Bridgette Watlington Carelse is known among her colleagues and pupils at Belgravia High School for being a disciplinarian and perfectionist, but most importantly, for her passion for teaching.
When school closed for the end-of-year holidays, Ms Watlington Carelse retired after 40 years of service.
She said her leadership roles in her younger life, set her up for her role as a teacher.
“Everything in my life started early. I started school early, and enrolled at a teachers’ college at the age of 17.
“I come from humble beginnings in District Six. We lived in a two-bedroomed flat at Bloemhof. Our visitors could not stay longer than 10pm, because our lounge had to be converted into another bedroom.
“I was always performing or achieving in whatever I tackled as a child – be it ballet, gymnastics or academically. I wanted to make everybody proud and was tough on myself. I only realised this when I was 26 years old. Everybody saw the makings of a teacher in me, and it was just a natural progression,” Ms Watlington Carelse said.
She was the first one in her family to matriculate, and when she did not hear anything about a job application, she approached the education department in mid-January, the year after she completed matric.
By that time, the academic year had already started and the only place which had space available was Bellville Training College.
“I did not know what I got myself into. By the second day I cried because they taught in Afrikaans and I could not comprehend, as I was taught in English. I was immature, but had the boldness and determination in me. On the third day I went back to the education department, and from there went to Hewatt Training College. I was told by the department that it was full, but I managed to convince the college to give me a chance. I had to get a transfer from Bellville college within two weeks after I started at Hewatt. I can only believe that was the Lord’s favour on my life. I did not take lunch breaks and worked very hard because I was a perfectionist and wanted to achieve,” Ms Watlington Carelse said.
It was while doing her practise teaching that she ended up at Belgravia High School, under the guidance of Lorna Verley Achilles. She was offered a post there, and has not looked back since.
“My first year of teaching, I was a feisty, courageous, disciplined and no-nonsense person. I always took my responsibility too seriously. I was driven in trying to be perfect. My mentors included Freddie Britten, Gareth Pretorius and Toyer Arnold. Also Pam Jacobs, John Bailey and Andre Buis, the current principal, all played a vital role in my career. They were instrumental in my personal development. Anne Lewis, the former secretary, became my confidante. I was a specialist physical education teacher, and was very involved in the sporting fraternity.
“The Lord blessed me with many gifts and talents, but I realised that I was using it incorrectly, because it was all about me. I involved myself everywhere and wore many hats. I enjoyed a good relationship with all the principals I have worked with. They were very supportive of me.”
In 1995, Ms Watlington Carelse was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her eldest son was only two-and-a-half years old at the time. The following year, her husband was diagnosed with renal failure. In 2003, more tumours were detected in both her breasts. During this trying time, Ms Watlington Carelse was off work for six months.
“In 2000, I was declared in excess by the department. I cried for two days. I didn’t know any other job. I was scared. My health took a dive. I was head-strong before, but God had to refine me. Luckily I did not have to leave the school.
“I can just praise God because He has given me so much. I am looking forward to my retirement. I don’t have set plans, except going to Israel. God has to direct me on the way forward,” Ms Watlington Carelse said.