When people succeed in life, it is easy for their teachers to identify with them but when people fail in life, no teacher wants to identify with them.
Last week, the world celebrated teachers all over the world on the occasion of the teachers’ day. It was a day set aside to recognize those who have the onerous responsibility to officially impact knowledge. Teaching is regarded as the noble profession just as other professions are known by one appellation or another. Without a doubt, everyone was taught by a teacher, the lawyer, the engineer, the doctor, the banker, even the teacher was taught by a teacher. Thinking about teachers, the muse reminds me of Wole Soyinka’s play The Lion and the Jewel. In the play, the village school teacher, Lakunle, embodies Western civilization and repudiates African tradition much to the surprise of Sidi, the village belle.
In his embrace of the Western culture, Lakunle dresses to reflect his orientation and practically memorises the English dictionary, using high sounding words which for him is a mark of great intellect. Given his penchant for malapropism, he confuses the beautiful village belle Sidi who he intends to marry. It is apparent that Lakunle’s pupils will naturally be inclined to their teacher’s worldview since children see teachers as role models. For children, teachers cannot be faulted, their words are sacrosanct and incontrovertible. Even when I try to correct my six-year-old son on an obvious error, he insists that the teacher said it should be so, therefore it is correct. I am once again reminded of the late Afrobeat maestro, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who regaled us with “teacher, don’t teach me nonsense”.
Many lives are shaped by teachers in a positive way and in a negative way too. I remember my teacher in primary four, Mrs. Paulina Onwuama. Although I saw her then as a terror, one who always derived pleasure from punishing her pupils but looking back now, I appreciate the wonderful job she did in my life. She taught me how to make meaningful sentences in English, she taught me primary science and in her class, I first heard the word ‘photosynthesis’. Besides teaching, she showed so much love beyond the frontiers of her job as a teacher. She was more like a mother. She insisted we appeared neat all the time and she taught us that lying and fighting are bad. According to her, those who indulged in such acts will go to hellfire, although professional fighters, called boxers now earn millions of dollars. Some people who have mastered the depraved act of lying have become politicians and are celebrated as public figures. Indeed, that does not obviate the fate that awaits fighters and liars.
I also remember Professor Hope Eghagha who taught me during my university days. He mentored me, instilled in me the discipline of academic rigour and insisted I get a Masters Degree and a Ph.D. Given my exuberance as an undergraduate, it is improbable that I would become a scholar and an academic. The glory must go to a man who saw in me what I didn’t see in myself. That is the extent to which teachers can affect the lives of students.
When people succeed in life, it is easy for their teachers to identify with them but when people fail in life, no teacher wants to identify with them. The joy of a teacher is to see a pupil or a student succeed. The person who makes a first class in the university, the distinguished professional and other celebrities are easily claimed by their teachers. Also, many teachers have ruined the lives of some people by indoctrinating them. Some young girls have been violated and impregnated by their teachers. Some children’s minds have been twisted negatively by teachers who impact negativism in their puerile minds. The armed robber was taught by a teacher, the kidnapper also went to school and passed through a teacher, the prostitute was taught by a teacher, the economic saboteur, the political predator, the election rigger and manipulator was taught by a teacher too. When those who indulge in vices are caught in the act, they become villains and no teacher wants to identify with them. However, when they rig elections, steal public money, mastermind all manner of social demeanour and succeed, it is easy for the former teachers to come forward and identify with them.
The job of teachers is not easy. There are recalcitrant, devious children who refuse to be taught or moulded. They are set in their ways and no matter what the teacher does, they refuse to change. One begins to wonder where some children pick up very wicked and anti-social behaviour. Could it be from home or are such behaviour natural to some children? I remember a story recounted by a teacher friend some time ago. He told me how an eight year old boy drank his friend’s water and replaced it with urine in the water bottle. When the victim came back to the class, he quickly drank the urine, thinking it was water. How on earth did an eight-year-old come to such wickedness and treachery? Some children are incurable thieves and will never change no matter the level of punishment meted to them. They simply derive pleasure from taking what does not belong to them. How such attitudes come about, one may not know.
Teachers are confronted with all manner of difficulties as they are faced with the responsibility of cleaning up the garbage created by some irresponsible parents. In recent times, parents pursue the mirage of economic grandeur, the superfluities of monetary gains, and outsource their responsibilities to teachers who unfortunately earn very little for doing so much. In my frequent introspections, I wonder why the teaching profession in all the categories attracts the least remuneration. Private schools are the biggest exploiters of teachers, paying a pittance to teachers after collecting huge sums of money as schools fees.
The applicant teachers, faced with a desperate need for survival, accept these meagre salaries because if they don’t, someone else will accept the job for a lesser wage. It is shameful how some private schools treat teachers. The result is that frustrated teachers transmit their frustration to the hapless students, and then indoctrination, brutality, and anger set in. A child deprived of love at home and in school will inevitably become a social deviant.
Adiele, Department of English University of Lagos, [email protected]