After more than 40 years in teaching, Brenda Manuel is ready to put aside the books and spend more time with her family.
Ms Manuel, 63, and her family are originally from Namibia and they moved to Athlone when she was four years old as her father had died and her grandmother stayed in Cape Town. She had four siblings and attended The Independent Primary School in Athlone and Alexander Sinton High School.
At the time, Alexander Sinton’s Afrikaans class only went up to Standard 8 – today the equivalent of Grade 10 – and then pupils would have to complete Grades 11 and 12 at Belgravia High School which she did not want to do. So instead of completing high school, she attended a college, from 1974 to 1975, and studied teaching.
After graduating in 1975, she applied for various posts and started her teaching career, in 1976, at Rio Grande Primary School – a double-shift school at the time because there weren’t enough schools in the area.
She worked a shift in the morning and one in the afternoon.
Ms Manuel started as a Standard 2 (Grade 4) teacher, doing double shifts, but was soon teaching across the various grades to gain more experience, while completing her matric.
But she was more comfortable in the lower grades, and eventually settled into a role as a Grade 1 teacher.
In 1986, she was appointed head of department for the foundation phase.
In January 1999, Ms Manuel filled in as the school’s acting principal, juggling that role with her Grade 1 teaching duties. Her position as principal was formalised when she was appointed to the post permanently in July that year.
Ms Manual, who stays in Kenwyn, recalls how the school at one time had had no perimeter fence so gang-related shootings would send startled pupils bolting for their homes. The school is now fenced.
She says you can’t help children from behind a desk and believes in being hands on in her approach to education. She also mucks in by cooking for the school’s feeding scheme and making hot dogs, burgers or cake for fund-raisers.
She is now ready, she says, to put aside the books, pack away the chalk and spend time enjoying her children and grandchildren and of course her husband.
“My family has never questioned my decision to stay at this school throughout all the challenges as they know my passion and willingness to help. My heart and soul have been here for 44 years, and I have nightmares about retiring.”
She says she hopes the remaining staff will keep the school at the same high standards she has set, and she urges them to be kind to each other and support each other in that enterprise. I’m here at 6 in the morning, and I start my day five minutes later. I am challenged and I love it. I love this community, and I love my pupils. My children are named after girls who were in my class because they were beautiful children. I love this. This school will remain close to my heart for a very long time.”