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Teaching is an act of courage

- By Schalk Mouton

Choosing to be a teacher is a "brave" decision to make, and a life path that can only be driven by love.

This was the message that Professor Denise Zinn, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, had for the education graduates at the graduation ceremony for the Wits Faculty of Humanities on Thursday, 2 April 2015.

"During these challenging times in our country and in the world, when this critical profession that we have chosen, is under siege in so many ways, it is quite something to have made such a brave choice," she said. 

Educators -- those who dare to teach -- don't only face personal challenges of low salaries and lack of respect in their careers, but also huge challenges in the working conditions that they might face.

"There are many parents who say (to their children) 'whatever you do, don't go into teaching'."

Zinn said the non-governmental organisation Equal Education had recently done a survey on the standard of public school infrastructure.

"What they documented was some of the most appalling conditions that continue to exist in our schools across the country," she said. "There are, for example, a thousand schools without electricity. Hundreds are without water and sanitation. Over 11,000 schools are using pit toilets." 

Zinn said that to take up a challenge like this, is a mission that could only be taken with a heart and mind filled with love, and a sense of purpose.

Quoting the radical Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, Zinn said that it "is impossible to teach without the courage to love".

"As educators, we hold responsibility, more than in any other profession, of bringing to fulfilment the promise of the gift of life that comes with every single person born into this world," she said. 

"It is such weighty responsibility that all of you hold in your hands and on your shoulders." 
To be successful educators, Zinn said teachers not only need to know their students, and their subjects, but also themselves. 

"When I do not know myself, I cannot know who my students are. And when I cannot see them clearly, I cannot teach well," she said, quoting the educator Parker J Palmer.

Zinn said an important part in the mission to teach, is to make a difference in society. 

"How you will do that, in the face of all the complexities and challenges in this world we live in, is the challenge that faces you as you go out to make your way, to carve your path, to put your stamp on the world of classrooms and young people who will be shaped with your influence."