Teacher closes the chapter on 41-year career

Irene Lawrence, 62, retired from her post of deputy principal at Plantation Primary School, in Grassy Park, where she had been for 20 years.

I asked for opinions before I made a decision.

These were the words of Irene Lawrence, 62, as she described her “democratic leadership style”.

After 20 years at the school – and 41 years in the teaching profession – Ms Lawrence, the deputy principal of Plantation Primary School in Lotus River, has retired.

The Kenilworth resident said in her 20 years at Plantation Primary, she had “formed a strong bond with the teachers and the get-togethers with the teachers will be missed”.

Her last get-together with them did not materialise due to Covid-19. “In previous years when one retires, there will be a big celebration at the Cape Town Convention Centre. However, we were not allowed to do that.”

Although disappointed that she would not be able to see her colleagues at an official farewell, she had made peace with the fact that it was time for her to retire, she said.

Ms Lawrence initially wanted to retire in 2019. But due to Covid-19, she said, she had been asked to stay.

“The late Rebecca Cupido, a retired teacher asked me to stay for another year. She had all the experience, in raising funds and in lots of other fields and she asked me to stay.”

Ms Cupido passed away recently after having as stroke, said Ms Lawrence.

Looking back on her career, Ms Lawrence said she started at Portland Primary where she taught for 21 years.

But, she said, the time came for her to leave her “big Portland family” and she joined the staff of Plantation Primary.

“My three children were still studying at the time. I had 11 options including high schools. I prayed about it and said whoever is going to phone on that Monday, I would accept and the call came from Plantation in 2001.”

At Plantation Primary, she said children came from different backgrounds – some from informal settlments and other from more developed areas – but they all learned from each other.

It was in 2014 that Ms Lawrence started moving into the role of deputy principal.

“I could deputise when Cedric Meyer, the principal, was away. I could manage that,” she said.

“We would go to the staff room to have a brief with the teachers.

“During Covid we moved from the staff room to the hall. We would also make announcements. I enjoyed doing that, and I never had problems if I needed information from teachers.”

Ms Lawrence said when she was growing up, she knew she wanted to be a teacher. “There were two choices, either become a nurse or a teacher. I chose teaching.”

“My one brother and five sisters all became teachers,” she said.

Although in good health, in December Ms Lawrence was devastated when she contracted Covid-19.

She said after she recovered, her second husband Charles Lawrence, developed prostate cancer and passed away on January 13. “This made me realise that maybe I retired too late,” she said.

“We had planned to go on a boat trip overseas. However, I might still go overseas with my second eldest son Tresslyn van Wyk.”

When asked what advice she, as a grandmother of four young children, would give to teachers dealing with young children of today, she said: “They must be firm, and be informed about the role of an educator. They must be present at all times, especially during this pandemic.”

She added that teachers should know their role but would sometimes be required to fill that of a counsellor. “(And) they need to be trained in first aid,” she said.

Irene Lawrence was given a 40-year long service award by the Western Cape Education Department.

Ms Lawrence believes teachers must be role models for children. “They must introduce them to heroes such as Nelson Mandela. and make learning fun. make sure that respect is turned.”

Another tip, she said, is: “Give children a purpose. Set them up to succeed in life because our children are our leaders of tomorrow.”

Sports educator Mervyn Amos said working with Ms Lawrence had been a pleasure. “She was always very helpful and when we have sports events and no funds, she would donate the money.

“She was asked to stay on for another year during lockdown and she assisted so many teachers during this difficult year.

“It is sad that we couldn’t give her a proper farewell due to Covid,” said Mr Amos.