Veteran teacher’s big life lessons

Robert S. Kleyhans has been a teacher for 43 years.
Robert S. Kleyhans has been a teacher for 43 years. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Robert S Kleyhans has been a teacher for 43 years. He has BA (honours) in History, and Bachelor of Education degrees from the University of Pretoria.

His most recent qualification is a Magister Educationis (Education Management) degree in 1994 from the same university.

He’s currently the Director of Sabis International School Runda. He’s been at it since 2018 when the first ever Sub-Saharan Africa network was opened in Nairobi, Kenya.

Before that he served as the Director of Sabis School in Egypt for 15 years. Now - like everyone else - he’s self quarantined at home with his wife, Gerda, watching movies as she exercises her brain with complex puzzles.

He spoke to JACKSON BIKO via Zoom.


You have been teaching for over 40 years. How have you changed as a teacher?

In my primary school days back in Stellenbosch, I had a teacher, a PE teacher, who was also my rugby coach, who made a great impression on me. I think he is the one who planted the seed of teaching in me. But I also think I was meant to teach. Also, we have many teachers in my family, many of us are teaching, my wife - Gerda - is also a teacher, she works with me in school as the Academic Quality Controller. Her sister is also a teacher.

You studied history at some point, is there anything interesting you can tell me about history?

History repeats itself. I think that sometimes political leaders forget fast what happened in the past. The past is a powerful mirror and the past will always come to the present and so if we don’t learn from the past we can’t adequately handle the challenges of the present. So learn from the past.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a teacher?

I was good at rugby and I played for my provincial team back in the day. But I just knew that I wasn’t going to make it to play for Springboks. Rugby wasn’t my path, teaching was and I was clear from the start.

Would you do it all over again?

To be honest, yes. Many times over. I know I wouldn’t been an accountant or a scientist. I was always good with people, with children specifically. Teaching isn’t a top paying career. You don’t get into it to make lots of money. It’s a calling and a passion. You get into it to change the lives of children. I think I’m very blessed to be doing what I’m doing, to have been chosen by this profession.

How did you meet your wife, what do you remember of that day?

[Laughs]. I had a friend way back in South Africa. He was a very handsome guy, great in sports, member of the student council and very popular around the campus. Girls loved him. He told me that he had met a girl who he liked but who had been seeing someone for four years. Eventually, he started dating her and she broke up with her boyfriend. One time we all went to visit them for the weekend where they lived in the seaside of Durban. I hadn’t met her and when the very first time I saw her she was coming out of the water in a brown bikini. It was like the scene of James Bond’s “From Russia With Love.” She looked very beautiful.

One time there was a party in university and I called her up and asked her if she wanted to come with me. She said, ‘only one one condition; if you are taller than me I will come with you.”

We met and I was taller than her and we went to the party. After a while I eventually started dating her. A year later we got engaged. A year later we got married and now - 45-years later - we have two adult children.

Wow. What happened to your handsome friend, was he very annoyed for taking his woman?

[Laughs.] Not really. He was the type of guy who wasn’t serious with women because he had many after him. So I don’t think he was cross. I don’t know what happened to him to be honest, the last time I heard from him was maybe 30 plus years ago.

What’s your biggest take home of marriage after all this time?

Patience. Young people don't have the patience to solve problems anymore. Their first impulse is to divorce. But marriage is about tolerance and forgiveness and patience. The sun will always shine again tomorrow.

What have you learnt about yourself during this time of quarantine?

Not to allow this to get on top of me, not to lose faith, and to keep trusting in God. I have always been into reading and watching a lot of movies whereas my wife isn't into movies. She keeps busy by doing this 1000 piece of puzzle. Last night she said, stop reading and come we play this puzzle, it's good for your brain power. I don’t know. [Laughs]. It’s not my thing. The whole idea now is to find what works for you. Engage yourself.

Are you fire or water?

I’m water. I’m a calm person. I go with the flow, I don’t panic, I deal with things as they emerge or come to surface. I’m not a rowdy guy shouting etc. I'm a very calm person.

Are you happy with your life?

I'm extremely happy. I’m 68-years old now and some of my friends retired and are now on pension. One of them told me that what I’m doing is the best thing; to continue working, to continue moving and being busy, it helps you when you are at this age. Retiring is a tough thing, because then it could mean just not doing anything.

What are you learning now at 68?

To reach out to all sorts of people; from cleaners to VIPs. I think I’m a caring person and I want to make people happy. I’m learning that it’s only when you appreciate people that you earn their respect. And earning someone’s respect is not easy, you have to work hard for respect.

What do you regret?

Honestly not much. I would have regretted not teaching. I don’t regret marrying my wife. [Pause] Perhaps what I regret now is not being into technology. I have to ask the IT guy in school for everything. [Laughs]