Bittersweet send-off for Hillwood Primary teachers

Maria Botha, Hilary James, Reginette Marais and Shahiema Brown will retire this year after a collective 133 years in teaching.

Four teachers with 133 years collective teaching experience were sent off into their retirement with much praise and adoration at Hillwood Primary School in Lavender Hill last week.

Shahiema Brown, Hilary James, Maria Botha and Reginette Marais will retire at the end of this school term and said they are happy to do so to give the newer generation of teachers an opportunity as all four taught a few generations of pupils from Lavender Hill and even taught the grandparents of some of the pupils currently enrolled.

At the farewell event held at the school on Wednesday November 29, there was laughter and tears when pupils and staff commemorated the four teachers and showed their appreciation for their years of service with gifts and performances from pupils.

School principal Gavin Alkana said the school will feel their absence but wished them a happy and well deserved retirement and added that it was a privilege to work with the teachers.

“It has been an honour to work with Ms Botha, Ms James, Ms Marais and Ms Brown over the years.These educators contributed to quality education in Lavender Hill, a disadvantaged community and I salute them for that and for their sacrifices.”

He said they sacrificed family and personal time.

“We appreciate the time and effort they put into our learners and school and commend them for their invaluable time and service.”

The educators were not just teachers but played an integral part of the school’s outreach programmes and projects, said Mr Alkana.

Ms James went on hikes on weekends as part of the environmental club; Ms Marais facilitated the Granny Day programme annually as part of an effort to honour and celebrate grandmothers; Ms Brown was on the catering and events committee; and Ms Botha coordinated the Learning and Teaching Support Material group at the school.

In their speeches, the teachers spoke of the good memories they had at the school, despite the circumstances and struggles of the community with shootings, gangsterism, drugs and other social ills. They said despite the challenges they knew their calling when they started at Hillwood and praised the community for their resilience in the face of adversity.

Reginette Marais has been teaching for 33 years.

Ms Marais, who taught for 33 years, said the school was her entire life and there were many challenges, laughter and memories.

“I will miss the staff, pupils and community because they gave meaning and purpose to my life and I thank everyone over the years who have contributed to making my time at Hillwood special.”

Maria Botha taught for 41 years.

Ms Botha, who has been a teacher for 41 years, said it was tough to leave and she had struggled to make the decision before but after years of contemplating she finally felt it was the right time.

“It was a very difficult decision and I feel like I am retiring at the right time.”

She said the experience of teaching at Hillwood has been a journey but wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

“The journey I’ve walked with Hillwood has been amazing and I have grown so close to the learners and their parents and that’s one of the reasons I couldn’t leave. I was very dedicated to my job and put in everything I had into teaching so it is time for me to close this chapter and rest, explore and travel.”

Shahiema Brown taught for 20 years.

Ms Brown, who served as a teacher for 20 years, said her passion has always been teaching.

“Hillwood is where I lived out my teaching passion and yes there were challenging times and we as teachers were scared at times but we had to put up a brave face for our learners because this is their safe space.”

She added that her career was fulfilled at Hillwood and thanked her family and the community for their support in her career.

Hilary James taught for 38 years.

Ms James has been teaching for 38 years and said she was emotional about leaving the school because it had been the reason she woke up every morning.

“There were issues outside of the school that impacted the pupils but they still came to school and made the best of it. They gave me motivation because they showed that they can be the best despite their circumstances.”

Bronagh Hammond, spokesperson for the Western Cape Education Department (WCED), said the teachers showed commitment and dedication to their profession.

“Teaching in communities such as Lavender Hill is not without its challenges. We are honoured to have teachers that, despite these challenges, show up for class each day, ready to expand their learners’ minds, showing love and warmth when their children need it most. This is what these four teachers represent, and we wish them a wonderful retirement.”