On July 1, 2013, Temba Maqubela officially took office as Groton School’s eighth headmaster in 130 years. His predecessor, Richard B. Commons, moved to California to serve as the President of Harvard-Westlake School.
“I am eternally grateful to Mr. Commons,” said Mr. Maqubela. “[He] left the school in a very good condition. [It has] a great mission, a great strategy plan, and an incredibly well-looked after physical ground and student body. I am a very, very fortunate headmaster.”
Since his arrival, Mr. Maqubela and his wife Vuyelwa have been enjoying the “honeymoon phase,” and although he does not know how long the honeymoon is going to last, the experiences so far have been all positive. The students and the faculty are pleasant, generous and kind.
“Groton is what they advertise it to be and more,” said Mr. Maqubela, “Groton is a place for us that has been singing in a tune that we like.” He likes the handshaking tradition, the smiling faces of those coming to parlor, the fact that the students are “all who they say they are,” and the importance of “freedom of religion, rather than freedom from religion.” Every student came knowing what Groton is all about.
Having spent 26 years at Phillips Academy Andover as a teacher, coach, Dean of Faculty, and an Assistant Head of Academics, Mr. Maqubela feels that the greatest difference between these two wonderful communities is their size. Both Andover and Groton are great communities, but Groton promises to be an even greater one because he will have the chance to know everybody. Being able to say hi to someone with the hope of seeing that person again is a huge attraction for him, something that happens less frequently at bigger schools.
The work ethic at Groton really speaks to him. He himself is a passionate chemistry teacher, and he taught many classes at Andover. This is the first time in thirty years that he has not started September with a class. A few days ago, he had the opportunity to teach a couple sections of the Ecology class. Mr. Black, the main teacher of that class, said that “Mr. Maqubela is an extraordinarily dynamic teacher. It was great to have him in the Ecology class to add some chemistry.” Mr. Maqubela will be teaching Environmental Chemistry in the winter term and Organic Chemistry in the spring term, which he is especially excited about.
“I love teaching more than anything else I do,” said Mr. Maqubela, “because until you look at the mirror, you really think that you’re learning along with the students, and then I go to the mirror and realize that I have less hands then they have.” He believes that every teacher is a student if he or she makes the effort.
In the spirit of learning, Mr. Maqubela especially loves Saturday classes. He emphasizes that “Groton does not pretend about Saturday classes.” They are “for real,” and even though they might not be popular, they give you more minutes in the classroom, and they really enable students to mean it when they say that Groton’s great. To the students who were hoping that he would get rid of Saturday classes, Mr. Maqubela said: “Try the ninth headmaster.”
Most people think that the tuition is very expensive at Groton, but Mr. Maqubela explained that “if you take that tuition fee and divide it with the number of teaching days, you realize there is more value for your money at Groton, in terms of class contacts with your teachers. There is no school like Groton in that regard.”
Another important feature of Groton to Mr. Maqubela is the Schoolroom. He likes the fact that the younger students have more “structure,” studying collectively there, and as they get older, the school gives them more freedom. It makes him happy that by the time they become seniors, the students are the leaders of the school. This is important to him because he was a senior when he “thought and was convinced that [he] could liberate the country.” Even though “now there is nothing to liberate in terms of the country in America,” Mr. Maqubela takes Sixth Form leadership very seriously because he was in Sixth Form when he became involved with the political struggle in South Africa.
Born and raised in a village in South Africa, Mr. Maqubela, according to his chapel talk, was comparatively more privileged than others. He went to school barefoot and learned how to read and write, which enabled him to serve other families by reading and composing letters. After becoming involved with the political struggle during the period of Apartheid, a rigid policy of segregation for the nonwhite population from 1948-1994, he left South Africa in 1974, when he was 17, and traveled around many African countries before moving to the United States with his wife and eldest son. His story is featured in the Fall 2013 issue of Groton Quarterly, which will be accessible on the Groton website.
Mr. Maqubela wants to be a headmaster who strives “to take students beyond access to Groton to success in the end.” He plans to achieve this by “being accessible, by focusing on the high ideals of education, challenge, enrichment, and possibility.” He wants the students to not only like learning and thinking critically, but also be able to make good decisions and realize what is possible
In terms of change, Mr. Maqubela said he cannot ask much except to start with inclusion, as he had mentioned in his chapel talk. Since his arrival, he has been focusing on making sure that everybody is included in everything the school is doing.
He also wants to focus on improving Global Education at Groton, because he believes that if the students know nothing about countries where the vast majority of people live, then the school is limiting the students from learning about other people and cultures. To the people who say that Global Education is too expensive, Mr. Maqubela says they need to realize that the world is also at Groton; for the people who say that Groton is a bubble, they have not spent time looking around to see who is here. Mr. Maqubela wants to lower “the activation energy like catalysts to make sure that [the school makes] it possible for people” who want to share their stories.
This year, he especially wants to revamp the China trip. Having visited many cities big there, even three or four times per year, he does not think students can ignore the big countries such as China, India and Brazil, where forty-six percent of the world live.
“We can dream, dream for Groton,” says Mr. Maqubela with big dreams for the school, students and alumni. “No dream is too big for Groton.” Describing himself as an optimistic, hopeful person for the progress of the new generation, he considers this place as “the point of time that marks the beginning of excellence for America;” and thus, he believes that the faculty have the responsibility to make sure that the education that the students receive is for the wider world.
“I hope this is my last job,” says Mr. Maqubela, “that’s how long I want to stay here.”