Why I became a teacher at an international school | Annaline Smit

It was always my ambition to be a teacher, after experiencing a handful of amazing teachers who inspired me from my primary school to high school. They made me feel safe, appreciated and cared for in my school environment. I didn't feel like just an academic object but a whole human being because these teachers cared for me on every level. I wanted to do the same for other children. I know you can't change every single child's life but to me every child comes as a unique individual. They are not just academic objects that I would like to see leave the school with their matriculation certificate in their hands.
I have a few precious hours per day to really make a difference in their lives.

Most teachers in South Africa do a three year degree followed by a one-year teaching diploma but I decided to do a four year professional teaching degree at the University of Johannesburg. I did the professional course because it enabled me to really study the educational subjects, together with my languages – Afrikaans, German, Northern Sotho and IsiZulu – in much more depth. The four-year option also meant longer periods of teaching practice, so by the time I started teaching I had a very good idea of what the job actually entailed.

After I finished my teaching course, I taught in seven government schools over a three year period. I had a bursary from the Department of Education and the agreement was to work back the fees. For my first two years of teaching I taught in Afrikaans medium schools until 1991 when the schools became integrated.

I was then privileged to teach in multicultural schools. It was a truly meaningful time and I met many amazing teachers in the government schools that motivated me and from whom I learnt a great deal. But I found the rigid teaching routine at some of these schools at times frustrating. It was mostly about rote learning with little scope for me to develop my students as part of a bigger picture. I went into teaching with my own set of very specific goals about how I wanted to develop as a teacher, but I found that while I was teaching in these schools I was not able to reach my goals.

I left government teaching in 1992 when I got married and moved to the town I live in now, Louis Trichardt in the Limpopo Province, just over an hour away from the Zimbabwean border. I didn't teach for five years and in 1998 I went to work as a home economics and Afrikaans teacher in a private school called Emmanuel Christian School. In 2001 I was offered a teaching job at Ridgeway College, a Cambridge International school which was founded in 1999 by Leigh Bristow, an experienced Cambridge teacher who had taught around the globe.

I soon realised this is a school offering a syllabus that suited my teaching style. It is an amazing school to work in because of its incredibly diverse, integrated multicultural group of students and teachers. We have students from Tanzania, Kenya and Zimbabwe as well as English, Indian, Afrikaans and Chinese students. It feels like the whole world is here at the foot of the Soutpansberg Mountains in Limpopo.

We teach the Cambridge IGCSE as well as AS syllabuses and some subjects to A-level. We have a strong focus on teaching the students a universal set of communication, thinking and problem solving skills that enable them to cope at tertiary level and to study at overseas universities should they wish to. It is incredibly rewarding and stimulating to offer our students a holistic, flexible education and to see them develop into confident, independent thinkers.

Our school is not about the status or prestige of being an independent school but all about the quality education we offer. We work really hard to keep the fees low and affordable. Our parents are from a wide variety of backgrounds ranging from moderately wealthy to those who can barely afford to feed their families. For them it is all about the quality education we offer as a Cambridge school. Integral to our head's vision for the school is our Sumbandila outreach program where we select students with potential from rural areas to become full-time scholars with us. They are fully funded, mainly from UK and Dutch donors. It is rewarding for me to see them develop the skills taught to them on the Cambridge syllabus. Part of their journey is to use these skills to help other students in their communities.

I teach Afrikaans to IGCSE as well as AS-level. I am absolutely passionate about my work as a language teacher. It's incredibly exciting to teach such a diverse group of students a love for my language. We have 177 students and I am proud to say that although I only teach 115 of them, I know all 177 by name. It is a privilege to be part of such a close knit school community as well as a dedicated, passionate and dynamic team of teachers.

What continues to keep me inspired, after teaching for 19 years, is the feedback I get from my pupils who have left the school. They come back and thank me for the role I played in their development on all levels and the difference my unconditional love and care made in their lives. It really means the world to me and I know that what I am doing here is my passion.