While being a teacher can be fulfilling, being a teacher comes with many challenges. But despite the challenges, many young women and men choose this professional, as they want to inspire young people and guide them to their path to success. As the first group at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy to graduate in 2011, the prospect of going to university was overwhelming for Ntombikayise Gontyeleni.
“The thought of going to university at the time was overwhelming, considering how for many of us, such a milestone had never been reached in our families. We were pioneers in every sense of the word,” Gontyeleni says.
Her first two years in university were good, but she soon felt uninspired, as she realised that she was no longer interested in Industrial Psychology and Journalism, and Media Studies which she was majoring in.
“In my final year, I got the opportunity to become a tutor. I was reluctant at first because I had never thought of myself as a teacher. I struggled to visualise myself as someone who instilled knowledge and assisted students with academic content,” she says.
But to her surprise, tutoring was one of the highlights of her university career.
“ Every time I would meet with my tutees, I would get a rush of excitement. I enjoyed teaching them new concepts, answering their questions, and engaging with them,” she says.
It was that experience that sparked something in her, which she had never felt since she started her degree.
“By the end of my final year, I found myself applying for a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), and waiting anxiously to be accepted! When I received a confirmation letter that I would be doing my PGCE (Intermediate Phase) the following year, I knew I had made the right decision, and I could not wait to start exploring my newfound passion,” she says.
That period also changed the way she felt about teaching, which also changed her narrative about what she thought about teachers.
“For so long, I was convinced that teachers had it easy and that all they had to do was get in a classroom, deliver content, and be home by 2pm. My lecturers exposed me to various teaching methods and styles; the significance of all the learning areas covered in primary school,” she says.
She also learned the importance of building strong relationships with students; the planning that goes into executing excellent lessons.
“ That year, I got the opportunity to not only learn the theories behind teaching but to actually go into real schools and teach,” she says.
By the end of her PGCE in 2015, Gontyeleni was not only armed with knowledge, but she had a goal and a vision in mind. And this was to go out there and change lives.
“I finally understood the importance of teaching, especially in a developing country like South Africa. I was ready to play my part in making a difference,” she says.
In 2016 Gontyeleni got her first teaching job at SPARK Schools.
“SPARK’s vision is for South Africa to lead global education. This is radical, considering how our education system is really bad compared to other countries. We have a great deal of catching up to do, however, I am thrilled to be part of such a cutting-edge team! We are committed to transforming our country’s education system, and ensuring that our students become global citizens,” she says.
In her time at SPARK Schools, Gontyeleni has grown into a confident teacher and ensures that her classroom is a safe space for many of her scholars.
As a school that constantly believes in not only providing affordable, quality education to many South African families, SPARK Schools also believes in developing its teachers, and Gontyeleni has been fortunate to be part of the many teachers who receive professional development.
“ I have had plenty of professional growth opportunities because SPARK believes in watering all its employees and enabling us to blossom and explore higher positions within our network. I have been given the opportunity to become a school leader, and I am excited to share best practice and play my part in grooming others,” she says.
While teaching can be quite challenging at times, Gontyeleni says she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I get so emotional when I think of the lives I have touched, and how I have grown into an empathetic human being just being surrounded by innocent and loving children. Yes, it is not easy. There are times when I get frustrated because I can see the negative effects our education system has had on some students,” she says.
She adds that she has had to teach 12-year-olds who could not read or write because they were failed by the system.
“ I have also had to teach students who faced so much trauma, that they ended up developing serious learning barriers. However, despite these challenges, I am constantly inspired to push harder, stay motivated, and change lives. I am grateful that I get to wake up every day and do what I truly love,” she says.
Gontyeleni is the Assistant Principal Witpootjie.