Just about six years ago and just about the turn of this Century when everyone had been worried sick concerning whether or not our computers would crash if they were not Y2K compliant, I had another worry. In the defunct Nigerian Post Express newspaper, on January 6 and on page nine to be precise, my article was published with the title, ‘Who will teach my children? That article had a personalized possessive adjective, my, and that was because I was thinking my thoughts aloud and wearing my heart on my sleeve.The issues I raised in that article were mostly issues related to the poor perception the society, government and our students had of us teachers and how this lowly perception had a boomerang effect on us all. I talked about a classical antecedent, that Emperor Nero killed his teacher by draining out all of the blood from his teacher’s body. I also talked about the bullnecked Hercules whose argument was that if he did not kill his teacher, there was no way he was going to make any headway in life. That article said something concerning Abraham Lincoln’s letter to his son’s teacher, how Lincoln also was concerned about the kind of teaching that the teacher gave to the President’s son.
Today, I find that things have hardly changed. The sun has arisen daily from the East and has set in the West since the turn of the century bringing with it a lot of changes, but the poor opinion that everyone has of the teacher is still there. Nothing seems to have changed: teachers get killed daily though not by Hercules nor by the singing Emperor; they have little or no self esteem and this is probably because they are usually at the bottom of the ladder of the financial pyramid. I guess teachers are there because their work is intangible and takes a long time to ‘mature’: nobody realizes it that teachers work their asses off to bring up my, our children. Most of the time when I wake up in the middle of the night either to take a leak or just turn on my side and I find my brother, a Math teacher, poring over notebooks, marking assignments or is just awake perusing his Math textbook and I wonder at him. His pay is a joke and despite the fact that his employer makes those annoying deductions even from this joke of a salary for a minute’s lateness here and there, and for making every teacher in his school bear the financial brunt of his mother’s funeral, such unethical behaviour has bothered but not deterred his determination to leave a mark where others have given up. Math teacher after Math teacher after Math teacher had come and gone, exasperated, but this guy just refuses to give up or give it up.
The situation is a lot different in my school. Teachers know their ‘rights’: by that I mean that you dare not make deductions from their little pay but if you did, they paid you back in your own coin by exercising a laissez-faire decorum with, and in their work and this has a really telling effect on their students, not as if they really care. Most of them took to teaching because the teaching job is one such job you could easily pick up whether or not you were qualified and most are not professionals anyway. It is a means to an end and nobody, except the school’s proprietress is really surprised that the students exhibit a one-hundred percent failure in their exams every year. Our teachers are so badly treated that they do not care any more. All they look forward to is to use the place as testing ground or a place they can pick up ‘teaching experience ‘ and move on to other much more serious an arrangement.
Well, I’m consoled by the fact that what is happening here is not the case everywhere. There are good schools with very good management and better motivated teachers. It is unlike ours where the disparity in the principal’s pay and that of the teachers is in the ratio of two hundred to one. These schools (I know quite a couple of them) celebrate their teachers whenever they come off with any good results from their students. There are schemes on ground that motivates teachers to break new grounds and surely, there is usually a structure on ground. The bases for that structure are discipline and standard: both rubric being applied to students as well as teaching staff. Not in this school of mine. A lot is run via gossip and even though you have a knack for working your sorry self to death, the day you do not greet the Madam proprietress very well by bending your body almost halfway the way the Chinese do, you may end up getting sacked or the cook who is her cousin gets the promotion and you are left in the lurch. I was looking through the Jefferson County Public Schools salary schedule and the thought occurred to me that if this kind of salary structure were to be introduced in most schools where I come from, a lot of people will resign their seeming plum jobs in the banks and take up teaching as a career.
At the end of the day however, I see a situation where the teacher in this kind of my school will become an endangered species mostly because he lacks that motivation and that deep sense of commitment that teachers are known for. But I know that this will not be and to keep my sanity, I took the otherwise regrettable or avoidable step to teach part time and to write part time. I know surely that I’ll soon find myself in a situation like the Jefferson County area of my town and I will raise my head proudly as a teacher someday. Until then however, I still wonder: who will teach our children in this kind of school where the teacher is poorly remunerated and often taken for granted?