A Committed Teacher and Principal

 

For Benedict teaching was not just a job but a real calling or vocation to serve the community. His sister, Thinavhuyo, tells us that, “He took up teaching because he liked children and wanted to teach them to become responsible people when they grew up”. We know from Convince Makwarela that Benedict was involved in a project, “to help children by promoting good manners, teaching them to respect each other, not to steal, to obey rules and to respect their elders”. He wanted them to be truthful and honest. He would tell his cousin and student Samuel Daswa, “My son, always tell the truth. I am doing this for your future”. He was concerned about the very poor children and would give them work in his garden. He would pay them afterwards so that they could buy books and school uniforms and continue with their studies.

He believed that children should learn to work and not depend on handouts. Working beside Benedict in his garden, before and after school, was a good lesson for them, a lesson for life. He wanted them to willingly accept their work telling them, “If you do something without being pushed you will enjoy it”. He would tell the children not to tell others that he had helped them. He never wanted to parade his good deeds before others but to hide them as much as possible. Sometimes he would quietly give financial help to parents of very needy children.

As the young dynamic principal of Nweli Primary School, Benedict set about improving the school by building five new classrooms. He introduced school uniforms, started school gardens as well as feeding schemes, and encouraged various forms of sport and also music and singing. He believed the school was a place of teaching and learning and made sure that both activities were strongly promoted. He was strict but was also fair with both teachers and learners.

He expected the teachers to behave in a professional manner and be good role models for the children. Chris Mphaphuli recalls that Benedict, “loved his work”, and that, “as a principal he loved the school and wanted his teachers to carry out and uphold the teaching profession”. Benedict liked to cooperate with others as we learn from Moses Thovhakale, “Benedict liked team work and would usually form a group so that if we had any problems or difficulties we could support and help each other”.

He also wanted his staff to look professional and to have a decent appearance appropriate for teachers. This meant that a male teacher had to wear a tie which Benedict called, “the rope of honour”. In the words of a fellow teacher, “In his work as a principal he was supportive of the teachers, strict but just. He wanted things organised and recorded properly”. Since he saw the role of teachers as very important for society there is no doubt that he expected a good response from them and usually got it.

According to Chris Mphaphuli, “Benedict was a man of punctuality and insisted that his teachers be at school on time. He would tell them and other principals, ‘If we want to maintain discipline with children, we ourselves must be found to be honest in our work and so we should not leave school early’”. People recount an occasion when a teacher left before time and Benedict gave chase. He hauled him out of a taxi and made him return to the school to prepare his work for the following week. Afterwards, using his own car, Benedict took the teacher to his destination.

As a dedicated teacher, Benedict was also interested in the competence, commitment and welfare of other teachers. He became a member of the Transvaal United African Teachers Association (TUATA). He was active in the association and was elected secretary of the local branch. At meetings he was always ready to speak out and give his honest opinion on issues and his contributions were appreciated.

At such meetings he followed his usual practice of starting with a prayer. If no one volunteered to pray he would pray himself. When food was served he would ask the Lord to bless it. He was comfortable in living his faith in the public arena. He never tried to hide it nor did he flaunt it or seek to force it on others.

Benedict always tried to maintain a good relationship with the parents, listening to them, encouraging and helping them in various ways. If a child were absent he would go to the family to find out why the child was not at school. He wrote an appreciative letter to a parent who had succeeded in getting her children to return to school, “I am writing to thank you again that the children are coming back to school after being absent. Children look to us as parents: let us give them justice because they are our light for tomorrow. Let us give them an education for a better future. If there are problems or difficulties let us help each other by agreeing to help the children to be committed, this is our responsibility as parents”.

Many people who knew Benedict well were impressed by his humility in helping his wife with domestic chores, in working in the garden like an ordinary labourer and in helping in the kitchen and dining room to prepare meals for youth groups. He was very much aware of the need for humility in anyone who takes on a leadership role such as a school principal. Just after being appointed as a school principal at a young age, Chris Mphaphuli decided to go to Benedict to get some advice about his new responsibilities. He had a notebook so that he could write down important points.

After welcoming him Benedict said, “You can put away your notebook because you won’t need it”. Then he said, “Let’s begin with a prayer”. He opened his Bible, read a few verses from it and prayed for the Lord’s guidance on their meeting. Then his advice was summed up in one short sentence, “Be humble”. He said, “A school principal must be humble. He must be humble with his staff. He must be humble with his learners. He must be humble with the parents”. What a profound lesson in Christian leadership from a first generation Christian echoing the Lord’s own teaching, “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart” (Matt 11:29). Benedict lived in his daily life the teaching of the Bible, “Clothe yourselves in humility in your dealings with one another for God opposes the proud and bestows favour on the humble”. (1 Peter 5:5)