In this new series, featuring Dr. Tlou Setumu’s works, this week the excerpt is from his autobiography.
THE 1983 matric examinations came and went. Then what next? I did not have any slightest idea as to what I was going to do after receiving my results. I just didn’t think about that.
Nobody had ever woken me up to that fact. Neither my teacher nor my mother had ever raised that question with me.
On my part, I think at my age I was still pre-occupied with boyish things like playing, and it never came to my little mind that there was something called future.
During those days, the teachers re-opened the schools one week before the pupils at the beginning of the year.
It was during that first week of the re-opening of teachers that the matric results became available at schools.
After postponing my journey to my school, GH Franz, because of lack of motivation, eventually I decided to go and check my results.
It was towards the end of that first week when I just strolled alone in that lonely footpath to school with nothing serious in my mind.
As it was still January and only the teachers were around, the school looked very dull with grass having grown everywhere around the yard.
After entering the school yard, I gathered my thoughts and I fixed my appearance, particularly how I dressed, I coughed a little bit to clear my throat, and then proceeded straight to the principal’s office.
I found the principal, Mrs. Maggie Ntjie, and she appeared very happy and open with me.
I was nervous and I did not feel free in front of her because I was still scared of her.
I was still scared of that office because that is where I used to lie down to receive severe flogging punishments.
Apparently, she realised that I was battling very hard to relax, and after trying to make me feel relaxed, she gave me my statement of results. My aggregate symbol was C.
At that time, I did not feel anything special inside me about my results.
Perhaps Mrs. Ntjie realised my lack of enthusiasm about my good results. To her, my excellent results meant a lot of great things, although I was not aware of that at that stage. Later I was told that she was on top of the world when she first saw the results. She was the happiest person because her school topped the rest in the whole Bochum circuit.
To put cherry on top of the cake, her school was able to produce the highest symbol (the C which I obtained) in the whole circuit. I was also told that after hearing the news, she was so excited that she went on hooting her car with joy.
Mrs. Ntjie then asked me a crucial question: What was I intending to do now that I passed my matric so well? I still thank myself for having been fair and frank when I told her that I absolutely had no idea of what I was going to do next.
still value that honest answer I gave to Mrs. Ntjie.
After I indicated to her that I had no idea of what I was going to do that 1984 year, she looked at me with her big, round eyes and she asked: “Can you stand in front of a class and teach?”
I indicated to her that I could try my level best to stand in front of a class and teach, if I could be guided and supported.
Then she concluded by saying: “Next week when the learners re-open, come with a tie and a jacket, to start as a new teacher here”. I was shocked!
My journey back home was radically different from the aimless leisure stroll that I had while I was going to school earlier that morning.
I was now in a totally different state of mind and emotion.
I was filled with different thoughts and feelings and what overwhelmed me and revolved in my small head was that in the next week I was going to be a teacher!
I still couldn’t imagine how possible could that have been. When I was walking back home, my mind did not have a slightest chance to focus on anything else except that surprising news.
But although I was filled with so many thoughts and imaginations, generally I was excited by the fact that I was going to stand in front of pupils and teach them.
Although I was going to work as an unqualified, private teacher, the fact that I was going to hold a white chalk in front of pupils was enough to make me feel on top of the world.
When I arrived home, I wasted no time, I just broke out the news to my mother.
My mother was a kind of person who did not easily express her feelings explicitly, be it joy or pain.
She was always mild and moderate even in extreme situations of happiness and sorrow.
But even though she didn’t jump up and scream aloud, I knew that deep down in her heart she shared her small boy’s excitement.
There was no way she couldn’t have been happy. After all she had no plans about me after matric.
As she was sickly, unemployed and unmarried, she had no money to send me for tertiary education and I don’t think that she expected a thin, small boy of eighteen years to go out to look for employment in the big towns and cities.
I think she was happy because I had something to keep me busy and besides that I would be earning something to keep the home fires burning. Otherwise her first-born child was going to be her burden if he had to stay at home without doing anything.
Although my mother welcomed the news that I was going to be a teacher the following week, she was taken by surprise and she immediately knew that there were important things which needed to be attended to urgently.
One thing that apparently became an immediate priority for my mother was the question of how her son was going to look like in front of the leaners.
She was concerned about how presentable would I be when beginning with that adventurous exercise of being a teacher. My mother’s concern was genuine because at that time I had very few clothes.
I only had my khaki and black and white uniforms, and the rest were almost rags that I only put on when I was at home. With nobody who had ever worked in my family, I never had anybody who directly bought new clothes for me.
What I put on were almost old clothes that I was given by the owners who no longer wanted them.
Those old clothes did not fit me in most cases and my mother would adjust them for me by sewing them by hand.
As a result, such clothing usually lost their original shapes and I wouldn’t mind because I only knew that the only purpose of clothing was to cover the body, not to look smart or fancy. Whether the garment was shapeless or its colour was awkward, that was nothing to me at all.
On the re-opening day of the leaners there I was lining in front with other teachers, during the morning assembly devotions. I felt very nervous and I thought that everybody was looking at me. I tried very hard to relax and to contain my nervousness. When the principal came to introduce me, I felt like falling down. The attention that I imagined was falling on me, was too heavy to bear.
I knew by that time that all the eyes were on me and I was really burdened.
I was uneasy and uncomfortable, especially about the way I have dressed.
I felt bottled because I was not used to wearing a tie and a jacket and I was particularly concerned about the condition of my shoes which were old and mended more than once.
I felt vulnerable, especially when I compared myself with the old teachers who appeared very decent in their smart clothes.
My self-esteem was inevitably affected.
After the morning assembly, in the staff-room teachers surrounded me and they welcomed me in my new role as one of them.
They made all sorts of jokes and some of them wanted to make me feel relaxed.
During the allocation of duties in which every teacher was given subjects to teach, I was given Northern Sotho standards 6 and 7, Agricultural Science 7, and most surprisingly, History standards 9 and 10.
I was very surprised when I was given to teach History at the highest level because I didn’t expect to teach matric which was going to sit for an external examination at the end of the year.
I did not expect that, as I still felt very fresh from that particular class.
It was obviously not easy to teach a matric class which I have just passed.
That was complicated by the fact that there were those who were repeating that class, meaning that I was sitting with them in that class the previous year as classmates and friends, now there I was in front of them with a white chalk in my thin hand, teaching them!
The previous year I was smoking with them loose drawn cigarettes behind the boys’ toilets, now I was going to the toilets clearly marked: TEACHERS’ TOILETS.
Despite all those effects of my immediate transformation, the leaners generally accepted me as their teacher and they seemed to concentrate on what I was offering to them.
That was also possible because of the support I received from the principal and other staff members.
Dr. Tlou Setumu is Author and Researcher of History, Heritage and Culture. His books include: Biographies of Bra Ike Maphoto, TT Cholo and Max Mojapelo; His Story is History; The Land Bought, the Land Never Sold; Ideas with no Space; Footsteps of Our Ancestors; etc. Books are available on www.mak-herp. co.za; and also in Polokwane – Academic Bookshop (opposite CNA Checkers Centre); and Budget Bookshop (c/o Rissik and Landros Mare Streets).