Decolonising the noble profession
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!”