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The Last Teacher Standing
In the past, teachers were gods. They were next to the white colonial masters in rank order. They were respected and valued. They were seen as people sent by God to remove ignorance from the earth in place of fortune and the good news of life. An elder community would never make a decision if the teacher is absent, as his input is crucial to the decision of the elders.
The teacher of old never suffered anything. He was strong and well fed. He barely received his salary except when he needed it to buy a car or build a house. His accommodation and food were taken care of by the community. His washing and cleaning were exclusively the prerogative of the students. They have represented the community at government and other meetings. Teachers in ancient times were next to kings.
But its modern-day counterpart is easily recognizable when cornered. He moves around in tattered clothes. His shoes are worn out. He is so skinny and lean that his pants sometimes fall off his buttocks. When he puts on a tie, there is always a big gap between his neck and the collar of his shirt. He is always hungry and therefore always angry. Out of anger sometimes, he attacks a pupil and the next day, the parent of the child comes to school to harass him.
He dares not present himself in front of important people as a teacher if he wants to be recognized: he rather prefers a more polite expression – educational consultant. Because his salary is too meager to sustain him for the month, he resorts to extorting money from the students using one excuse or the other. Sometimes he engages in GCE ‘expo’ business to make ends meet.
Some students even call him by various names and he responds happily. Nobody recognizes him when he attends a community activity. He struggles to find a woman of his choice because no girl wants a teacher for a date. He dares not attend a political meeting if his pocket is not big enough, otherwise he will not be recognized. His contribution without money to support him will not be welcome, regardless of his training and wealth of experience.
Every student wants to be taught by him, but no student wants to be in his profession. Every parent needs them to teach their son or daughter, but no parent wants their son or daughter to teach for a living. Love him or hate him, the teacher is perhaps the last bastion of moral rectitude in a culture that seems determined to circumvent that possibility. The fate of the modern day teacher is pitiful.
Teacher compensation has always been at the forefront of the national discourse. Poor pay, which does not reflect the difficult economic environment, has often led to strikes by faculty members at almost all levels of education in Nigeria. Primary and secondary teachers in most states of the federation have at various times been held accountable by the governing authorities. It has become almost unimaginable to imagine an entire academic session without being punctuated by industrial action by teachers at all levels of education in the country. A teacher’s base salary is so abysmal; he/she has to reinforce the same by pursuing a small business while showing up to class, just to make ends meet.
It is not uncommon to find a science lab in a typical high school in a country almost devoid of even the most rudimentary equipment. Private high schools seem to fare better, but most of them also get it wrong when it comes to equipping learning environments with the tools to facilitate teacher and learner learning. student. Most high school science graduate students, especially in rural communities in Nigeria, do not know what a beaker or conical flask is until the day the practical chemistry exam is to be taken. The experiments described by ‘Abbot’ and PN Okeke in their physics texts seem so surreal to them and their teachers. The teacher, faced with these limits in the transfer of knowledge to his service, is still expected by parents and school principals, under penalty of being qualified as not good enough and dismissed. The books stored in the libraries of most schools unfortunately belong to the Stone Age.
Teachers are also the victims of violence from neighborhoods or students and examples abound. Students who want better grades even when they don’t deserve them have often put the teacher at risk. Male students in our ivory towers have often used the instrumentality of sectarian groups to harass lecturers at will. I remember an incident where one of my high school teachers was beaten to death in a dark alley as he was walking home from a grocery store. A few days later, two students who had never attended classes and who had often failed their math exams, were found guilty of the attack and subsequently expelled. Stories abound of teachers who have had to endure student violence, including the transfer of it to family members.
Those who call teachers bribe takers and guardians of moral bankruptcy in our institutions of higher learning must first look at the other side of the coin: the hardships the teacher must endure to do their job. ; a job he enjoys but society seems to ignore. The teacher is responsible for the achievements of the men and women who direct all sectors of our national life. The teacher goes through the rigors of painstakingly gathering his materials all night before coming to class, having barely slept. Yes, he receives a salary, but that salary is a drop in the ocean when juxtaposed with the giant salaries and bonuses that are sent to our elected politicians at every turn. Yes, the teacher is far from perfect and should sometimes step back for poor performance, but if there ever was a job that should be considered (to borrow from Julius Caesar) the noblest of all, it should be the good old profession of pedagogue!
With the perils associated with his profession, it is surprising that there are still men and women for whom teaching is still a passion and not just a job. They are the last teachers standing, choosing to look beyond the perils and trials of the job, but to focus entirely on it. They are neither encouraged by society, nor by the environment, nor even by wandering and recalcitrant students. If these teachers are not helped and encouraged, soon and I mean soon there may be no Teacher standing on his feet. Every day, these men and women shape the world around us in classrooms across the country, as we type on our laptop keyboards in offices, entrusting the mental and physical development of our children to the ‘teacher—the last man standing in a world where few people are worth the name of the professions they do.
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