As an After-school programme, we have the opportunity to fill a gap for ensuring students’ guidance beyond the classroom, where many educational systems cannot. Many school teachers are structured through a national curriculum, are pressed for time to teach high amounts of material and are pushed to focus on students passing tests. At Thanda, we can break the norm and train our facilitators to think critically about what children in our community need in order to grow and develop characteristics that will help them to overcome many obstacles they may face. Almost all of our facilitators are from our community and are asked to evaluate their own emotional challenges in order to begin a process of healing through the on-going Journey into Healing workshops. Weekly trainings on our Creative Learning Curriculum allow for continual personal growth where facilitators can identify their strengths and go more in depth into topics they find challenging. The bond between Thanda facilitators and their students is very unique in that it is a shared relationship which is both emotional and supportive; it establishes a fun environment; and it promotes holistic development for students.
A strong facilitator-student relationship channels two individuals to grow together, something that begins at Thanda’s Journey into Healing workshops. The simple philosophy behind these workshops is that when you feel good about yourself, it helps you empathise in order to help others. “If you are still struggling with your own issues, you can’t work with the kids because they also have these,” Thanda facilitator Nozipho states. She describes that without Journey into Healing she would not be where she is today. Her emotional strength is evident in her classroom. She displays confidence and fosters a relationship with her students that allows them to be open with her about things they may be struggling with. “I’m an adult, but they feel free to speak with me. They do not see me as an authority figure, but more like someone who is on their side and understands them.” The lesson on the book Rabittyness carried significant meaning in her classroom. A colorful children’s story with a very mature edge, the hidden message of Rabbityness is how to deal with loss. The main character, Rabbit, enjoys doing un-rabitty things and fills the woods with the sounds of music and colours of paints. Then one-day, Rabbit is gone and the woods are dark and quiet and many of the other rabbits are sad. Later, they realize Rabbit left behind his art and music supplies and the other rabbits pick them up in his memory and fill the woods with sound and colour once more. In the classroom, Nozipho said many of her students cried because they have experienced the loss of a family member. In this lesson and the weeks that have followed, Nozipho has acted as a friend, mentor and counselor offering guidance and support to her students. This special bonds helps create outcomes such as trustfulness, classroom engagement and respect.
During Thanda facilitator Janet’s R & 1 class it can be a little chaotic, but never without fun. Janet explains, “Every day when it is time to clean up or do chores at school, it can normally be torturous, but in my class it is the time my kids enjoy the most because they are able to make conversation and get to know me, and I get to do the same with them. We have a lot of fun.” Fostering a fun and safe environment for students promotes learning while growing a students’ own desire to learn. “My class is a special time for them. The young kids feel free without realizing I am trying to teach them something with the fun activities we do.” Classrooms like these are more conducive to the type of learning and growth we hope to achieve at Thanda in addressing both academic and emotional needs at the same time. Schools typically do not have the time to teach lessons focused on creativity or empathy. Therefore, Thanda helps schools teach life-skills in ways that are new and fun. At each of the schools we work with our experience with teachers and staff is positive and constructive for their own classrooms.
The facilitator-student connection has imperative implications for the students’ future development. The book Desmond and the Very Mean Word was taught in Slindoh’s class on April 27th, South Africa’s Freedom Day. During this time, students had the opportunity to ask questions about the history of Freedom Day and what had happened in South Africa during Apartheid and afterward. Then, they took a look at forgiveness and thought about their own lives or situations where someone had hurt them. “We talked about the personal struggles the students have outside of the classroom and I got to know them better,” she described. Thanda’s method of facilitating lessons also differs from traditional teaching because it takes the focus away from competition that comes with testing and metric evaluations. “All the kids have their different strengths and we recognize this, but I always say we are all equal and we are going to do this as a class. This helps all the kids have confidence and our curriculum is designed that way.” Students admire their facilitators for their self-confidence, warmth and sincerity and Thanda Facilitators are actively engaged in their classrooms to cultivate this healthy bond.
In a three-part blog series, next month we will discuss the training Thanda does with facilitators both initially and continually through our Creative Learning Curriculum. Our last blog will highlight the emotional journey each facilitator (as well as all staff members at Thanda) takes through our Journey into Healing workshops. Both experiences prepare facilitators emotionally to help students beyond the classroom, forming an irreplaceable bond that begins with group hug greetings.