By Muyiwa Adetiba
The home of a teacher in the early fifties was a privileged home. Growing up in one gave you a certain air. It was intangible, but it was there. Especially if it was in a rural or suburban community.
It was not necessarily a richer home – it was in all probability, situated in the midst of the community with all the trappings of rural poverty.
Yet, there were expectations. It was expected to be neat. The children were expected to be neat- and bright. They were expected to be well behaved. More often than not, they were expected to adorn European attires. And if a foreign gadget came to the community, it was expected to be found in that home.
The teacher was expected to be a reservoir of knowledge; of wisdom. In church, he was consulted; in the community, he was consulted; among his peers, he was consulted. This was an era when knowledge was power and education, no matter how limited, was considered as knowledge. After all, he was a half-sighted man whose sight and insight were often needed as people groped for light and knowledge in their dimly lit communities. (Many were known to be letter writers).
Last month’s Teachers’ Day gives me the opportunity to speak today about a profession which supposedly has its rewards in heaven. In doing so, it also allows me a nostalgic trip into a part of my early childhood that hasn’t been visited in a while. My parents were educationists. My father an itinerant one. He went into villages and rural communities helping to set up new schools, supervise existing ones and employ teachers for them.
He was doing this before I was born and my older siblings had fond memories of road trips through villages and farms and of life in the suburbs. By the time I was born, his job had settled him at Ilesha which was a provincial headquarter and he made day trips or overnight trips from there.
I have memories of a car booth of venison and vegetables. He seemed satisfied with his life and if he wanted more- which we all do – he never let on to the children. He had an official car which took him to work and brought him back. He was well respected in church and community. It was not uncommon to have the vicar and church leaders visit. Looking back now, we didn’t have much but it did not seem so at the time. We had whatever our neighbours had and maybe more.
We always had food on the table throughout the year and at Christmas, turkey and new clothes. But more importantly, we had our neighbours’ respect. My father was there to counsel both the young and old on career paths.
My father was a teacher in an era when teachers were respected and he must have derived some reward from the respect accorded teachers. As time went on, another reward was in seeing how his former students fared. He delighted in mentioning or pointing to former students who had made good in life. And they were many.
I was to meet some of them during my early years as a journalist. One of them was the late Chief Bola Ige who told me my father had a special likeness for students who were good in English – Chief Bola Ige as we remember, was. There were yet others who said mathematics was my father’s preference. But they were all united in the fact that he made a difference to their academic lives. That was one reward from which I also derived some vicarious benefits. An example was when I was at the home of a Chairman of a bank a few decades ago. He introduced me to an elderly man and said without the man he would not be where he had gotten to in life. The elderly man on hearing my name said without my father, he too would not have achieved what he achieved. It was a special moment for the three of us. It was a particularly special moment for me.
Many teachers – and their offsprings – can relate to my experience. Many have had doors opened for them on account of their – or parents’ past deeds. I was a publisher when a former teacher came to see me for a favour. I immediately abandoned the meeting I was chairing and jumped to attend to him. It was for me, a privilege that he could need something from me. Many people would treat their teachers the same way unless the teacher had been nasty.
Many lives, if not all lives, have been affected by teachers one way or another and many old students have gone the extra mile to make post teaching life better for their teachers. Some have even gone on to immortalise the more diligent ones by erecting buildings and plagues in their names.
But times have changed and teachers of today want their rewards here and now. Tertiary teachers have been in the vanguard of better remunerations for themselves times without number while secondary and primary teachers have often turned their classrooms into markets with students as captive customers. The diligence of the past that had produced professors and doctors from young lads who studied under trees has long disappeared.
Very few of the current teachers see teaching as a calling. Very few are passionate or even concerned about the future of their students. All these have resulted in a dip in respect for teachers by the larger society and a dip in connection between old students and their teachers. And that is why the recent call for an older retirement age for teachers is seen to be a self-serving quest for a longer meal ticket. It is not for the love of the job. Teaching needs acuity; it needs alertness; it needs passion.
Most of all, it needs teachers who understand the digital future of their students not the analogue past. Many of the current teachers don’t tick these boxes. They should not be asking for a longer teaching span- many of their active years have in any case, been wasted in fruitless, self-serving strikes – in a country where 50 per cent of Nigerians are under 30 years of age.
Were they to be altruistic, they would make way for younger energy and more digitally inclined mind. But then, many Nigerians think more of their interests than the interests – and needs -of their country. Unfortunately.