De­colonis­ing the noble pro­fes­sion

Sunday News (Zimbabwe) - - Front Page -

Teach­ers, power and priv­i­lege

AS a lit­tle boy at Si­ganda com­mu­nal area I grew up fear­ing witches, teach­ers, snakes and ghosts. Yes, teach­ers are also feared. Be­sides the cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment that teach­ers were al­lowed to ruth­lessly ad­min­is­ter, teach­ers were and still are feared just for be­ing teach­ers.

My fa­ther the priest and the head­mas­ter did not in his life ad­min­is­ter cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment but was es­pe­cially watch­ful of me so that I did not go around soil­ing his name with my ter­ri­ble be­hav­iours and an­tics. So many times did I drag my fa­ther’s good name through the mud of the vil­lages, now and again where I set a trap for a bush­buck a neigh­bour’s goat will be caught and killed, where I meant to trap a guinea fowl some­one’s chicken would be found dead. I also did take ad­van­tage of the size of my fa­ther’s herd of cat­tle to prom­ise to marry, when I grow up, ev­ery girl from Mbe­m­beswana to Du­lut­sha and from Hawuke to Lukala. My fa­ther han­dled all this with priestly and head­mas­terly wis­dom.

Teach­ers are pow­er­ful, I must say. I know many of my friends that dropped out of school, never to re­turn, for fear of a cer­tain teacher. The teacher’s word can be an or­a­cle on its own. Some teach­ers have told their stu­dents that the stu­dents are dull and they will come to noth­ing, and those stu­dents have be­lieved that and surely come to noth­ing in life.

There are also some stu­dents that knew them­selves as fail­ures but be­cause a cer­tain teacher as­sured them that greatness and achieve­ment is theirs to pick they made it. As much as teach­ers can mo­ti­vate stu­dents they can also de­mo­ti­vate them and kill their po­ten­tial for good. That is how pow­er­ful teach­ers can be. They can make and un­make peo­ple.

All of us that have passed through teach­ers, es­pe­cially in­flu­en­tial ones, have picked up ideas, man­ner­isms and char­ac­ter­is­tics that have be­come part of us for­ever. Teach­ers stamp their sig­na­tures on the minds and hearts of young peo­ple. Not once but many times have I caught my­self speak­ing and do­ing like Lyn­ford Dube, Don­ald Zi­bonele Matewe and Her­bert Ndlovu, my own charis­matic teach­ers at Cyrene Mis­sion.

Un­der pres­sure I adopt the stub­born calm­ness of Agrippa Tapela, the geog­ra­phy teacher that was fa­mous for calm­ness and firm­ness: “I-Geog­ra­phy ifuna umy­athi ma­jaha!” he would say.

There is no group of peo­ple, in­clud­ing gov­ern­ments any­where, that knows how to take care of their teach­ers the way vil­lagers do. At Si­ganda and the whole Nkosikazi area vil­lagers treated teach­ers like gods. When the schools closed for hol­i­days teach­ers went back to town with chick­ens, mats, dried veg­eta­bles and all sorts of vil­lage good­ies, just for be­ing teach­ers.

In beer par­ties and other cer­e­monies in the vil­lages teach­ers had the lion’s share of all the fes­tiv­i­ties. As the head­mas­ter and the priest’s son I re­mem­ber well pulling one and two goats home that were brought to my fa­ther as gifts from the vil­lagers for the good work that he was do­ing. I re­mem­ber too a few teach­ers that took the arm and the shoul­der be­yond the hand that the vil­lagers gave them to re­ally make them­selves rather too wel­come in the homes of vil­lagers.

My point is that teach­ers, as trou­bled as they are, also have some power and en­joy some priv­i­leges. How they use or abuse that power is a matter of so­ci­etal in­ter­est. The re­spon­si­bil­ity to ed­u­cate, shape hearts and minds in so­ci­ety is not a light one. Po­lit­i­cal regimes the world over know that to reach out to so­ci­ety they have to go through, not only jour­nal­ists and artistes, but teach­ers. In that way teach­ers get used and abused for some un­seemly po­lit­i­cal projects, just the way mis­sion­ar­ies were ap­pro­pri­ated in the colo­nial project.

De­colonis­ing the teach­ing pro­fes­sion

The place and so­cial lo­ca­tion of teach­ers and the teach­ing pro­fes­sion needs to be re­vised in the en­tire planet. Teach­ers are in­for­ma­tion and knowl­edge work­ers. They are dig­ni­fied labour­ers in the cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal in­dus­try. It is teach­ers that shape the sen­si­bil­ity of so­ci­ety. Like jour­nal­ists, priests and artistes, so­ci­ety gets to know what it knows through

teach­ers, and im­por­tantly, jour­nal­ists, priests and artistes know most of what they know through teach­ers.

The teach­ing pro­fes­sion is a pro­fes­sion that pro­duces and shapes other pro­fes­sions. The pro­fes­sion is an im­por­tant but not al­ways in­no­cent one. True enough great gov­ern­ments and po­lit­i­cal regimes that care about the fu­ture of their peo­ple can be judged on the way they take care of and recog­nise the role of ed­u­ca­tion and that of the ed­u­ca­tors.

Teach­ers are not just im­por­tant but they are as valu­able as the rel­e­vance and the kind of ed­u­ca­tion that they dis­pense. The re­spon­si­bil­ity to shape hearts and minds and to in­spire tal­ents among the young is an an­ces­tral and godly re­spon­si­bil­ity. No amount of money and praise can ever fully re­ward good teach­ers, their work is im­mea­sur­able.

Doc­tors, lawyers, ac­coun­tants, busi­ness­peo­ple, priests, ge­og­ra­phers, philoso­phers and engi­neers all owe them­selves to some teacher some­where. If pro­fes­sions were re­warded by the or­der of their im­por­tance teach­ers would be the most highly paid work­ers un­der the sun. In con­clu­sion, “if you have read and un­der­stood what I have writ­ten, thank your teach­ers!”

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