‘I will continue teaching till i die’
John Chukwuemeka Nwafor hails from Ogbaku in Mbaitoli Local Council of Imo State. He has been a primary school teacher for more than 59 years, becoming the oldest primary school teacher in the country. He has taught and still teaches Mathematics and Physical Education, in many schools, both public and private. He taught some of today’s personalities in Nigeria and others sojourning in other countries, including a former Super Eagles player and PSG defender, Godwin Opkara. As an athlete in the 1960s, winning many trophies, he was nick-named by his fans and admirers as ‘404’, and he equally functioned as games master in many of the schools he has taught. On retirement, he established a low cost school, Kings and Queens Nursery/Primary School, offering scholarships to some of his intelligent indigent pupils. Aside, he is a community leader with a title, Odemkpisi I of Uzele (one who writes). He is writing a book on ‘Funeral of the Village Headmaster’ to inspire young people in teaching profession.
This alumnus of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), where he earned a diploma, spoke with CHARLES OGUGBUAJA.
What is your background?
I was born in 1939. In 1955, I was in standard five and in 1956, I wrote the final standard six examinations and passed. In 1957, the Bishop of our church then said we should write entrance examination for teaching. I wrote it and passed. We went for an interview, he said I was small. Because of that, I was not immediately allowed to start teaching till the next year. Others started in January, but I started in October. I was not given any class, rather I was attached to one woman’s class, marking only papers. I did not hold any chalk till that year ended.
In 1958, I was posted to Umuehi, Mgbidi where I began to teach. Before now, I had no formal training. As time went on, I went for training. I passed, and then they sent me to St. Luke’s College, Ngwo, Enugu. I had TC 111, Teachers Certificate, and Grade 111. After that, I continued teaching. Then two or three years later, I went to Bishop Lasbery Teachers’ College, Irete, near Owerri, for Teachers’ Grade Two qualification. I passed and was given certificate. That was in 1971. In 1972, they posted me to St. Mark’s Primary School, Ofekata, Orodo-Mbaitoli Local Council, Imo State. I was there for six years and was posted to Ogbaku, my hometown. In 1984, I went to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, for my one year Diploma in Education. I got it and continued teaching. In 1993, they retired me, that was at Community Primary School, Ogbaku. I was promoted to Principal Supervisor of Schools, on salary grade pay point 12.3. I have six children.
How I got in to private schools on retirement
Thereafter, I applied at Holy Ghostan Missionary Academy, Owerri, to teach. It is a private school. I wanted to resign in order to go to another private school, initially, they refused. Later they permitted me. I went there and continued teaching. I was the headmaster and as well teaching. They liked my method. I stayed for about two months and left for another school.
How I founded my own school
After that, I founded my own school, Kings and Queens Nursery and Primary School, Ogbaku, my home town. My wife, Cordelia, also teaches there. She had been teaching at a church. We also joined the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS). In only three years, we came third in quiz competition. My pupils do take common entrance to colleges in primary five. They also do take First School Leaving Certificate in primary five and they do well. The method of quality teaching makes them to do well. Every Wednesday, I set mental Arithmetic or Mathematics. Any child that does well, 10/10, is the husband or wife of the class. That has motivated them to do well.
We are going on progressing. At every session, pupils’ population enrollment increases.
Experience as a primary school teacher for 59 years
I have taught for 59 years, really and I can say that lots of my pupils I taught are on top today. For instance, Godwin Opkara, a former Super Eagles player. Then, Godson Uzowuru, is very brilliant. He is doing very well. I used to teach ‘A’ class. ‘A’ class is better than ‘B’ class and so on. I taught a leading lawyer today. Many I taught are in big companies, some have their own businesses here in Nigeria and overseas. They do come to visit me. For instance, Uzowuru came from poor family, but he passed his examinations well. Today, he visits my wife, and me with his car, every month, bringing big gifts to us. Others have chance problem. Some are in overseas and they communicate with us often.
Achievements in sports
I am a gold and silver medalist, in 400, 800 metres. I got them in Owerri Provincial AAA. It consisted of Orlu, Okigwe and Owerri zones in Imo. Even at Holy Ghost College, Owerri. It was between 1960s and 1970s. 400 meters was ‘my pocket race’. We went to Enugu, in the 1960s and I came first in 400 metres. The medal is still with me.
Why I claim to be the oldest serving teacher in the country
My peers in teaching field, I don’t hear about them. One Eugene Nwafor, in Ogbaku, for example, is dead. He did not retire before he died. Silas Iwuala retired before he died. I am the longest serving teacher in the country today. I was in Enugu, from Imo, people were coming from Awka, Anambra State and they were trained at Lasbery. They are no more teaching. I don’t hear of them again. Some of them have died. So I am still alive. We used to meet during sports competition. I was honoured with ADGEOG (Advance Geography). Because of the way I used to run, I was called ‘404’. They still call me that name till today.
You see, when people retire, they don’t continue teaching, but for me, I will continue teaching until I die. I will continue to handle chalk till the day I will die, till the day I will sleep and wake no more. Sometimes, when we go to NAPPS meeting, I ask after some names, they say they have died and so on. I know that since it happened in my local council area, it will also happen in others in Nigeria. It is not a joke. Sports make me strong. Now, I still do many work, go to the farm, so God has helped and is still helping me in good health despite my age. I have not taught beyond primary school level. This is because, there was a time, my Principal, S.B.C Anyanwu, Bishop Lasbery College, Irete, left, and directed, another person, John Nwachukwu, to select three people to Egbema Secondary School (a bit far from our home), to teach. I was in my house and John Nwachukwu came and told me what the former Principal said, I told my parents, they refused, because they were all old. Otherwise, I would have retired at Egbema Secondary School. So my parents were the only inhibition I had.
Assessment of today’s performance of pupils
Performance of old days pupils is better than today. But if you go to private schools, you still have hope to reach that former level. Now, all the public schools are zero, if you come to my town, in my school, people bring their children in numbers. I don’t rest. My wife started teaching from the church background and foundation.
I am impressed by the performance of people in my school. Out of about 400 and something schools in Mbaitoli Local Council; my school came third, after three years in existence. Assuming it has stayed about five years, it would have done better. Some pupils had over 70 in Common Entrance Examination. I am happy with that. I challenge them on what would be their future. We counsel them. Every Wednesday, we conduct mental exercises. The highest scorer (10/10), especially in Mathematics, is the husband of the class, with gift item. I love Mathematics a lot. English, the same thing. History, Geography, and others take their turns.
My father was a church teacher. He was the first indigenous church teacher in Ogbaku. My mother was a Christian and was trained in a designated place where resource persons specifically train and equip women for marriage purposes. My father visited her at that place; the church was annoyed and advised him to leave and both later met.
Assessment of government’s involvement in primary education
I don’t like the treatment to teachers today by the government. Before you do well, you must be encouraged. Government is not encouraging the teachers because of non-payment of salary regularly, even the pensioners are worst. Some time they come to school and sit down and children will play till the dismissal time and they go. The same the following day.
I advise the government to pay the teachers well so that they can take care of their children well. Children are loosing in all the subjects. If the government pays them well, they will sit up. The pupils should know that whatever you do, if you don’t do well, when you go out, you regret.
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