Women reflect on their years in the classroom

Henlata Govender and Siehaam Behardien have been teaching at Rylands High for 36 years and 29 years respectively.

Henlata Govender started her teaching career in 1983, teaching English to grades 8 and 9. In 2004 she became head of the department and in 2017 she was promoted to deputy principal.

But promotions weren’t always the case, especially for female teachers before democracy.

Ms Govender explained how white male teachers would often be promoted to managerial positions while female teachers remained stagnant in their roles for years.

Ms Govender recalled how women wouldn’t get paid for maternity leave and even later when this changed, they would only be paid for maternity leave of their first two children.

“Our mindsets were different; we didn’t think of standing up for ourselves and we weren’t as valued as we are now. We were young and I suppose we didn’t expect to be promoted. There were promotions but hardly any for women. After 2000 only the department and government pushed for equal rights for female teachers for equal opportunities,” she said.

Ms Behardien, who started teaching at the school in 1990 as an English teacher to grades 8 and 9 and now 11 and 12, said now because the mindsets of women have changed, they are more goal-driven and now made up the majority of the top achiever list at school.

She said women were more independent, knew their rights, and stood up for themselves hence they raised independent daughters who no longer had the mindset to get married at a young age but rather to finish school and establish a career first.

“Girls are more confident and goal-driven, they have a new mindset now. Female educators are also more ambitious and now feel confident enough to apply for promotions which weren’t always possible,” she said.

Ms Govender was involved in the school boycotts in 1985 as Rylands High School was one of the schools at the forefront of fighting for better education and equality. Because of that she and 14 other teachers were set to be sent away to different provinces but the teachers won the case and Ms Govender stayed in Cape Town. But teachers who were on contract were dismissed immediately.

“I am proud to be part of a group that made changes to the way things were and as a teacher and woman, I am more confidant now and have more to offer and now as females we have much more control of things. I feel more valued now,” she said.

Ms Behardien said over the years the classroom had experienced many changes which included the use of technology, which she said had a positive and negative side to it as pupils often used their cellphones in class and lost focus of classwork. She said that now pupils were aware of their rights and in the past the boys would often bully the girls but that doesn’t happen anymore as the female pupils now stood up for themselves.

Both teachers are now also markers for the National Senior Certificate examinations. Ms Govender is a chief marker while Ms Behardien has been promoted to a internal moderator.

Ms Govender, who has been a marker for 30 years, said being able to give back to the community in this way makes her feel proud as a woman as these positions were mostly taken up by men in the past.

“So things haven’t just changed at school, but in the education department and exam sector at a national level as well. We have made huge strides since then,” she said.

Ms Behardien said this makes her feel proud, confident and empowered and gives teachers an opportunity to give back.

“We are proud of the teenagers that we are raising and the careers that our pupils are pursuing. We feel that we are part of a success,” she said.