Make teaching truly honorable
“Another aunty again.” These were the exact words echoed by a primary three class in a particular school which has been in existence for over three decades. This was supposed to be a ‘Teaching Practice’ segment of the interview I attended. While I left the class, those words echoed in my ears even till date. As I pondered on the psychological state of the children that made them echoed those words unconsciously, I reasoned that these children were definitely in ‘academic misery’ which their parents/guardians may not even be aware of. This was the beginning of the second term in the academic year and I wondered how many teachers they’ve had in the first term alone. Part of the job description was for me to be their class teacher and also take the secondary students on entrepreneurship with a salary of N17,000 only.
Likewise, I was also opportune to attend another teaching interview at the beginning of a new academic session. Of the entire 14 candidates that were present, I was the only one with no formal teaching experience. This definitely means that the other candidates have all been moving in circles hoping to find a better offer. I was stunned when one of the candidates disclosed to me that she has about 10 years experience working as a teacher but is yet to find a suitable offer.
Teaching is an honorable profession but sadly the profession is now associated with poverty because the salary that goes with it especially in private schools is not commensurate in any way with the level of sacrifice and commitment that goes with the profession. In Nigeria today, most graduates take on teaching as a temporary job pending when they’ll get their “dream job”. However, some eventually fall in love with the profession but because of poor pay cannot really make a career out of it. It is important to note that a university lecturer is not more important than a secondary or primary school teacher. They are all impacting knowledge but at different levels and stages. The primary school which happens to be the foundation is now shaking because of teachers’ attrition.
As a matter of fact, this is one of the reasons we have loopholes in our educational system. This is one of the reasons for “learning crisis” amongst our primary school pupils especially in private schools. An early learner requires extra dedication, sacrifice and patience at their level which only a teacher can give. Even after several years in school, you find children who still cannot read or write a full sentence. It is worthy of note that our society have not given the teacher especially those in the primary schools the honour they truly deserve. A hungry teacher cannot give his/her best. We need to change our orientation on how we see the teacher especially those teaching at the kindergarten/primary level. As a child, there were subjects I lost interest in not because there were difficult but because I had no stable teacher for those particular subjects in my school.
Moreover, if we were to carry out a survey to find out the number of teachers that really has job satisfaction, I wonder what the percentage will be. When we talk of professionals the first that probably comes to mind are lawyers, engineers, doctors, accountants, etc. This ought not to be so. For instance, when you attend a career day in a school, hardly will you find any Parent dress their children like teachers. On the other hand, our teachers must cultivate a new mindset for themselves because they are also professionals.
Meanwhile, the private schools which by far out-numbered the public schools are not helping matters in terms of salary scale for their teachers. A proprietor of a school will offer to pay a B.Ed/ B.Sc holder an amount that is less than Nigeria’s minimum wage for a First School Leaving Certificate holder probably because they see the job seeker as being desperate. That is why a particular class can have up to two or three teacher in one academic session, which in turn also affects the students. This also affects our educational system negatively because not everyone can be a government employee.
“Dress the way you want to be addressed.” Teachers must develop a new mindset starting from their appearance. On the other hand, I am not denying the fact that for a teacher, comfort is of necessity in choosing the right outfit; but some teachers dress too casual for the profession. Most professions have dress code which you can easily identity them with; but is there really a dress code for a teacher? A particular private primary school has a compulsory dress code for their teachers as listed below: Mondays to Wednesdays: Black Suit, Thursdays (sports day): White T-shirt and Jean, Fridays: Native wear. What a beautiful dress code anyone would admit, but this is a school that pays their teachers N20,000 only; a salary that cannot even buy a quality suit.
Given the above, I would first recommend that we solve the challenges of inadequate teachers in our schools. The Ministry of Education must not relent in her efforts to monitor the activities of schools on a regular basis be it public or privately owned. This is because if this is not quickly resolved, the aim of education will be defeated in the near future; most children will be in school but not learning.
Second, the need for constant training for our teachers cannot be overemphasised. This is because nobody is an embodiment of knowledge; a teacher also needs to be taught. Learning as is said never ends; that is why we must improve the quality of our teachers.
Finally, I once heard that “teachers’ reward is in Heaven” but I think it should start on earth. Not everyone has the ability to teach. Therefore, deliberate steps should be taken by stakeholders to increase the salary of teachers. It is a great privilege to be able to impact knowledge no matter the level or stage. Therefore, teachers should be adequately compensated.
Ajekwemu, a young human development specialist, wrote from Port Harcourt.
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