Elizabeth Georgina Firmstone : biography of a "great" South African teacher.
Press reports and many academic studies suggest that South Africa’s education system is in crisis, with the blame often laid at the feet of teachers. The current criticism of teachers goes against my own experiences during my primary and high school education as well as at university level, where I was privileged to be taught by highly motivated and inspiring teachers; teachers who came to class well organised and well prepared, who stimulated us intellectually, knew their subject matter, instilled discipline in the class, but who also showed us love and tenderness. It is through this experience that this study was born. It focuses on constructing a (partical) biography of Mrs Elizabeth Georgina Firmstone, covering her family life, education and teaching career. This study is based primarily on oral history, which includes interviews with Mrs Firmstone and several of her former students. It is through oral history that we see the voice of a teacher who has to a certain extent faded away in the background of our society. This study sheds light on why Mrs Firmstone can be regarded as a “great” teacher while providing a lens to examine broader issues such as race identities before and during the period of apartheid, the role of missionaries in education, and the end of apartheid and what this has meant for education in South Africa. This study provided an opportunity to engage more critically with the craft, possibilities and limitations of biographical writing as we are left with many gaps in the story due to the absence of sources. Finally, the lessons from the life of Mrs Firmstone shed light on what teachers can learn from their predecessors.