‘I believe teaching is my calling’

Starling Primary School principal, Raj Rajkumar, is retiring after 40 years in the profession.

As he looks back on a 40-year career in education, Starling Primary School’s principal, Raj Rajkumar, who retires later this month, says he is grateful that he didn’t study medicine as he once hoped to do.

Growing up on a farm near Tongaat on the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal, where Mr Rajkumar’s parents were both farmworkers, there was no money to study in the medical field, although it was his dream then.

“I wanted to do medicine, but I believe teaching is my calling. My roots are very humble, and because I could get a bursary to study education, I took it. I am one of 11 siblings, and five of us are in the teaching profession.”

He spent 39 of his 40 years in the profession at Starling Primary, and is the school’s second principal, after John David. Mr Rajkumar was appointed principal in 1996. He will step out of his role when schools close for the mid-year break on Friday June 24.

His colleagues all agree on one thing – Mr Rajkumar will be missed.

Renjeni Chetty, the head of department for the school’s foundation phase, says the school community values his empathetic nature and it will be a big adjustment for everyone when he leaves.

“He has an open-door policy and is always willing to listen to any situation – whether it’s personal or school-related. He always encourages creativity and inspires us to achieve greater heights. He is a mentor, and gives direction. It was reassuring that we could come to him for anything.”

The acting HOD for the intermediate and senior phase, Fierdous Benjamin, praised Mr Rajkumar’s people skills.

“Shortly after I started here, I went through personal challenges. My mother passed on, and he was there for me. He checked up on me. He allowed me to mourn and was very accommodating. I am not the exception though.

“Mr Rajkumar is there for all the teachers – always helping us and pushing us to be better versions of ourselves. I learnt a lot from him. He is like my daddy at school. I am anxious to see him go, but he trained us well. He laid a good foundation for us, and we will continue his legacy and take the school to the next level.”

The school’s foreman for more than 30 years, Wellington Nketshe, says he has always gotten on well with Mr Rajkumar. “We work as a team. I wish him good health and that he must enjoy his retirement.”

Secretary Aaqilah Stemmet describes Mr Rajkumar as “soft-hearted”, saying, ”I’ve learnt quite a lot from him. He taught me about the finance side of school, and he also made me aware of how to handle my personal finances. He is a motivator, a hard worker, and has a strong personality.“

Pupils Rezaan Davids, Grade 1, and Cade Daniels, Grade 4, also shared special messages with their beloved principal, saying that he is great, that he is loved and will be missed.

Mr Rajkumar, who has travelled widely and is also a veteran honorary ranger and South African National Parks (SANParks) lecturer, plans to travel more during his retirement, train children in nature conservation, do charity work and spend time with his family.