18 Nov 2012

First Day

I remember my first day as a teacher clearly. I was dressed in an Ankara print gown. As I was resuming on a Friday, I figured it was best I assimilated as quickly as possible. Hence, I was in the traditional attire. I arrived at the school in April during the final exams for the second term. I was quickly assigned to invigilate one of the SS1 classes. On arrival at the class, I was in shock.

Let me give you a little background at this point. I am a former student of a public school myself. I attended Queen’s College, Yaba, in the 1990s. I resumed Queen’s College in the days when classroom size in the Junior Secondary School level was hovering above a hundred students to one classroom. Somehow, the classes still
seemed built for teaching. We had proper chalkboards. There were many chairs and desks in working conditions that did not pose a health and safety risk. Alas, with one hundred students in a class, I did not last in the school and transferred to a private school for my Senior Secondary School. Class size at my new school was ten in the science class, and mid-twenties for combined arts and commercial class.

Back to current day situation, the class I had been assigned, SS1 Commercial, was in shambles. The floor had fallen apart. After walking around the class more than a few times to monitor the students, you won’t have been surprised if you saw my shoes and I told you I had visited a construction site. This class that was falling apart was located in one of the blocks of rooms that was more recently built in the compound. The chairs that the student sat on were constructed out of unpolished and unpainted wood. I could tell looking at them that they were falling apart. Nails poked out from dangerous angles.  The slabs of wood constructed across the arms of the chairs as a desk were definitely not attached anymore. With a class size around 90, the many health and safety risk were glaring to me on first sight.

On this day, I was invigilating the Mathematics and Financial Accounting exams. One of the most striking things about exams at this school is how disorganized the whole process is. Exams are started late. More often than not, there are an insufficient number of question papers for the students. On this first day, I had been given the question papers and shown to the classroom. On arrival at the classroom, getting the students to settle down was an exercise in herding sheep through a small gate. Just as you thought you had sorted out one student’s mischief, you would notice another one getting up to something. They just were not ready for the exams. But who could really blame the students for being so unsettled. Their examination had been one of the casualties of the Oyo State Teachers’ Union strike in late March. After politics had been settled, the examinations were put together in a rush so that the students could be assessed before being given a short break.

As the question paper for the Mathematics exam was distributed to the students, the distinct lack of an initial rush to answer questions was an indicator of what was to come. The students were at first morose. When they were not being morose, they were actively engaged in the art of cheating. The cunning displayed to cheat was one of the signs of their brilliance and ingenuity.  I tried to be strict by sending the students out of the class if they were caught. However, after the incessant begging, they would be summoned back in to finish exam. They were some, who when sent out of the classroom, could not be bothered to hang around. They promptly disappeared. There were also some students who when moved to another seat promptly submitted their paper. They were so reliant on copying other people; they could not solve questions on their own. They were also distinctively materially unprepared for the exams. The constant borrowing of this and that was really annoying and distracting. At the end of the day, there was not much I could do.

Hopelessness is one feeling that I have come to feel often in this job. I do not have much control over the lives of the students. I desire for them to make better decisions but there is not much I can do in terms of punitive action. The reason punitive actions are limited is because there is a fear of the students and their parents. There is the infamous occult activity among students of the school that led teachers to warn that touching students should be off-limit. There is also the fact that if a parent deems punitive action excessive, they could storm the school and cause a scene.

After invigilating on that first day, I got a mental shake-up. Teaching at a public school was not going to be the idyllic walk in a park I had imagined. I was going to be teaching in dire conditions trying to inspire students who knew the educational system had failed them already. It was a tough first day. Alas, it was the first in many days of wonder.

by Sinmi
2012 9JEducation.org work-study

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