Once Upon a Time I was a School Teacher

 4 May 2010: 3 years 8 months on . . .


Once upon a time I was a school teacher. To be exact, I taught at Grey High School from 1984 to 1988.

Twenty six years ago, I arrived in Port Elizabeth in my once “written off” Red Toyota Corolla GTS with the white stripe down the side: CG 18942. It had been registered in Oudtshoorn because that is where I completed my military training with all other teachers of that era. It had been written off in Rawsonville after a drunken farmer rode into it. I was on my way home for a weekend off from Infantry School and had stopped to deliver a parcel at Thomas Moolman’s home. The farmer drove down the road and squashed my 3 month brand new Toyota between his old farm bakkie and the tree in the Moolman garden! Three assessors wrote it off – but SANTAM insisted on repairing it.


So when I drove into Port Elizabeth it was at an angle – almost like a crab – not that the ordinary eye would have noticed it. However, when Steve Mathhew’s dad later organized a new model VW Jetta for me two years later, the car salesman to whom I was trying to sell my Corolla immediately said “V****, die kar was in ‘n mo****se ongeluk!” (This car has been in big accident!)

All my worldly belongings were packed on the back seat and in the boot of the Toyota – my clothes and my 3-in-1 hi-fi set (record player, tape cassette deck and radio) that had done me good service during my six years at Stellenbosch University. On that Sunday afternoon, I drove down Main Road, Walmer and stopped at the circular red and cream  tiekie box opposite the Walmer Town Hall in order to phone my Mom and inform her that I had arrived!

Just down the road, at the top of Target Kloof on the corner of River Road and 6th Avenue, I was going to be boarding with Steve Fourie’s parents until I could move into the Grey Hostel six months later. Steve had been in Helshoogte at Stellenbosch with me. He stayed on the 8th floor in what was known as SAS Helshhogte. They all studied engineering through the SA Navy and attended class in their white or black naval uniforms (depending on the season). Lucky for the rest of us mere students, as it enabled us to know (through the self-induced Tassies stupor) what time of the year it was. Besides the uniforms, they also earned a salary as students, had smart cars and pulled the chicks!

(Steve’s sons are also at Grey now together with Sean and Phillip, so we still see each other in and around the school and do all the trips together.)

Anyway, I arrived to teach mathematics (Grades 8 – 12) at Grey and to take over the running of the Grey Computer Centre. It consisted of three Cape Education Department mainframe computer linked (to Cape Town) terminals and an Apple PC.  The total memory capacity was less than that which I now have in my pocket on my cell phone!

The Centre was the only one in Port Elizabeth and served all the other High Schools in the City.  My computer studies pupils were specially selected and had to have an A in Maths and Science. They attended classes at Grey from 2 until 6 in the afternoons and were a bit of a novelty at the school as they included girls (at the all boys school) and, for a while, a boy from Theodor Herzl private Jewish school. He was very bright, but he was Indian! And in 1984, this caused racial stirrings among the parents at the White Grey (!) and the Education Department, as government schools in those days were still racially segregated.  Rafeeq was later prevented from attending my classes, and henceforth (until the arrival of the New South Africa) no pupils were allowed from private schools.

Besides teaching, we were also very innovative in those days. I managed to obtain funds from the school committee and to convince the school secretaries to replace their Olivetti typewriters with Sperry PC word processors – the latter being the more difficult and only agreed to if the 136 column dot matrix printer was housed in a sound proof box!

The first computerized school database was created and gave rise to the all important Grey Directory, miraculously supplying all pupil personal information, and later comment slips and school reports. I wrote a programme to keep track of the cricket scores and individual statistics and this proved invaluable when we hosted the Cape Schools cricket week. The committee reluctantly agreed to put a cable along the corridor ceiling which linked the PC’s in the secretaries’ office to those in my airconditioned (the only one!) classroom G5 – and, voilà, we had our first network at Grey.

2009 was the 25th reunion of my first pupils at Grey. I felt humbled when my boys – now men of 43 plus – asked me to organize their reunion for them last year. That reunion is well documented in other places, and maybe sometime I will write more about that week in last year.

Many of the pupils that I taught during those days, and especially the Classes of 1985 and 1990, will be returning from the 4 corners of the globe and re-uniting in Port Elizabeth this week to celebrate the 154th anniversary of the founding of The Grey. I was asked to help with the organization again. Unfortunately, the CBD has prevented me from doing so this year. But it will not stop us from meeting on Wednesday evening at the function that started in my second year at Grey, the 25th Selley Concert (featuring the school orchestra of which our son, Sean, in this, his last year, at Grey, is now the leader). We will also meet on Thursday night, at the 400 strong dinner in the Feathermarket Hall, and on Friday and Saturday at sport and other functions at the Old Grey Club and the School.

Over the last 26 years, Life has thrown us all its ups and downs – its blessings and its challenges. Some will not return because of circumstances or by choice, and a few others will never return – they have already passed on before us. We will remember them all as we enjoy our week together.

There will be much reminiscing, laughter and many drinks as friendships are rekindled and strengthened. All will return to their homes in a week’s time, tired but re-energised, and ready to take on the challenges that life will continue to throw at us.

In this very short reunion week, take time off from the usual bustle of everyday life. Let there be no regrets. Make use of every moment (even if that does mean till 5 in the morning!) Recharge your battery.

In Life, take time off from the everyday bustle. Let there be no regrets. Make use of every moment. Keep you batteries charged. In the end, it’s all about your Creator, your contribution, your family and the friends you made along the way.


3 comments on “Once Upon a Time I was a School Teacher

  1. I was once a pupil (of yours)

    As a member of the class of ’88, my stay at Grey coincided exactly with yours. I was also fortunate enough to be in your maths class for 2 years. With no disrespect to your maths teaching ability, I think that I (and probably most of the people reading your columns) am learning more from you now than I did back then.

    I look forward to your columns and it is apparent that you are still a teacher.

    (this reminds me of old Seamus Maloney who used to say “old teachers never die, they just lose their class” )

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