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Teachable Moments

August 31, 2016 4 Comments

Today is my last day at my current school. I have been here for the last two and a half years and this is the place that has truly made me into the teacher, and person, that I now am. When I first started here, it was ROUGH. Just the appearance of the school made me feel uneasy. Graffiti everywhere, broken windowpanes and cigarette butts on the ground. However, after a while I learned to see past those surface elements and I focused on what is really important at a school: the learners, the teachers and of course, learning.



On Monday I treated my learners to some cupcakes and chocolates. It took me a few hours to make personalised labels (and thanks to my sister the master baker) as well as set it up for them but the looks on their faces, shrieks and tears made it worth it.

Photo 2016-08-28, 16 28 11Photo 2016-08-25, 12 07 18Photo 2016-08-29, 10 35 07Photo 2016-08-29, 10 42 00


Being a teacher means many things to different people. For some, it means long holidays and early finishing hours. For others, it means frustration with school administration and an endless cycle of paperwork. For me, it was all about moments; moments you can only experience when you are a teacher.


  • That moment when you finish explaining something on the board, drop the chalk triumphantly, turn to face the class and realise that half the class is still confused.


  • That moment when you want to laugh because the learner has written a paragraph describing the ‘beggar’ as delicious with two buns and a juicy patty.


  • That moment when you feel that wave of anger sweeping over you because the learner has fallen asleep and isn’t paying attention to your entertaining lesson that you spent hours planning.


  • That same moment when you realise that this learner has gotten up at 4am to get himself and his little sister ready for school because they live alone and have to catch two buses from the township to make it to school by 7h30.


  • That moment your learners do imitations of you and you realise how scary you must seem to them.


  • That moment when you are alone in your class after you’ve taught the same lesson to 5 different classes and you’ve seen how differently each class responds to the same lesson.

Photo 2016-08-30, 10 04 27

  • That moment when your learners asked you what you did over the weekend and you tell them you spent it with friends. Their shocked expressions as they say, “You have friends?”


  • That moment when we are reading aloud and you pick a learner to read and they spend ten minutes on one sentence. Then you are stuck between asking them to stop (and risking offending them) or enduring their slow but loud battle with words.

Photo 2015-08-14, 08 53 55

  • That moment when you meet your principal’s brother for the first time and he tells you that he is a skipper. Then you ask him how long has he been a stripper for.


  • That moment when you have explained the difference between a metaphor and simile for the 4th time…and just when you are giving up hope of them learning… their face erupts in excitement and they suddenly understand.

Photo 2016-08-30, 14 12 06

  • That moment when your learner mispronounces a word and you want to laugh along with the rest of the class but since you’re the teacher, you bite it back and correct them gently.


  • That moment when a 13-year-old girl is crying in your arms because her 18-year-old boyfriend is pressuring her to have sex.


  • That moment when you have a class discussion and your learners teach you things you never knew about their cultures, lifestyles and conflicts.

Photo 2016-01-15, 13 19 31

  • That moment when its Friday night and you’re on the dance floor with your colleagues and suddenly you recognize that they aren’t just your colleagues anymore.


  • That moment when you think better of chastising a learner about her untidy hair because you know she is sensitive about her ethnic hair and a lack of money to style it the way she would like

Photo 2016-08-30, 13 50 03

  • That moment when you are cranky after a broken night’s sleep and a learner sincerely tells you how beautiful you look.


  • That moment when you give your learners cupcakes and they cry; not because you are leaving the school… but because no one ever does nice things for them.

Photo 2016-08-30, 09 45 27

That moment when you realise that a strong bond can develop despite class, race and language barriers. And you think about how sometimes they use the phrases you use and take your advice. And that special moment when you realise that a part of you has become a part of them. And then you remember the special teachers you had when you were in school and realise… you will be remembered in the same cherished way by these learners.



Here are a few more pics of my amazing learners!

Photo 2016-08-30, 13 44 44Photo 2016-08-29, 11 25 00Photo 2016-08-29, 11 00 36


Photo 2016-08-29, 20 57 30



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  • phillygirl77 January 23, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    That moment when you meet another teacher from a total different part of the world and she shares your passions. 🙂

  • kindergartenknowledge May 2, 2017 at 5:14 am

    I am sitting here at my computer remembering so many wondrous moments from my teaching career and also remembering some moments that were sad and difficult. Sad and difficult…a child taken away from his family because of neglect…even though I knew that the action was for the best. I still wonder about him after ten years. Wondrous moments…a classroom of five year old children learning to read despite speaking a different language than me at home. Wondrous moments…the laughter, the hugs, the tears, the fun, the rewarding work, the friends… thank goodness I decided to take a chance on being a teacher! And by the way…I really, really like your blog!!

    • Expat Panda May 2, 2017 at 1:25 pm

      Thank you for your kind feedback! There is no other profession quite like ours. It has its fair share of challenges but the rewards are immeasurable.

  • […] If you want to read more about my experiences teaching in an underprivileged school in South Africa, click here. […]

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