In the olden days, teachers were gods. They were next to the white colonial masters in order of ranking. They were respected and valued. They were seen as people sent by God to take ignorance away from the land in substitute for fortunes and good tidings of life. A community of old would never take a decision if the teacher is absent, for his input is crucial to decision of the elders.
The teacher in the olden days never suffered anything. He was robust and well fed. He hardly touched his salary except when he needed it to buy a car or to build a house. His accommodation and food were taken care of by the community. His washings and house cleaning were exclusively the preserve of the students. They represented the community at governmental and other meetings. Teachers in the olden days were next to kings.
But His counterpart in modern times is easily recognized when cornered. He moves about in tattered clothes. His houston astros cheaters shirt are worn-out. He is so lean and dry that his trouser occasionally drops from his buttocks. When he puts on a tie, there is always a wide gap between his neck and the collar of his shirt. He is always hungry and hence, always angry. Out of anger at times, he beasts a student and the next day, the parent of the child comes to school to harass him.
He dares not introduce himself before important people as a teacher if he wants recognition: rather he prefers a more polished phrase – Education 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. At times, he engages in GCE ‘expo’ business to make ends meet.
Some of the students even call him by various appellations and he answers joyfully. Nobody recognizes him when he attends a community function. He finds it difficult to get a lady of his choice because no girl wants a teacher for a date. He dares not attend a political meeting if his pocket is not fat enough, else he will not be recognized. His input without cash to back it up will not be welcomed, irrespective of his education and wealth of experience.
Every student wants to be taught by him, but no student wants to be in his profession. Every parent needs him to teach his son or daughter but no parent wants his son or daughter to teach to earn a living. Love or loathe him, the teacher stands as perhaps the last bastion of moral rectitude in a culture that appears hell bent on circumventing that very possibility. The modern day teacher’s plight is pitiable.
Teacher remuneration has always been at the front burner of national discourse. Poor remuneration unreflective of the harsh economic environment, has oftentimes led to strike actions by members of the teaching profession at almost all levels of education in Nigeria. Primary and secondary school teachers in most states of the federation have had bones to pick at varying times with the supervising authorities. It has become almost unimaginable to envision an entire academic session going unpunctuated by teacher industrial actions at all levels of education in the country. The basic salary of a teacher is so abysmal; he/she has to bolster same with pursuing a small scale business at the same time as reporting to class, just to make ends meet.
It is not uncommon to find a science laboratory in a typical secondary school in the land almost bereft of the basest equipment. Private secondary schools appear to fare better, but most also run foul when it comes to stocking learning environments with the requisite tools needed to make learning a lot easier for the teacher and student. Most students who graduate from secondary school in the sciences, especially in rural communities in Nigeria, only know what a beaker or a conical flask is on the day the Chemistry practical exam is to be performed. The experiments described by ‘Abbot’ and PN Okeke in their Physics texts sound so surreal to them and their teachers. The teacher, faced with these limitations in transferring knowledge to his ward, is still expected to do so all the same by parents and principals or risk being labelled not good enough and fired. The books stocked in libraries in most schools sadly belong to the stone ages.
Teachers are also at the receiving ends of violence from wards or students and examples abound. Students who want better grades even when they do not deserve same, have often put the teacher in harm’s way. Male students in our ivory towers have often used the instrumentality of cult groups to harass lecturers at will. I recall an incident where one of my teachers in secondary school was beaten to a pulp in a dark alley as he strolled home from a grocery shop. A few days later, two students who never attended classes and who had often flunked his maths exams, were found culpable of the attack and subsequently expelled. Stories abound of teachers who have had to put up with student violence including a transfer of same to members of their families.
Those who traduce teachers as recipients of bribes and custodians of moral bankruptcy in our institutions of higher learning, must first look at the other side of the coin-the travails the teacher has to put up with in doing his job; a job he enjoys but which society doesn’t seem to give a hoot about. The teacher is responsible for the achievements of the men and women who call the shots at 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 does receive a salary, but that salary is a drop in the ocean when juxtaposed with the jumbo salaries and bonuses that are sent the way of our elected politicians at every turn. Yes, the teacher is far from perfect and should sometimes come in for some slack for underperforming, yet if ever there was a job that should be regarded ( to borrow from Julius Caesar) as the noblest of them all, it should be the good old profession of pedagogy!
With the perils associated with his job, it is a wonder that there are still men and women for whom teaching is still a passion and not just a job. These are the Last Teachers Standing, choosing to look beyond the perils and ordeals attached to the job, but to concentrate wholly on it. They are neither encouraged by the society, environment or even the erring and recalcitrant students. If these teachers are not helped and encouraged, soon and I mean soon, there might just be no Teacher Standing on his feet. Daily, this men and women are shaping the world around us in several classrooms across the country, as we hit at the keypads of our laptops in the offices, entrusting the mental as well as physical development of our children to the teacher—the last man standing in a world where few are worth the names of the professions they go by.
write by allen