Durban - In 2009, Joyce Dlamini started work as a cleaner at Berea Primary School in Durban and was ecstatic at the opportunity because it was the closest she could get to her lifelong dream of being a teacher.
She realised that dream when she graduated last year and became a school governing body-paid teacher - and two weeks ago became a state-paid teacher, teaching isiZulu to grades 3-7 at Berea Primary.
Dlamini was the caregiver of the mother of the school’s previous principal, Angela St George. When St George’s mother died in 2008, leaving Dlamini unemployed, she approached St George for employment at the school.
“Growing up I’d always told my family I wanted to become a teacher; it was always my dream,” she said. “I used to watch the teachers and children all the time and I loved it because it was a learning environment, something I have always wanted to be a part of.”
In 2013, she asked the school’s SGB how to apply for a career in teaching, which led to it funding her course through North-West University via correspondence.
Dlamini, 55, who lives and grew up in uMlazi, south of Durban, said her journey had not been easy, but she kept true to her dream that she would one day become a teacher, no matter her age.
The mother of four said further inspiration to educate herself came from watching her children graduate.
Dlamini often studied by candlelight, taking off her cap as mother, wife, pastor, school cleaner and part-time teacher when she did her work-integrated teaching course.
Berea Primary principal Bridget Williams said the SGB’s decision to fund Dlamini’s studies probably raised a few eyebrows at the time, but the result was worth it.
“The SGB funded her studies annually and on her salary as a cleaner she diligently paid us back every single month without missing a payment.”
Williams said she saw Dlamini embody what a teacher should be when she observed how often pupils sought her assistance when she was a cleaner.
SGB chairperson Leon Lambert said they agreed to fund Dlamini’s studies after seeing her close-knit relationship with pupils. “We decided to contribute in our own way as our school’s motto is to pay it forward. We saw the passion in Mrs Dlamini - and look at the results,” he said.
“The rapport she has with the children is unmatched. My daughter used to be in her class and spoke about the way she teaches very often.”
Pupils cheered and cried when Dlamini arrived at school wearing her graduation gown.
Durban central circuit manager of education Themba Mthembu said Dlamini’s story had touched his heart.
“This has taught us that anything is possible. We are living in times of mass unemployment and poverty. It is up to you as an individual to change your circumstances,” he said.