A lifetime for Delta

Half a century celebrated at German state school

21 February 2020 | People

Windhoek’s Delta Primary School (DSW) is 50 years old today. To see what happens behind the scenes at, Evelyn Rosar of the Allgemeine Zeitung accompanied Sabine Koepp who spent most her life here – first as a learner, then as a teacher – for a day.
DSW is the only state school that offers German mother tongue education. Initially it was only known as the German School, but today the 750 learners who are educated by the 35 teachers here, celebrate the half-century milestone in the school hall.
Two days ago, 54-year-old Koepp stood at the school haal entrance, hoping that the glaze on the new parquet would dry by today. She has worked here for 30 years. “We just had some water damage,” she says, pointing to the workers polishing the floor on their knees.
You can smell the polish up to the admin block. “The floor had to be relayed at the last minute,” Koepp says. “Things like this only seem to happen at the worst possible time,” she says with a laugh.
For the past 30 years, Koepp has been leaving home at 06:30 during school terms for her classes that start at 07:20. She often only leaves the school at around 16:30 because after formal school hours she teaches additional music lessons.
Even then her day as a teacher doesn't end, because when she arrives at home to husband Udo, who is a carpenter, she begins preparing lessons for the next day. “Being a teacher is definitely a full-time job,” she says.

A lifetime of learning
At the moment there are many changes going on around the mother of two’s life: Renovations at home and at school. Thankfully, she says her life has always been constant.
Koepp has not only spent thirty years at DSW, but almost her whole life.
She pulls a bunch of keys from her pocket. Without having to search through the plus minus 20 keys, she finds the right one for classroom 6a and unlocks it. And almost immediately her German class starts.
“I sat in these rooms myself when I was a young pupil,” she says, having begun her school career here in 1972. She takes out her laptop and shows me a photo of her first day at school. “Here in front, the fourth from right, that’s me,” she says. “Even then I wanted to be a teacher.”
The pupils of 6a also already have ideas about what they would like to become, although none seem to want to become a teacher. However, that can change in a year. Or even in a month.
When asked about the difference between sentence construction and verbs, a few hands go up slowly. But asked about their future, all 13 children answer at once. Everyone wants a turn, but thankfully they don’t all shout out at once. Likely thanks to Koepp’s work.
“I want to be a roller coaster engineer,” says a blond boy with glasses in the back row. “Last week you wanted to be something else,” his neighbour replies, adding that he wants to become an astrophysicist. He didn't have to think about it long. But asked how he decided on this career choice, he has to think for a moment. Hhmm, he isn’t sure. His dad is an architect, so he knows he doesn't want to follow that career path, he says with a shrug. “But I like to read,” he says, as if that should be reason enough.
A girl with freckles and a bun says she wants to become an oncologist, while her short-haired twin sister wants to be a carpenter. “I didn't know that,” Ms Koepp says enthusiastically. “Just like my father and daughter.”

Popular opinion
If you ask the children of 6a what they think of their teacher, almost the whole class reacts, and almost everyone has something to say, including that she can sometimes get angry and raise her voice. This, it seems, happens when someone has forgotten to do their homework or is being very chatty. However, the consensus is Ms Koepp is strict but fair. You can joke with her and she knows how to find solutions to complicated issues.
One student describes her teacher as follows: “Every time I meet Ms Koepp in the schoolyard, she smiles. She is always in a good mood. I like her.”
The rowdier the class gets because everyone wants to say something about their teacher, the calmer Ms. Koepp becomes. Instead of taking her usual spot in front of the black board, she has now taken a seat at the back, and instead of speaking as usual, she listens to her young learners.
Their answers are why Koepp still loves her job after all these years, she says. “You get so much feedback every day. Sometimes a child comes after class and says ‘I really liked doing that today’ or ‘I learned something new’. It is always touching to hear this, and it makes me proud.”
What keeps her calm on hectic school days, is music.
Koepp plays the clarinet and guitar and loves German hits. She doesn’t only listen to Helene Fischer's melodies at home after work, but also sings them with the learners. Her all-time favourite? “Atemlos” (breathless).
“When I play music, I can forget everything around me. I hope that I can convey this feeling to the children,” she says.

Always an educator
Koepp originally planned on becoming a music teacher. As a student at the Teacher’s Training College in Windhoek, she had to accept that she did not have enough talent to play the piano. However, today she laughs about it, because she can still create a love for music amongst the children and she has found that her expertise is enough. So, instead of the piano, the kids are accompanied by the guitar and clarinet.
Asked whether she feels she has missed out on things because she has been at the same school for three decades, she responds with a quick “no”. “Nothing is ever the same. There is no day that children don’t learn something and there are new learners every year.”
Except for the brief time away to study, Koepp’s working day has begun at 07:20 since 1972 when the bell rings at Delta. In five years she plans on retiring.
Will she miss the school then?
“No, no, I don’t think so,” she says as she locks classroom 6a and heads to her next lesson in another building. A few steps later she adds: “Even then, I will still be able to teach because you can be hired privately to tutor for a few hours a week.”

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