I was 10 years old and in primary 5. He was a new teacher in my school. I was excited to have a new teacher but didn't know what to expect. I didn't know what he saw in me or at what point he decided he was going to bring out the best in me, but he was determined to do just that.
He encouraged me to join the debate society, he taught me how to read to an audience and I started reading the bible and prayers on the assembly ground almost every morning, he made sure whenever there was an outing in school I was one of the representatives. I wasn’t the only student in the class, but it felt like I was, he always talked about me with pride. The entire year, I was never punished or caned by this teacher, he just naturally brought out the good side of me.
The previous year (primary 4), I was in a classroom with a teacher that caned her students sore. If your name ever landed on the list of noise makers, you received the beating of your life. Unfortunately, one afternoon I didn’t take the noise makers list serious and it so happened that I was caught talking to a friend. She called all of us on that unfortunate list and caned us one after the other. It wasn’t the mere strokes of the cane on your hand, she had a signature beating style. She made us kneel and put our heads between her legs- to secure us properly while she mercilessly trashed our behinds (pure abuse!). That beating changed my life for good! That was the last time my name appeared on any noise makers list ever! Till this day, the one thing I remember that teacher for was that beating.
My friends and I who were in that previous class were so relieved to now have a teacher who motivated us enough to be good students without the cane. My grades were so good even with all the activities in school I was topping my class steadily (only time I ever came 1st position in anything). I was so motivated that I used to do my homework with candles or kerosene lantern if the power was out, I used to wake up at 6 am, get ready for school and trek to school by myself at 7 am. I chose to walk about 15 mins to school each morning even though I could have been dropped off in a car if I waited a bit longer.
Nothing was going to stop me from being the first to get to class, not even the comfort of being driven to school. Every night before going to bed, I’ll place every piece of clothing I was going to wear to school by the side of the bed. I’d lay my socks first, then my uniform, my singlet next and lastly my knickers. As soon as I got out of the bathroom, I’d dress up in the reverse order- from knickers to socks. It saved me a lot of time! I learnt how to iron my uniform myself just because of school, there was no coercion involved.
I developed a lot of confidence at that young age, I was standing in front the whole school almost every morning reading the bible or morning prayers because my teacher taught me how and encouraged me to do so.
My teacher imparted so much in me and I believe still affects the person I am today. I have had other good teachers since then but the impact of this one teacher has remained very strong, I think of the different skills I developed over that one-year period and I believe they have been a key part of my journey to success in life.
Whenever I think about what a fulfilling life could look like, I just think about leaving such a lasting impact in some else’s life, directly or indirectly.
A quote by William Arthur Ward goes thus; “The mediocre teacher tells, the good teacher explains, the superior teacher demonstrates, the great teacher inspires”.
The pertinent question today is; how do we get our educational systems to produce great teachers with such lasting impacts? Systems that create enabling environments for teachers to inspire and bring out the best in their students. Many young children (the actual majority) from disadvantaged and poor backgrounds, with less educational support at home often end up in public school systems where teacher absenteeism is at very high rates and motivation very low. Teachers who would have been empowered to help children mitigate some of the disadvantages they face at home are usually not inspired enough to inspire their students.
One of the major secrets behind the success of the world's education superpowers is the priority they place on the teachers in their education system. They select the best to go into teacher training programmes and their teachers are treated as professionals, they undergo rigorous training, are paid well among other key factors. To improve educational outcomes for children in developing countries like Nigeria, we need a new modus operandi with regards to teacher training, recruitment and others. The current system cannot deliver the kind of results that are critically needed. A system that places such low regards on it's teachers shoots itself in the foot.
No matter how much reform is carried out in an education system, or how much money is spent on educational resources without the right teachers to do the teaching no learning (inspiring) will happen.
There are many students who will not be able to afford private education and the public system is their best chance at any education whatsoever. Making the system work for them too is only fair.