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College of Education and Human Development at The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine

South African teacher educates, inspires American teachers

South African teacher educates, inspires American teachers

If there’s one thing that Thandiwe Dlodlo is passionate about, it’s education. The 13-year teaching veteran and current Director of the Foundational Phase in the Limpopo Province traveled 9,207 miles from her home in South Africa to the UTSA College of Education and Human Development to learn how to become a better writer, teacher, and teacher educator.

“As teachers, we affect lives every day,” said Dlodlo. “You can’t teach learners as an object of a job or as just a responsibility that you have within the walls of the classroom. If you care to know who you are teaching and where they come from, then you are in a position to make a difference in their lives. That’s what I strongly believe in.

Dlodlo, along with 19 graduate students and teachers from across the San Antonio community, participated in the 2015 San Antonio Writing Project (SAWP) Summer Institute. The four-week institute featured a series of writing workshops and activities, such as daily logs, reflections, research, writing, demonstrations, and presentations, using the “teachers teaching teachers” model.

“For me, I was drawn to the lesson demos,” said Dlodlo. “That is what I am taking greatly to South Africa. With the lesson demonstration, there was a way of making the theoretical framework that we read a lot about visible in practice.”

The teachers were also exposed to each other’s teaching style, personal stories, and culture. In many cases, the similarities between the teachers outweighed the differences.

“At the end of it all, we are all the same,” said Dlodlo. “Our concepts are the same. We may be viewed as a developing country, but the aspirations of our learners and their desires and dreams are the same.”

In her position as Director of the Foundational Phase, Dlodlo oversees nearly 60,000 teachers within the early childhood development phase in the Limpopo Province. Each teacher, she said, teaches about 40 students, or “learners.” In some areas, however, the number of students in each classroom increases to nearly 80.

“As director, I have to make sure that teachers are equipped with the strategies that they need for the classroom,” she said. “Those early childhood levels are critical because what they do in the early grades actually determines what will happen in higher grades. If we don’t get the foundation right, then we have missed it.”

This past summer marked the fourth year that teachers from South Africa have come to the United States to take part in SAWP’s Summer Institute. The goal each year has been to facilitate cross-cultural collaboration in order to send the South African teachers back home with the knowledge, resources and tools to teach their students, and fellow educators, how to become better writers.

“This camp has been a mind-blowing experience,” said Dlodlo. “I think that the experience was not only for teachers, but also for me as a person to say ‘How do I take my craft from here and empower teachers back home in South Africa?’”

Since the first Summer Institute in 2006, the SAWP has helped more than 150 teachers become better writers and educators. At the close of the Summer Institute, all of the teachers received a certificate of completion, six hours of graduate course credit and became official members and Teaching Consultants for the SAWP. Dlodlo, however, will take even more back home with her to South Africa.

“I hope that my South African teachers will take from me this notion that each and every learner can learn when given an environment that enables learning to happen,” said Dlodlo. “Each and every teacher should be willing to go a step further than what they are currently doing by embracing the learner, because I think for a teacher to teach, you need to know your learner.”


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