The School of Education’s Newly Qualified Teachers Project, which recently bid farewell to its third and latest cohort of young educators, has been hailed as a pioneering intervention that provides a safe space for sharing stresses and developing strategies for success.
Aimed at providing critical support to Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) students entering the classroom full-time, the programme is available to all recently qualified teachers across the range, from Grade 1 to matric.
Far from being a half-day job as is often the perception, teachers today bear a huge responsibility for good results and upholding the standards of education, said Associate Professor Cathy Kell, director of the School of Education at the University of Cape Town (UCT).
“As a result of the extensive professional and personal pressures placed on teachers, and the alarming attrition rate nationwide, the School of Education started the project in 2016 in response to requests from our graduates who often struggled and gave up,” she said.
In 2014 alone, 14 000 South African teachers left the profession, with the attrition rate so severe that the country is forecast to have only seven percent more teachers in 2025 than it had in 2013.
Sponsored by the Hosken Consolidated Investments (HCI) Foundation and The Saville Foundation, the project aims to step into the gap which sees South Africa unable to offer any standardised induction or mentorship programmes to first-year teachers. While some schools try to provide in-house support, Kell said, these teachers were mostly left to fend for themselves in extremely demanding jobs at schools that were often also resource-constrained.
“A safe space”
One participant in the 2018 cohort, who successfully completed the support course, said the session offered “a safe space to share our thoughts and feelings about teaching”. She added that they also learnt a lot about teaching, especially classroom management, which she found extremely beneficial.
The 2018 group are 2017 PGCE graduates. They were supported by project manager Judy Sacks, School of Education staff, and an advisory committee that includes Kell, a teacher, the Western Cape Department of Education and UCT’s Schools Development Unit.
Kell stressed that being a new teacher thrust into a new classroom can be a very stressful and lonely experience.
“The knowledge that our staff have of the situation in Western Cape schools, and the unique characteristics of each school, is invaluable in developing these desperately needed support networks,” she said.
Among the support the new teachers enjoy are interactive seminars which offer ongoing professional development throughout the year, school visits and classroom observation, as well one-on-one mentoring.
“A greater objective is to create school climates that are supportive and caring, so that newly qualified teachers are appropriately mentored to meet the challenge of teaching in diverse classrooms.”
The programme also acts as a resource base to strengthen teaching capacity and provides a digital platform for new teachers to access resources.
A four-day Winter School featuring 14 free workshops and open to teachers from across the Western Cape was also held in the July holidays this year.
Project manager Judy Sacks said they were committed to keeping talented and passionate teachers motivated, supported and in the profession.
“A greater objective is to create school climates that are supportive and caring, so that newly qualified teachers are appropriately mentored to meet the challenge of teaching in diverse classrooms.
“We also want to ensure they have the academic and social skills to provide meaningful access for all learners,” she said.
Chair of the advisory committee, Associate Professor Rochelle Kapp, paid tribute to the mature and open way in which the newly qualified teachers reflected on and grappled with challenges.
“They worked collectively to strategise to help each other,” she said, adding that insights gained from the young teachers also helped enrich UCT’s teacher education programmes, while enabling UCT staff to contribute meaningfully on the issue of addressing teacher attrition at regional and national level.
The project’s growing reputation has already seen many of the current cohort of PGCE students register to be part of the initiative next year.
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