I have been a teacher for 30 years and without a shadow of a doubt, a good school is one where the girls and boys are happy.
Yes, I hear you when you ask about class sizes, academics, sports, cultural activities, facilities and matric results. These are important cornerstones of a good school but having pupils who are happy to be at school is, and should be, the first priority.
A happy pupil is one who will thrive.
A child who wakes up and wants to go to school is a blessing and one not to be taken for granted.
For a child who wakes up dreading the day ahead, who feels alone and isolated, it doesn’t matter how good your academics, sports and cultural programmes are; that child does not want to be at school in the first place. No sports results, matric results or cultural successes will really matter.
The irony is that to get good academic, cultural and sporting results, one needs to stop focusing on academics, culture and sports. One needs to place the focus on creating a culture in a school where people feel welcome, where they feel loved in an environment which nurtures and encourages the individuals, in a climate of care.
All schools have three components; the pupils, the parents or guardians and the staff.
All three of these gears need to mesh together in a synchronicity that is seamless and integrated.
Each individual groove on each cog should effortlessly complement another cog, drawing the whole framework into one collective movement.
If we draw back and look at the bigger picture, we realise that the pupils want the same thing the teachers want, which is also the same thing that the parents want, and that is for each child to be happy, to have friends and to come home having enjoyed their school day.
They are far more likely to have learned something if they’ve had a happy day.
Teaching for me has been a 30-year career. I have taught using chalk and blackboards. I have taught with markers and whiteboards. For a very short while interactive smart boards were seen as the next clever thing, and now I have the skills to teach online too.
But none of this really matters.
My teaching isn’t better because I now know how to use Microsoft Teams. My teaching only gets better when I take the time to know my pupils by name and when I actively work to build a relationship with them.
My teaching is better when I invest time at the side of a field watching the boys and girls play sports. My teaching is better when I attend a school play. My teaching is better when I spend my break time outside, in the school’s common areas, speaking to the young people who populate our campus.
I don’t have to do anything. I just need to give my time and show, through my actions, that I care.
It is not difficult. But it does take time.
People take time.
Simon Crane is the deputy head of HeronBridge College, an independent school in Fourways, Johannesburg.