Teacher Mentorship Programme

The Teacher Mentorship Programme was originally developed to support the education of the many children who pass through our Early Learning Centre at Won Life.  These children would leave Grade R with a solid understanding of the curriculum yet, when they moved on to the local primary school, their learning foundation would go to waste.  Our initial, personal interest in the children from our Early Learning Centre drew our attention to the dire situation that all pupils faced at Trevor Manuel Primary School.  We knew that we needed to improve the standard of education delivered to them, in order to nurture and build onto their learning.  We decided to focus on Grade 1 in 2015 and, based on the programme’s success, resolved to then look at ways of expanding it year-by-year into further grades.

In order to discover the focus areas for the Teacher Mentorship Programme, we spent the latter half of 2014 observing the Grade 1 teachers at Trevor Manuel Primary School.  During this time, we were able to organise a volunteer event to upgrade the Grade 1 classrooms.  This allowed us to set a standard of excellence and add value to the teaching and learning environment for both teachers and learners.  It also helped us to foster a fledgling relationship with the teachers we would be working with the following year.  This invaluable observation period gave us the time to develop a comprehensive understanding about the specific learning environment and its greatest needs. In a nutshell, our research determined the main focus areas of the Teacher Mentorship Programme to be: Curriculum Development, Classroom Setup, Teaching Support and Learner Assessment.

Through observation, we discovered that many of the teachers were overwhelmed by the national curriculum that they were meant to teach.  Many struggled to make sense of the curriculum documents and were unsure of how to develop good planning from it.  The general weekly planning that had been developed at departmental workshops was correct, but too vague to guide a teacher with limited curriculum knowledge effectively.  Although teachers tried to touch on all areas of learning, the lack of a solid plan for learning made progress difficult.

We realised that we needed to completely overhaul what was taught in the classroom, as well as how it was taught.  In response to this, we began the process of developing an in-depth syllabus based on CAPS (South Africa’s National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement).  The syllabus that we developed includes a comprehensive daily plan, which explains the exact steps to teaching the various subjects for the day.  Our daily plans for teaching can often be up to six pages long, and remove any guess work for the teacher involved.  In this way, we can ensure that the correct content is taught in the correct manner.  Once the teachers have a better understanding of the curriculum and how to teach it effectively, we will begin to involve them in the planning process.  This will equip them with the necessary skills to plan effectively for teaching and learning themselves.

Resources

The severe lack of resources has always been overwhelmingly apparent during our dealings with the school. Once we had studied the Grade 1 classrooms more closely, we realised that this filtered down to the classroom too. Every classroom lacked the necessary resources for effective teaching and learning. The resources that were in place were below the acceptable standard and most classrooms looked tired and dirty. This communicated a lack of value for the learners who spent much of their day there. We aimed to counteract this through the classroom makeovers which added substantial value into the learning space. However, even once the makeovers had taken place, we still lacked many of the additional resources needed to make the programme work effectively. The resources that should have been provided by the school were not in place, due to a variety of factors beyond our control. As a result, we have personally developed and purchased many of the necessary resources to support the syllabus that we have created.

Teacher Effectiveness

During our observation, we realised that many teachers lacked the ability to teach effectively. Most had gone to disadvantaged schools themselves, and their teaching style was built around what was modelled to them. Many of the children they teach are also severely underprivileged and face various issues of their own. This alone brings factors into the classroom that would be a challenge for even the most highly competent teacher to meet. Many teachers would teach a concept, and were able to realise that their learners were not grasping the content, but were unsure of how to teach it any differently. We soon realised that the teachers would need in-depth coaching in different teaching methods and strategies, as well as daily support. For this reason, as part of our programme, we spend time daily with the teachers in their classrooms to observe teaching and learning. In this way, we are able to offer teaching and learning support based on real and current needs. We discuss progress daily, and focus on developing areas that are lacking. We also model effective teaching strategies at weekly planning meetings and offer Teacher Workshops once a term, to strengthen professional skills.

Learner Assessment

Another critical area that needed focused attention was the assessment of learners. Assessment forms a major part of our National Curriculum and is meant to be integrated into daily teaching. However, at Trevor Manuel, teaching would completely stop for the last 4 weeks of term in order for assessment to take place. Assessment for the various subjects would be printed out in booklet form and handed out to learners to sit and complete. This not only disrupted daily teaching and learning, but it put young learners in an exam-type situation that they were not emotionally ready for. We have therefore re-developed the assessment tasks to better support the curriculum and have ensured that it is seamlessly integrated into the normal teaching day. In this way, we are able to ensure that the assessment is age-appropriate and is less overwhelming for teachers and learners.

Structure

Through our observation period at the school, we realised that there was a severe lack of structure within the various grades. Teachers across the grades did not meet regularly to plan for teaching and, therefore, each teacher was on a different page. When teachers did meet to discuss their teaching, it would usually be the Xhosa teachers on one side and the Afrikaans teachers on the other. This caused segregation between the teachers in the grade. For this reason, we decided to run weekly planning meetings with the teachers involved in the Teacher Mentorship Programme. This has ensured that every teacher teaches the same content at the same time, and has also developed a spirit of unity across the grade. At our weekly meetings, we discuss planning, teaching strategies, assessment and the management and development of resources. These meetings also create a platform for teachers to touch base, share ideas and concerns, as well as support one another. The sense of unity that our weekly meetings have created is priceless.The Grade 1 teachers now operate as a team and work together for the benefit of the grade.

Benefits

The Teacher Mentorship Programme has been a great success to date, and has added tremendous value into the teaching and learning environment. It has opened up doors to fostering better relationships with the Department of Education and the management of the school, both of whom readily accept our support. Further evidence of its success is shown in the comparison results of 2014 and 2015, where the pass rate in every subject of learning has improved dramatically. This shows the Programme’s benefit in a tangible way and motivates us to continue to move forward, full steam ahead.