May 29, 2024

Once an SMS girl, always an SMS girl

FUMANE MASHEANE

Everyone at St Michael’s knows her; everyone loves her and now the time has come for her to leave her Alma Mater.  

Mrs Imelita van der Berg has been part of the St Michael’s family since 1965 when she was enrolled in Grade 1 or Sub A as it was called at the time. She spent her entire school career at St Michael’s and returned later to be one of the greatest English teachers ever.

After 42 years of teaching, she was preparing to retire.  However, after Mr Van Wyk’s sudden departure, Mrs Van der Berg accepted the position of acting principal and stepped up instead of phasing out. She says that she found the news of becoming acting principal quite daunting but the fact that her colleagues and husband rallied behind her and supported her gave her the confidence she needed and she fulfilled the role to the best of her ability.

Mrs Van der Berg announced earlier this year that she would be retiring at the end of 2022, and while it is painful to see her leave, the school cannot help but celebrate her years of devotion to and love for the school – a love that is contagious.

She stated in an interview that her best memories of St Michael’s from her earlier years was the sisterhood and unity among the learners and how they all cared for one another. This has undoubtedly had a ripple effect on the present as it is still a valued aspect of life at St Michael’s.

She mentions that one of her worst memories was feeling alienated when her mother passed away. This happened early in Sub B (Grade 2) and people didn’t really know how to support her. For a while she felt that she was not part of the family but it became better as the years went by. This shows how much the sisterhood meant to her and still means to her to this day.

She also enjoyed the spirited conversations they had in class those years.  There everyone was able to speak her mind and engage without fear, which is something she feels has been lost in this generation.

The years flew by and St Michael’s started to change. A noticeable difference from when she was at high school is that girls lost pride in their school. This has also started to change for the better. Pride in the school is returning through ‘Spirit Squad’, social media pages and more interactivity in school-related projects.

St Michael’s has one of the best English programmes in the province and has won many awards for English, as well as other subjects. One of the driving factors for this is having passionate teachers and a standard that helps learners to exceed expectations. Mrs Van der Berg has been one of these passionate teachers. She is also the moderator for English Home Language for the Department of Basic Education, where she serves on a national level.

She fell in love with English at a very young age. She even made up a language when she was younger, which her grandson also coincidentally did as a toddler.  She has always known that she wanted to be an English teacher because she wanted to share the magic that language holds.

Teachers have to face many difficulties these days, like loads of administrative work, time constraints and taxing emotional demands. ‘Obviously life is never idyllic,’ she says and one of the many difficulties of being a teacher is dealing with learners who are challenging. These issues are part of the job description. ‘In no occupation will you find that your work is pure pleasure and everything works out the way you want it to.’

One of the highlights that keeps her motivated is teaching at a school like St Michael’s. ‘I enjoy the sense of life; it’s as though there is always a buzz at                 St Michael’s.’ The lively spirit of the girls and the active atmosphere in the corridors that are balanced with discipline ensure a functional school. Everyone learns effectively and there is always something interesting happening.

As an English teacher, she was incredibly proud when SMS learners performed excellently in English and won many awards. It gave her the reassurance that she was doing the right thing because her girls were tops. The same could be said when a sport or debating team or any other team of SMS girls performed well.  She loved it when St Michael’s excelled and when staff and learners drew together during tough times. 

The legacy that Mrs Van der Berg would like to leave behind is one of excellence: that learners will always strive to do better academically than what is required of them.  She hopes that SMS will remain a happy place where girls are cared for and can balance their school work with having a good time while being disciplined.

She believes that the school is in safe hands to continue that legacy and that vision and so now she can move to the coast, to George, where she and her husband will take walks in the forest and enjoy the beach.

Mrs van der Berg has mixed feelings about retiring.  She says she hopes to stay active in her field doing light work as a moderator and other areas that fuel her passion for English. She says she is dreading a void where she isn’t pushed to work as she is a task-driven person. She is going to miss the school but is looking forward to sleeping in more often.

All in all, Mrs van der Berg says she wants to see St Michael’s thrive in the future and she does not want to hear anything but good news. The school wishes her well and thanks her for her service and care as a learner, a teacher, a vice-principal and an acting principal.