Memories of a Young Man as a Teacher (6)

I apologize for not publishing last week. Last Monday ambushed me with work. Or let’s say lack of planning as the work from the previous week spilled into Monday and broke my desk. Again, there was this feeling of reluctance to publish a story in a week in which the world heaved a sigh of frustration and disgust and condemnation over racism in the west and the rape culture in Nigeria and elsewhere. I pray we find healing in this broken, wretched world.

In case you missed the last episode, read it here. In case you just saw this for the first time, go read the very first episode.

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SS3 was the first classroom I entered in Mount Sinai International School.

There were 17 or 18 of them seated on the chair, on the desk, on a classmate’s laps, standing, etc., and making a lot of noise. When I walked in, they didn’t stop making noise. If a butterfly came in, it might have commanded more attention than I did. I slapped my books on the desk then faced them. I didn’t say a word. I just watched them with blank eyes, the kind of eyes that do not say if the person is angry or not or how angry he is and how far he might react.

One of the students stopped making noise and descended from the desk and sat on the chair. The second sat properly. The third, then the fourth, and then all of them sat down properly and stopped making noise. But their eyes challenged me, distrusted my capability, “What is this baby-faced teacher doing here?” their eyes seemed to ask.

I told them my name. “I will teach you English and Literature.” Then I decided to shift the attention to them and earn some respect. One way to gain the respect of students is to show how much you know; another way is to show them how much they don’t know: I chose the shorter route. “I am here for English. I would like to know where you guys stopped in SS2. You,” I pointed at one girl, “where did you guys stop last term?”

She looked like someone had doused her with cold water in her back in harmattan. I could feel the other students shrieking in their seats, trying to avoid my eyes, melting into their chairs.

“On your feet!”

The girl rose to her feet and began drawing invisible nonsense on her desk. “I can’t remember,” her voice shook.

“Obviously. You,” I pointed to a boy. The girl made to sit down. “Don’t you dare. For someone who doesn’t know a lot, and that to say with euphemism, you sit down too much, glued to your chair and adject laziness. You need to stand up to your books. When last did you open your books? – if you have ever opened your books… Shut up, let me hear from a student.”

The boy said the last thing they taught them was adjectival clause. I asked him to define it with examples, he couldn’t. I swept my eyes on him from feet to crown. He was nearly six feet tall and had a small beard. “Don’t come to this class again with this thing in your jaw, you’re not a ruler in any goat kingdom.”

The class wanted to laugh but my face – deadpan – wouldn’t let them and no one wanted to draw attention to him or herself.

I spent about 30 minutes in the class, a great deal of it spent putting them in their place and opening their eyes to the fact that WAEC was six months away and they needed to sink themselves into their books. In all, I asked seven of them questions and three or four of them received a mild tongue-lashing from me. All of those I asked questions stood all through my time in the classroom.

When I was done, I asked them who the class captain was.

“We don’t have a captain,” a tall, fair boy with signs of suppressed hairs on his face said, “but I act.”

“And you are?”

“The SP,” he said.

“Hmmm.” I accessed him the way a butcher would study a prime side of a cow. His eyes begged me not to finish him with my tongue. I nearly smiled. “Come here.” I handed him my notebook. “Copy the scheme of work for them immediately.”

The next class I entered was SS2.

There were over twenty of them. They were not exactly a class of Einsteins and Soyinkas but there were two or three really brilliant students and they made the class interesting. Even the ones who weren’t so academically gifted showed considerable enthusiasm. I decided I would enjoy this class.

I asked a few of them their names and the name of Chisom stuck. She was the brightest of them all. “You are a science student?” I asked her.

She said yes.

“A shame,” I whispered. “Where’s the captain.”

A chubby girl raised her hand. “Copy the scheme of work for them.”

I entered SS1 classroom last.

There were over 30 of them. I got the picture: the closer they got to writing WASSCE, the more they left the school. Perhaps, this school wasn’t giving them the kind of WAEC results they wanted. In this part of the country, only results mattered.

The class looked happy to see me. They must have heard rumours of my tongue and were looking forward to it. They were that kind of students. They were kids.

“Can anyone of you guess what I teach?”

“English,” they chorused.

“And Literature,” a few of them added.

“Information travels quickly in the mountains.”

“Are you married?” a girl asked me.

I was taken aback as annoyance and blushing fought to get hold of my face. The class held their breath. I looked at her. A pretty, petite girl. A girl whose head was full of fantasies. Fantasies which, when the sun shone tomorrow, would evaporate.

“It is not important.” But I didn’t say this. “You don’t ask an oracle inanities.” But I didn’t say this.

“I am not married,” I said aloud and the class cheered. I decided to humour them a little. “I am actually planning to buy a form for the seminary and become a reverend father.”

They laughed.

“You will be disqualified,” someone said.

“Why?”

“You have done some things,” someone said.

“Jesus is Lord,” I said as my eyes popped out of my head.

The class giggled.

The session lasted for more than two-thirds of an hour and the only thing I achieved was copying out the scheme of work for English on the chalkboard. While I wrote on the board, we exchanged banter.

“Where are you from?” Someone asked.

“Guess,” I said.

“Kaduna.”

“Bayelsa.”

“Ghana.”

I stopped writing at the mention of Ghana. I turned and faced the class. “How many of you think I am from Ghana?” I made an outrageous face. Nearly all of them raised their hands.

“Not one of you will make heaven,” I said in my best Ghanaian accent which turned out to be the worst Ghanaian accent ever imagined and the class went crazy.

I smiled. Today, I was their clown, today I was their source of happiness and entertainment. But they didn’t know the real me. I was not a man of laughter. I was not a teacher of peace. I was the fight. I was the war. I was the 2015 indabosky bahose.

To be continued