Endurance and love are the two things this teacher needs in spades – especially when many of her students miss school owing to poverty and harmful practices
Ihear the sound of my alarm clock at 5:30am and I immediately wish that it were Saturday. I’m a teacher now, not a student, but that doesn’t make it any easier to force myself out of bed. It takes great endurance and a love of the job to be a teacher. My school is in Banjul, which is the capital city of the Gambia. The majority of the government offices are located here, so there is always heavy traffic on the way. I am out of my house by 6:30am at the latest; this is the only way to ensure that I am able to get to school before 8am. Being on the road to Banjul normally takes me 30 minutes, but today is Monday, the busiest day of the week, so my journey might take longer than it usually does.
Monday is also the school assembly day, so I really can’t afford to be late. My principal wouldn’t take that well.
Assembly is supposed to last for 30 minutes, but today it seems to be dragging on. The topic is student discipline and it is being delivered by the principal.
Finally, the “neverending” assembly comes to an close. It’s now 9am. Students get moving straight away to get to their classrooms, and teachers are rushing to mark their registers. I head to my room to register the 54 students in my class.
The first lesson of the day is English language. Although it is the second language, English has become the lingua franca here in the Gambia. This is a double lesson, so it runs for 70 minutes. It’s easier to manage the class of 54 when they are all engaged in composition exercises and written sentence constructions, but it’s far more fun to lead group debates around topics like: “Should girls go to school?”
But it’s certainly not all fun in class. My students are often absent. This morning, three of the girls in my class came to school and reported that they had been absent last week because they had no transport fare and so had to stay at home. Just the other week, a girl also had to stay away for three days because she had to do the domestic chores.
Worse still, one girl has told me that she will not be attending school for the next month because she is being taken away for the tribal ritual of female genital mutilation.
Poverty, cultural norms and harmful practices are some of the greatest threats that deter the development of girls in the Gambia. Therefore, it is imperative that we provide our girls with civic education and also engage with civil society groups and religious leaders in the fight to recognise women’s rights.
Sometimes, I wish I had a magic wand to change things. I wish there were no hustle and bustle in Banjul. I wish I could have all my students present at all times. But the reason I perservere each day is that I am touching the lives of students and hopefully making a difference to their futures. Teaching runs in my family. My dad was a teacher; so is my mother: being a teacher is my calling. Leeza Jammeh is an English teacher at St Joseph’s Senior Secondary School in Banjul. She will be travelling to the UK in September to represent the Send My Friend to School campaign. www.sendmyfriend.org