Working with youth, especially those on the Cape Flats, is something Archie Benjamin has always had a passion for, and it is also the reason he has served as principal of Mountview High School for 27 years.
The 64-year-old has now decided to retire after sitting in the same office for more than 30 years, since he was acting principal.
Mr Benjamin started his career in 1978 as a Grade 10 history, Biblical studies and Life Orientation teacher.
A year later he also taught history and geography to Grades 8 and 9.
Mr Benjamin became a senior teacher in 1982 and head of department for the school a year later when he took charge of the textbooks, handbooks, stationery and school registers.
In July 1986 he became the acting principal after both the principal and deputy principal left. He was appointed deputy principal and finally principal in 1990.
Asked why he remained at the school for more than 30 years, he said: “I had a passion for young people, especially those in challenging areas. At the time I was also part of an organisation called Cape Town City Mission Homes in Hanover Park which is one of the reasons I remained at the school,” he said.
Mr Benjamin said he “fell in love” with the community and all its challenges and believed that he could make a difference.
In 2011, Mr Benjamin was a finalist for the national teacher’s award for high school leadership, and in 2016 he received a certificate from the City of Cape Town for the commitment and care he has shown towards the well-being of others.
Mr Benjamin said that over the years some things have changed in teaching, including the behaviour of pupils generally, as well as their lack of motivation for school work and less commitment to education.
“Back then kids used to be hard-working but I am very lucky and happy to say that we don’t have major issues with behaviour at this school and if we have a problem we sort it out and help the child, not just throw them away,” he said.
Mr Benjamin’s advice to the school is to continue with the family ethos that they abide by.
“Many children have taken me as a father or grandfather and I want the school to continue building relationships with each other,” he said.
Looking back at some of his proudest moments, Mr Benjamin said one which stood out included a graduation ceremony at the University of the Western Cape where one of his old pupils received a doctorate in social development.
Another fond memory, he said, was when another one of his former pupils came back to the school and thanked him for motivating them to do well.
“He said that one day he wanted to jump the fence at school and I walked passed and said ‘What are you doing? Are you about to throw your education away and destroy your life?’ and he came back down. He said I wasn’t rude or angry at him and I spoke to him in a nice way and that stayed with him through his life and motivated him to keep on track.
“What motivated me to stay involved in education was that as a teacher you always bump into ex pupils in the mall or in the area and they tell you what they are up to and you are always so proud of them.”
Mr Benjamin’s retirement plan involves first relaxing and spending time with his family and friends and then becoming involved with school bodies in order to create a trauma support system. “Our children are exposed to so many things and sometimes they don’t receive help for it. Schools must become more sensitive to trauma,” he said.