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TONGUE IN CHEEK

Old-school teachers might have been sadists wielding fan belts, but man did they have style

Old-school teachers might have been sadists wielding fan belts, but man did they have style
Images: iStock, Vecteezy

In the good old bad old days, teachers wore white shirts with ties and pressed pants, and beat children mercilessly to force them to learn. Nowadays they resemble nothing so much as bored pickpockets.

When we were growing up most of us harboured dreams of qualifying as teachers someday – so we could avenge our suffering at the hands of our no-nonsense educators who ruled with the stick, the fan belt and all manner of pain-inflicting objects.

These included the board duster and ruler, especially the one made of steel, used to great effect to strike our little fingertips.

One teacher was notorious for using wrestling-style moves to inflict pain. Once he grabbed our classmate by his balls and the scruff of the neck, held him up in the air, swung him around a few times and dropped him on the ground with a thud.

Our classrooms were, to an extent, an ex­tension of the notorious interrogation chambers at Security Branch headquarters. But hey, those men and women whose heads were filled with Bantu Education rhetoric and propaganda had style, maaaan

The recent World Teachers Day celebration reminded me of those days when teachers were hardcore but committed to their work, not as docile as this current crop of couldn’t-care-less, unionised, clock-watching salary-collectors.

World Teachers’ Day is celebrated annually on 5 October by the United Nations Educational and Scientific Council (Unesco) to celebrate all teachers around the globe. The day has been celebrated since 1994 – the year of the birth of the tenderpreneur in Mzansi.

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Unesco says this is a day to celebrate how teachers are transforming education but also to reflect on the support they need to deploy their vocation, and to rethink the way ahead for the profession globally.

Anyway, back then – when we would be released early on pay day so the teachers could travel to town “to change their cheques” – educators had style.

Well, they were not all the greatest of people. Some applied sadistic methods to force us to memorise the names of rivers and mountains in strange, far-off places.

In those unstylish days a teacher could lash you with an old, cracked fan belt across your back simply because you couldn’t properly spell Nebuchadnezzar.

How they expected a bunch of Bantu children located on the southern tip of Africa to master such complicated names from biblical times beats me.

But hey, beat us up they did.

Still, no matter their sadistic tendencies, teachers were neat and snazzily dressed, though there were those who barely made the effort and looked like they had wrapped themselves with old curtains. But generally teachers were snazzy dressers.

You could be at the receiving end of the stick from a teacher on a cold winter’s morning, yet at the same time admire his shiny Florsheim shoes, neatly pressed Brentwood slacks and crisp white shirt held tight by a well-knotted tie.

Is that a teacher or a pickpocket?

But, alas, gone are those days. During the morning rush nowadays you struggle to distinguish between a teacher and a pickpocket. The guys just ain’t got style, man. In our days teachers were always kitted out in shirt, tie, jacket, neatly pressed pants and shoes that were carefully polished and shined.

Nowadays I have seen teachers report for work in baggy jeans and an Orlando Pirates shirt – for hell’s sake, how traumatic it must be for the poor learners? On social dress days you even struggle to distinguish between a teacher and a learner.

Who knows? Could it be that their pay is so bad that they just can’t keep up with fashion?


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In the latest round of heckling over salary increments, the government dangled an unappetising 3% increase, which they, together with other colleagues in the civil service, have rejected. They are demanding a 10% rise and have promised the mother of all strikes if this demand is not met.

Which brings me to another troubling issue. Have you seen how some of those teachers go crazy during protest marches? If you chanced upon such a march and didn’t know who they were, you would be forgiven for mistaking them for a bunch of disgruntled soldiers back from doing long-term duty in the war in Congo.

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Perhaps the drab appearance of most of today’s teachers is a reflection of their attitude towards their work. Maybe the government should throw in a clothing allowance as part of its offer to teachers in the latest round of wage negotiations.

One thing I have to give to the teachers is that at least nowadays they don’t head for the taxi rank after work; they travel in style. School parking lots these days resemble those of a mid-table football club’s.

Teachers know their way around a car showroom these days. But still, clothes maketh a man. You don’t go into class behind the wheel of your shiny wheels.

In fact, some of their wheels are so pimped up you would mistake them for gangsters. Imagine a teacher hidden behind the wheel of a car with dark tinted windows and dropped suspension, thumping the latest amapiano song with lewd lyrics driving into the school grounds. Not so cool. This year’s  theme for World Teachers’ Day was “The transformation of education begins with teachers”. There you have it, folks: building a stylish generation starts with you. By continuing to dress like pickpockets, teachers run the risk of discouraging this generation of learners from following a career in this noble profession. Ai, man! DM168

Mr Styles is the former president of the Organisation for Stylish People of South Africa (Osposa). He is against anything and anyone unstylish.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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