This is a chat between Dave and I.
This was his reply.
Now you understand why I asked Dave to be the subject of my first interview. Cause he’s a fucking legend.
I met Dave a few years back when he started teaching English at the same high school where I was currently teaching Math. We didn’t click straight away, but as time went on and we got to know each better, I realized that Dave would be one of the most genuine people I’ll get to know.
He loves coffee, he loves books, he loves traveling. He truly was a great asset to the English department and his students loved and respected him, as he didn’t place himself above them. He’s an honest and straightforward person and will speak his mind if he doesn’t agree with something. He’s also (as I’ve been told) a gentle and thorough lover.
You’ll find the interview below, followed by a gallery to give you some extra insight into him and then some closing remarks by me. Enjoy!
First, for the record, state your full name, date of birth, your credit card number and the 3 digits found on the reverse of the card. It’s purely just to verify your details.
David Whitehorn. 31 March 1987; 567…ah, I should have read the whole question first.
Now, for those of you who don’t know, Dave is currently in the education field. What would you say made you pursue that passion?
I didn’t so much choose it as it just happened to me. I was finishing up my Bachelor of Arts at UKZN and a friend of mine wanted to teach in Korea, South not North. He thought that it would be good to go with a friend and suggested that I do the same. I didn’t have any other plans and decided that I could do a lot worse… so I applied and had a job and a one way ticket two weeks later.
I only planned to stay a year, but found out that I was actually good at it and realised that until I figured out what I wanted to do that this wasn’t a bad way to make money. I decided after three years that it would be better to have a formal teaching qualification so that I could apply for more jobs and travel the world a bit. I’m still trying to figure what it is I want to do, so here I am – still teaching.
You’ve traveled quite a bit and taught at various schools and institutions around the world. Usually along a journey, each step teaches us something. What did you learn at each place you were at that will stay with you?
Korea taught me many incredibly valuable lessons about teaching – the most important being flexibility. I taught at two very different schools in the same county – one was the top school in the county and the other was one of the worst performing in the county.
Both schools had the same curriculum, but there was no way that I could put the information across in the same way. The former school had kids from grade two going to afterschool academies for two or three hours a day to improve their academics whereas the other school had kids working in the fields before and after school. Their parents were illiterate and couldn’t provide them with the same kind of assistance that some of the other parents could.
Every school I have worked at has reinforced this lesson as every school has its own context. However, Glenwood, my previous school, taught me what I would say is an equally valuable lesson – the importance of extramural activities. These are not just important for the students, but for the teachers too.
My rapport with my students increased the more involved I got with various activities around the school. Then moving into the school’s BE (Boarding House) massively increased that. Given the choice, I would definitely get involved with my next school’s boarding establishment (if it had boarding facilities, obviously).
Education in South Africa gets a lot of negative attention. What would you say are the biggest problems facing education in our country and how could we address these things?
I’ve never been a big fan of final examinations. I think that continued assessment is a far more effective way of teaching. However, I also understand the need for standardization. Without standardized testing at the end of matric (and thus in all grades leading up to matric in order to prepare students for their final exams), it would be far too easy for students and institutions to cheat or receive inflated marks. So I don’t have a solution that I believe will work, but a solution needs to be found.
Testing a child’s ability to memorise information is beyond stupid in my mind – we need to access the ability to put skills into practice. This would be easier to achieve if teachers were given more freedom to access students in different ways. Some systems allow for this flexibility of assessment, but if not monitored closely it could swing too far away from what students need in order to be prepared for tertiary institutions. For example, there’s no good in allowing a students to do all of their assessments orally on a weekly quiz basis and then when they arrive at a tertiary institute they have no idea how to study for and sit a test. An extreme example, I know, but you get the point.
Obviously teaching has its memorable moments, both good and bad. Give us a teaching memory you would associate with the following words/phrases:
It’s always awesome when a kid has been working hard and finally achieves a grade they wanted – so incredibly rewarding. However, the best memory for me was the first time I saw a kid ‘click’ while I was teaching. It was while I was in Korea and I was explaining some aspect of language that one of my students just didn’t get.
I was lucky enough to have a fabulous co-teacher and while she got the rest of the class going with a game to reinforce the concept, I worked one-on-one with the student. Seeing her finally get the concept was one of the most rewarding things I had experienced up until that point.
When a kid comes up to you and just unloads something intensely personal. I feel massively honored that they chose me, but I also find it quite sad that on some occasions you are the most responsible / caring adult in their life.
What the ****!
Every second day a kid will come out with something right out of left field that absolutely leaves you reeling. I love those moments where you can just stop with the content for a bit and make a connection and have a good laugh with your kids.
This child needs a slap
Any and every single time I am confronted by a child’s sense of entitlement. Nothing gets me fuming quite like a kid thinking he is owed something by me. Parents can get me feeling like that too when they try and blame me for their child’s complete and utter apathy.
As a teacher, sometimes you end up being schooled by your own students. Have you ever made a mistake in class and been called on it by a student?
Regularly. It’s normally something insignificant like a spelling mistake or mixing up a character’s name. I think I’ve been able to avoid being schooled simply because I’m more than happy to admit when I’m unsure about something or I genuinely don’t know. being honest and telling a student that you’ll look into it and get back into them will also earn you a lot of kudos with your kids.
Is there a specific lesson that a student taught you that sticks out in your memory?
I really enjoy teaching poetry – I love seeing kids have fun with literature and grapple with it. Specifically, I once did an introductory lesson with some kids where I compared the epilogue of Shakespeare’s The Tempest to Nirvana’s You Know You’re Right. I really enjoyed it simply because I was able to challenge some of the pre-existing ideas a few of the students had about poetry.
What advice would you have for anyone wanting to pursue a career in teaching/education?
Get ready to be frustrated. Get ready to be sleep deprived. Get ready to be underappreciated. Get ready to emotionally drained.
However, you will never be so rewarded so regularly. It really is such a privilege. It might not seem worth it most days, but there will be days that come along every now and again that makes you remember exactly why you wake up every single day and do what you have to do when you’re a teacher.
Now, for the important question. How the hell did you grow and how do you groom such a magnificent beard?
I got lazy and stopped shaving. Then I phoned Nev the Barber (an amazing little place in Glenwood and Durban North) and he worked his voodoo. Seriously, the man’s crazy talented.
You’ve also got quite a bit of ink. What was the significance of your first tattoo and what made you keep carrying on?
I always knew that if I got one that I would get covered. The first one was the first half of one of my favourite quatrains by T.S. Eliot:
We shall not cease from exploration / And the point of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time
It reminds me about my time in Korea – my first big adventure.
Do you plan on staying in education forever or would you change careers?
I genuinely don’t know. I think I’d really love to own a bar (The Cock and Thrush) or a coffee shop (still working on a name with sufficient sexual innuendo), but I really don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t teaching. If you figure it out for me, let me know.
Finally, what words of wisdom would you like to pass on to the readers?
Travel. Every chance you get to go somewhere – go. I cannot stress this enough.
And now, to end off this interview, a QUICKFIRE ROUND!
Food? – Biltong (I’m craving BIG time right now).
Drink? – Coffee – duh.
Band/Musician? – Changes all the time. Really is dependent on my mood – right now I can’t stop listening to Deftones. But I love all kinds of music.
Color? – Black (and I can’t go back).
Body part? – Legs
Historical Dictator? – Does Genghis Khan count? (Well I don’t know whether he knows math, but he definitely killed a lot of people)
Crime to commit? – Disturbing the peace.
Dave understands something that many people do not. The role of a teacher in our current society is much more than an educator. You are a combination of educator/coach/parent/mentor/confidant/entertainer, among many other things. Sometimes this can be quite daunting to first time teachers and as such, they believe that you need to make sure your students know that YOU are in charge.
A great teacher can keep a class well-behaved and disciplined, not through force or punishment, but through mutual respect. The students respect a teacher that fulfills their role and educates them, but a teacher also has a responsibility to respect their students as individuals with unique personalities and abilities. That is what made Dave such an effective teacher, and if you plan on going into teaching, you would do well to follow such an example.
He got to know his students strengths and weaknesses and see them as a group of 30 individuals, not just 30 faces. As such, he was effectively able to manage a wide variety of students who were at different levels. He took the high flyers and made them soar even higher. He worked with the students who struggled with the subject for numerous afternoons and weekends, helping them to understand the language better and improve their marks. Education though, is more than work. Often he would discuss other topics with his students, just to broaden their knowledge and debate their opinions. Sometimes the best lessons you learn in a classroom aren’t related to a syllabus at all.
More than that though, he understands that no matter passionate you are about your work, you also need to take time to enjoy life, to see the world and experience everything that is available. His primary focus in my eyes, is to enjoy the life he’s been given, while still making a difference in the world.
And every day he teaches, he does just that.
People of South Africa is a weekly post where I interview someone to get their perspective on issues and shine a little light on who they are. If you want to be interviewed, or know someone who would be interested, please contact me. You don’t need to be an expert, you just need to share a bit of yourself with my readers.