By Ubong Nelson
IN the late 70s, while in high school, we had a young male teacher whose responsibility was instructing us on Literature in English. One of our recommended textbooks was Eze goes to school. Our teacher was so practical with his teaching methods, culminating in our christening him, Eze, after the book he deployed in teaching us. In him, we saw the famed Eze.
Bona was his name. Tall, big and with a very deep voice. Bona’s stock in trade was arguing with our lecturers in our college class. In the late 80s, Nigerian undergraduates had no access to Google or recommended textbooks. So, when Bona began his ruffling of the feathers of our instructors, ‘afraid dey catch us say, lecturer go vex leave the class‘, so, we, his classmates, will generally prevail on Bona to please slow down and let our lecturers be.
Anyone who read Law at UNILAG, or was a student of Ekiti State University, will be conversant with this bearded professor of Law. Fortunately, he was our instructor in an aspect of International Law. Once Prof started teaching, if you arrive after five minutes, it was an unspoken rule that you must not join others. If you do, the lecturer will excuse himself, and that will be the end of the one-hour lecture.
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My daughter was in Primary 4. It happened that she was given a homework on a journalism-related issue. Any child who happens to have both parents with journalism backgrounds, will be excited to sit back and allow for wise counsel. Not mine. She was at war with the mother, reminding the mother that her contributions were not as right as the direction her teacher gave her at school. My wife was so frustrated by the child, she had to shout at her, referring her to me, to confirm she was a thoroughbred journalist, adding that, the child’s teacher will be glad to learn from her. I had to calm both mother and daughter, reminding the daughter that the mother was even better than me, concerning this issue.
I have presented scenarios that have spanned over 40 years, different generations of people who seek an effective learning process. In the different seasons, the teacher’s influence is dominant and indispensable. The teacher is the most important person in a classroom situation. In the first three scenarios presented, the teacher holds all the aces. If he/she is offended, there will be no learning experience. The fourth scenario, presents the influence the teacher has on a growing child, to the extent the pupil believes the teacher more than the parent.
So, whether you are delivering instructions to children in a primary, post-primary, tertiary institution, faith or correctional centre, one thing is needful: The instructor must have excellent knowledge of the subject content and the expected results on the learner/listener.
The teacher we need: Writing in her recently published book, The right teacher, Bimbo Ogundere, M.D., one of the fiercest stakeholders in the education sector, defined the ultimate teacher as one who must ‘’have a heart for this profession and as you have chosen to answer the call, the next step is to commit to it. You must become unwavering, focused and determined.” What this means is that the teaching profession should not be a stop gap employment for one to arrive at their dream jobs. A teacher must see a bright future with the profession, then throw in all his capabilities into the work. The teacher must understand that, the learning process is not an official, boss-subordinate situation; the atmosphere must be set for a mutually beneficial relationship.
Misconceptions, the Nigerian factor: During our season as primary, post-primary and tertiary school attendees, which terminated in the late 80s, the teacher was seen as the all-knowing person, with our jobs being to drink from his fountain of knowledge, thereby being ready to consume everything he dishes out. That is exactly where the challenge is in delivering instructions effectively. As a norm, the teacher is expected to facilitate a learning process and act as a paradigm of knowledge. Whether in a classroom situation, corporate training scenario, or a faith centre fellowship, where either the Pastor or Imam is at work, the underlying principle is to successfully transmit knowledge to your listeners/audience. Leave them better than when they began with you.
One teacher’s dilemma: “When I came to the USA to teach, I was prepared to be the one-source of knowledge, and no student should challenge my output.” That is a candid confession from Usenime Akpanudo, an Associate Professor at Harding University, USA. He went on to relate how he had problems with his students, owing to his Nigerian teacher mentality.
Professor Akpanudo soon understood the importance of Collaborative Learning, an attempt by two or more people to learn something together. Learners are together in groups in order to understand a concept, create a product, or solve a problem. And the teacher’s work is to facilitate what is about to be shared. So, in the USA, Usenime Akpanudo realised that the teacher is not supposed to be content with his knowledge situation, but, should be ready to deliver the content according to the scheduled time together, employing hands-on-activity, making comments with real examples, real life experiences, make up experiences the learner is able to remember, and basically deploy any of the learning styles: visual (pictures), aural (sound and music), verbal (words both in speech and in writing), physical (using your body, hands and sense of touch), for effective delivery.
The importance of having a pre-knowledge of your learners: Most learning facilitators arrive at the situation without prior knowledge of their learners and so, what both parties experience is a disconnect and absolute failure in learning delivery. An instructor/teacher must “know” his learners. Even with a teaching curriculum at your disposal, overseeing a learning situation demands understanding the nuances of your learners. What you communicate to semi-illiterates, will not fly with college graduates.
The most difficult lot these days to be taught are the teenagers. Jude Ajibo, a Teen Church Minister with one of the Christian denominations in Lagos volunteers this assessment: “Teaching a 21st Century teenager is both challenging and fascinating, simply because teenagers think differently to grown-ups. They are more likely to take risks, be sleepy, misread emotions, give in to peer group pressure and lack self-control.”
Be prepared: Continuing with his assessment of the teenage learner, Mr. Ajibo adds: “They are also exposed to a whole lot of information on the internet. They are the Digital Natives (kids born with smart technological devices), so they usually believe they are knowledgeable. Teaching a teenager, the teacher needs to be well equipped with relevant knowledge. Be very informed and also be willing to learn from the teenagers, see through their adolescent ego, beyond their quick confrontational vibes so much that the teacher is always learning to meet deliverables.”
Contributing more, Jude Ajibo believes that the teenager’s attention span is low, making them very impatient, and if you want to succeed with them, the teacher needs to be quick and direct by getting their attention to be able to impact them. Oftentimes, this class of learners will challenge the teacher with an intent to undermine him, and so, the teacher must be able to see through them. Mr. Ajibo’s recommendation for a 21st Century Teen teacher is that he “…needs to be well read, knowledgeable, develop an unquenchable appetite for continuous learning because, the teenage mind is very adventurous.”
Endemic problems: Is it true that most Nigerian teachers are not “ambitious?” They run a regimented life of leading the learning process from the available curriculum and their job is done. This group of teachers do not seek to widen their knowledge base. Unfortunately, we have a government which has a poor attitude towards education, with no history of teachers going on refresher courses or training in the primary and post-primary schools. At the tertiary education level, stories abound where teachers use their training allowances to solve personal needs like buying cars, building houses, as well as lavishing on other mundane things. At the private schools, promoters get the best teachers, but the public schools are left with above-mentioned cases.
Life is what you make out of it: Focus, goals and ambition will lead an individual to the realm of success. Mfonobong (not her real name) ended up with a Pass grade from her science-based course at the university. Her life was miserable. She was not qualified for anything. Luckily, she ended up in a prominent private primary school in Lagos as an assistant teacher, with no responsibilities. In fact, she was about to be sacked, when fate played a good tune in her ears.
Relating her story to me, Mfonobong gushed, “there was this boy who was experiencing learning difficulties, since I was not seen as being useful, he was asked to be dumped with me in a room. It was then I began thinking what could be the challenge”. After that encounter, Mfonobong scurried the internet for solutions to the child’s learning problems. To cut a long story short, today, Mfonobong has become indispensable at the school she works, where a new unit for children with learning disabilities and other challenges are overseen by her. Not only that, Mfonobong is a consultant to many schools in Nigeria, maintaining a portfolio of staff in these schools, private homes, and holding trainings for others, added to her many certifications internationally.
Teacher, arise: In a country like Nigeria, the government will not urge one to upgrade and broaden his knowledge. Like the popular cliché, “physician, heal thyself”, the teacher must help himself, because of his importance in the learning process. The right teacher must be informed and being informed is to be knowledgeable, enlightened and illuminated-about self, sector, profession, curriculum, how children learn, pedagogy, and the children they have in their care (Ogundere, 2019).
The work of a teacher must be seen as a long-term project, which if well served, will arrive at being decorated with laurels. In my earlier intervention entitled “Gigo: The story of the Nigerian teacher,” my submission was that, a teacher with a poor foundation will impact poorly on the learner, meaning that, if the rot is not arrested, the results will be incompetent teachers. Writing in her book, “The right teacher”, Bimbo Ogundere says that the role of a teacher in the life of a learner is very vital. “…it takes two years for a child to overcome the effect of a bad teacher, even when the child progresses to a class with a good teacher.”
The ritual must end: Let us agree that the Nigerian governments do not give a thought about education. The stakeholders are trying. In saner countries, education is in the front burner of policies. A friend saddled with education responsibilities in the USA informed me recently that, even though the government had frozen the wages of the entire public sector, only the education sector was spared and are recommended for a raise in wages. That is priority. Since education is not priority here, and knowing that we are a part of the global village, the teacher must “double” his efforts to make a success of the learning process. The learner/listener has his life and future in the hands of the teacher. The teacher is indispensable to the learner, learning leads to the acquisition of knowledge and skills, then to solving problems and creativity.