After 42 years, Dryden Street Primary School’s principal has decided to call it a day, after spending his entire teaching career at one of Salt River’s oldest schools.
Bayar Laattoe, 65, never trained to be a teacher and worked as a technical surveyor at the Cape Provincial Administration after matric. However during his high school career, he had always encouraged to follow in the footsteps of his father, who had taught at Dryden Street in 1953.
In 1972, Mr Laattoe decided to give teaching a shot, becoming a trainee teacher at the former Hewat Teacher Training College in Athlone, now known as the College of Cape Town.
Four years later, in 1976, he landed his first teaching job at Dryden Street, teaching Standard 3, and never looked back.
“I never had difficulty teaching pupils. The classrooms were not that big during that time; it was manageable and the pupils were eager to learn, were hard-working and the school at the time was regarded as a ‘family school’,” Mr Laattoe said.
After six years of teaching, he was appointed head of department, a position he held for 11 years, while continuing to teach.
He was appointed principal in 1993, starting a long journey which has only now drawn to an end.
“There were some turbulent times that we experienced as a school, but I was always privileged to work with some dedicated teachers and great pupils – so it made the job easier for me,” he said.
In 1987, during the height of apartheid, Dryden Street became one of the first schools to enrol black pupils.
This led to a spate of inspections as the state tried to force the school to back down.
“We must remember, the 80s was a very sticky time that our country was going through, with the uprising and all the protests going around the country. We had government coming into the school and trying to intimidate us, but we stuck to our guns. We even became one of the first schools to enrol foreign nationals,” Mr Laattoe said.
Another memory was taking pupils on a tour to Oudtshoorn, something coloured schools were not allowed to do.
“The pupils that were on that tour will never forget those moments. Despite us knowing it was not allowed, we did it for the sake of our pupils and to enhance their experience and did not allow the government to dictate to us what to do and what not to do. The 80s was a very stormy period,” he added.
A prized achievement in the later stages of his teaching career was seeing the Outcome Based Education system being scrapped by the education department.
“The whole OBE system was a nightmare. It caused several protests and 20 years after it had been implemented, it was decided to scrap this system and the education department conceded the fact that it was indeed a mistake and needed to be chucked out.
“This was a result of all the ongoing protests at the time – so they are memories I will forever cherish,” Mr Laattoe said.
Trained as an art teacher, Mr Laattoe has now set his sights on returning to his drawing board, considering creating some sketches and artwork, as teaching has taken up a large chunk of his life.
“I never actually dreamt that I would be spending nearly all my life at the school,” he laughed.
On Friday August 25, the school, friends and family, gathered at the Corner Institute in Salt River to bid farewell to Mr Laattoe, with some memorable songs and poems to remember one of Dryden Street’s longest serving teachers.
“As soon as I walked in here, I just got a very special feeling about this place. A feeling which kept me here and a feeling that never seemed to fail me,” Mr Laattoe said.
He had one message for his successor: “Whoever is taking my place must have a love for teaching. That welcoming feeling, acceptance of learners for who they are at the school and that safe environment that has been created over the years need to very well be maintained.”