‘Mrs G’ still longs for teaching days

A class photo of Sandra Geffen with a Grade 1 class at Weizmann Primary School in 2003.

For Sandra Geffen nothing brings more pleasure than seeing a pupil’s enthusiasm for learning.

At 76 she speaks about her 48 years as a foundation-phase English teacher in the same way a blushing bride would talk about her new husband.

“Little children are very interesting. They are so honest and lively,” she says.

Her teaching career started at her old primary school, Roodepoort’s Florida Primary, when she was 21.

She met her husband, Barry, when the mother of a pupil she had been tutoring invited her for a game of scrabble. They courted for six months and were engaged for six months before tying the knot.They had two daughters in their early years of marriage, and Ms Geffen’s career took a back-seat, but she could “never seem to relax” and was readily available to work as a locum whenever the school needed her.

She later taught at Victory Park Primary, close to Emmarentia in Johannesburg for 17 years.

She retired at 58 but was never really able to put down her chalk.

When she relocated with her husband to Cape Town in the early 2000s she taught at Herzlia schools across Cape Town.

The couple lived in Sea Point until two years ago when they moved to Oasis retirement resort in Century City. Although Ms Geffen says she’s surrounded by lovely people at Oasis, she misses being “of use”.

“When I was in Sea Point everyone knew me. Here no one does. I feel useless, and I think a lot of teachers my age that are retired feel like that.”

She sits at a table in her flat holding a scrapbook made by the parents of pupils she taught at Weizmann Primary School in Sea Point. She leafs through the pages, each one pasted with thank-you letters addressed to “Mrs G” in bright coloured crayons.

One message from Casey reads: “Dear Mrs G, thank you for teaching me. I love you. Come back soon to visit.” Another letter, signed by all the parents, thanks her for her “energy, enthusiasm, dedication and warmth”.

“I was the teacher with the carrot,” she says laughing.

She would reward pupils for good reading with stickers. Thirty stickers warranted a chocolate.

“I am not against technology, but today children get on a computer and it’s ‘flip flop flip flop’ on the keyboard. They can have all the technology in the world, but there is nothing better than a child turning the pages of a book and not only reading the words but also taking in the colourful illustrations.”

An impromptu lesson follows where “Mrs G” expertly flips open a notebook and shows ways to teach a child to write.

“There are tortoise, monkey and giraffe letters,” she explains. Monkey letters have tails like j, * , and y, but the tortoise letters are the “tricky ones”.

In her last few years of teaching, she spent three days a week teaching for free at Ellerton Primary School in Three Anchor Bay.

“I thought it was time to give something back,” she says. But because of her age, no school will have her now, she says. “If I could just have two pupils to tutor again, nothing would make me happier.”