How often have you heard “teachers work half day” – very often, I’m sure. But it’s not true.

How often have you heard “teachers work half year” – again, very often. But again, it’s not true.

How often have you heard “teachers get half a salary” – well that is true.

Our teachers are probably amongst the hardest working members of our community and amongst the least appreciated. Many high school teachers teach two or three subjects in three to five grades which have four or five classes of 35 to 45 learners in a week. Let’s do the math to see how many young minds they are responsible for developing every week. This equates to a Gauteng teacher being responsible for over 840 young minds.

Now make the assumption that in each exam cycle, those learners sit two exams for each subject. Our hypothetical teacher has to mark 1680 exam papers taking 15 minutes per paper. That’s 420 hours of marking in each exam cycle. Please note that there is generally the expectation that a paper has to be marked within 5 days of it being written.

Teaching is not a half day, half year job. And we have not even considered the time needed for preparation for each lesson, the time for intervention sessions with struggling learners, the time for extra-curricula activities and the time needed for personal studies to remain ahead of the subject matter in an ever changing world. Seldom is the phrase, “over worked and under paid” so appropriate.

But who suffers in this very realistic scenario? The teacher? Yes. The learner? Very definitely! The community? Certainly! Our province? Absolutely. South Africa? Without a doubt.

Let’s look at it from the perspective of the learner. If the child is doing well at school, he or she will certainly be on the teacher’s radar. The child will be interacting with the teacher in the classroom and getting confirmation of material as well as affirmation regularly. A weak learner will be on the teacher’s radar too. Time will be spent on intervention and additional lessons. What about the child who is simply average but with potential to do better? Let’s call them “the invisible middle”. In the average Gauteng school, this child will get very little attention to realize her potential.

A teacher’s assistant in the classroom will plug this gap as well as take some of the huge load off the teacher to enable greater attention be given to the pursuit of excellence in our classrooms.

It is not the intention that the teacher’s assistant makes tea and cleans the board before every class. The intention is for this person to assist in the teaching and assessing process. This has multiple benefits: the teacher will have more time to prepare and present stimulating lessons; the learner will have someone by her side to assist and help surmount obstacles; the teacher’s assistant will get experience in the real world, a real classroom.

Ask any teacher what they had to learn after getting an education degree and they will tell you that they didn’t really know how to handle a classroom in the real world. Theory is all very well but dealing with children in a classroom effectively requires experience beyond what is given in the annual practical period facilitated by our universities.

Teacher’s Assistants could be drawn from multiple sectors. New graduates who would gain much needed experience. Correspondence students studying towards an education degree who cannot afford to study full time and not work to provide for families. Retired specialist teachers where specialist skills are needed.

During my recent stay in London while doing research at Melcombe School which is an inner city state school in a working class area, it became more obvious that teachers’ assistants play a vital role in the education system. They have the advantage of much smaller class sizes than we have and sometimes have as many as 3 teachers’ assistants in the room at a time to assist in the learning process and personal development of the child. There is no way that we can have a system of this magnitude but we have to start putting more resources into education to achieve a well-educated population which can realize its potential and develop our country to the next level.

The time is now. The need is now. Action is needed now.