I have been asked many times about teaching. I even considered it in the 1990s, before I went to seminary. Then I considered actually teaching as a professor to adults. I had the privilege to use my Tyndale (and University of Toronto) education in teaching aspects of faith and Christianity in Kenya, Pakistan and Sierra Leone. I am much more of a teacher than a preacher, and love coming alongside people to encourage and teach. I hadn’t yet taught art, but I love to see how things work – had I been more mathematical, I might even have become an engineer. But I recognize things by patterns. I’m the same in language, as I have discovered in Afrikaans. Tony and I are slowly learning Afrikaans, and we are very thankful for our friends and Afrikaans teachers, Janey and Andre.
Back in 2014, I was in a transition period towards becoming a missionary. Tony was not ready and was still working full time. I was volunteering in admin, and waiting. I had a little impression from Holy Spirit while I was driving to visit my parents in Toronto. In it, I was teaching African children about art. I considered this and thought, "why not, that might be fun," but then filed away that impression for later. After I did think on it, the impression expanded to include radio.
Fast forward to late 2017, when we were asked to consider becoming volunteer teachers at MasterPeace Academy in Worcester. I had not taught according to a curriculum, and Dr. Mella Davis used Meet the Masters curriculum; which follows specific artists, their history, and then gives exercises, an online quiz, and a collage type project in the style of that artist. It felt foreign to me at first, especially with Mary Cassatt, a 19th century American impressionist, who friended Edgar Degas. When we got to Piet Mondrian, a modern Dutch artist who eventually worked in New York City, I had an opportunity to share my own art, and to pray for their own creativity. The boys were able to identify with my work, and see how both Mondrian and I worked the black lines. In Mondrian’s case, it was horizontal and vertical. In mine, they’re more organic. They could understand primary colours (red, yellow and blue), balance and composition. I recognized a strong talent, almost brilliance in young Khanyo that pleased me very much. I was able to encourage both of them in the Mary Cassatt section, but using my own art, I felt like we were family. These were like my little brothers, where we could share, and encourage. And they blossomed, especially Khanyo.
Tony encouraged ME that I’m becoming a good teacher – and while they can be very active little boys, they blossom, with my different form of discipline. Mind you, we are really taking baby steps in this process. Tony teaches every school morning with science, and weekly with music. I’m weekly with art. But it is a highlight when we get to work hands on together. It is then that I can see that they’ve been listening all along. And that is gratifying. Thank you Jesus, for this opportunity.
We also get to have mini teaching moments in kids clubs, within the context of faith. The teaching isn’t always about God – after all, we have re-learned a lot in teaching art, science and music. So we share that too. It’s all good. Now on to Tony’s experience.
Just a note: All supplies for L-A's art teaching, Tony's science experiments and the like are donated by the Copples. We are not paid as teachers, nor are given a budget. We are fine with this, since it's a good ministry. Our other outreaches are also funded out of our pockets as well. If you feel led to help, we invite you to sow through the link below (just make sure you scroll down the giving list to find - South Africa: Tony & Laurie-Ann Copple). Thank you for considering us.
As discerning readers will know – and you are all discerning – I (Tony) have been teaching in a small Christian school for disadvantaged children for two months. Although I have taught technical material to adults from time to time, this is my first time tackling 8 – 10 year olds. I chose to do this because the only way township children can rise above their backgrounds is through crime (gangsterism) or education. I liked the idea of this school because Christ is front and centre in its goals, so when I feel like explaining a scientific fact using a sentence like ‘God decided that the best design for strength with lightness was an oval,’ when explaining the genius of an egg, no school inspector will slap me down for fear of offending atheists.
I love sharing ideas, whether my own or (much more commonly) those of brilliant people. That’s why I have a web site. But the web site is like pissing into cotton wool (a phrase from some creative person, not me). There’s no push-back, and some frustration from getting no feedback. It’s so rare that when it happened once, 20 years ago from one Laurie-Ann Zachar, I got her to change her surname.
Sitting down across a table with two black charm-oozing beautiful children who with expectant smiles ask “What’s today’s experiment?” is different. I had almost forgotten the elegance of the scientific world which I embraced with enthusiasm when I was several years older than they. But I still have the rare sense of wonder that Carl Sagan gave us all with ‘Cosmos.’ The fact that only water of all liquids expands on freezing so as to keep fish alive is a stunningly elegant solution from a divine designer. The beautiful three dimensional concept of our sense of static and dynamic balance using otoliths (tiny rocks) and semi-circular canals gives me pleasure like music. But I never found anyone interested in such things to explain them to. Until now.
“But you haven’t got a teaching qualification!” I hear the authorities say in advanced countries. You must learn how to discipline children to pass exams. Kids are not interested in learning; they have to be forced. Baloney, I say. They are actually keen to learn about the world around them! And they don’t even know that very few other kids of their age are being taught this stuff. Furthermore, such principles will stay with them for a lifetime, as they have with me. Maybe, just maybe, Khanyo will forsake his idea of becoming a diver, and become a scientist, or better still, an engineer. Now wouldn’t that give me a sense of satisfaction if I meet up with him again in 30 years and he is the principal of a technical college here in South Africa!
Music is my passion and teaching. Even talking about any aspect of it gives me goose bumps. But even more important than learning to play an instrument (which takes thousands of hours to be good enough to earn a good living) is to be able to appreciate and enjoy music. As I write this I am listening to obscure rock music by Kevin Ayers. It’s taken me 30 years to fully appreciate it. What if I can open the kids ears to the fact that there is wonderful music to be savoured in many genres, and that it’s not just for background listening? They are 40 years after the greatest music renaissance in history, and in a superb position to wonder at it if only they become aware of it. So before I taught them to play a note on any instrument, they learned about 36 genres to explore, the instruments of the orchestra (plus the (electric) guitar), musical forms from symphonies to jazz and their origins, how to choose an instrument to learn, scales, notes, keys, sharps, crochets. Then after two lessons learning recorder and keyboard basics, I had one of them (Mpho, 8) compose a tune. He didn’t know he isn’t meant to be able to do this at that age. I admit he got a little help, but now he has a tune that I later recorded on recorder to make him feel good. Here’s the song. What’s not to love about teaching music?
Some learning involves the teacher to have fun!
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Tony and Laurie-Ann Copple
Worcester, Western Cape, South Africa