Growing up, a school was fun. I enjoyed the morning run, barefoot, not minding the stones threatening to rip the soles of my feet apart. The only thing on my mind during those days was how to escape Mr. Mukoto’s cane (bless his heart).
I kid you not; those canes were enough to make you forget what you ate for breakfast and put an end to any lateness again in your entire primary school life. He was head teacher, father, disciplinarian, friend; we loved, hated and respected him in equal measure.
Those days’ teachers used to applaud you for every little effort at improving in academics, sports, drama, and debate. Those days were good. That was before my world turned upside down, which is a story for another day.
Fast forward to today and am a teacher. I love my job. I love my students. I live for those precious little moments of every day. Like the pride in a student’s eye when she tells me “madam, I passed my CAT this time”. Or that quite, shy form one who for the first time answers a question in class. Or when I enter a class and am met by so many smiling faces. And the occasional “thank you madam” after a lesson.
I cherish these moments. Nothing makes me happier than seeing the transformation, the growth, the molding of passions, and the building of dreams. Am constantly in awe of the power, the burden, and responsibility placed on the Kenyan teacher.
This then brings me to issue at hand. It has been said elsewhere that our education system is rotten to the core. We need reforms, they say. What reforms? A new education system? Better content? Abolishing boarding schools? New teaching methodologies? In all these calls for reforms, teachers have always been at the front, receiving blame for the poor educational outcomes. You’d think they are solely responsible for what happens in the education sector.
More often than not, this has been said of the Kenyan teacher, especially when they take to the streets demanding better pay “Oh they’re greedy for money “, “Oh, they spend the half of the year striking and that’s why students fail”, “They never cover the syllabus on time”. For those of us to whom teaching is a passion, we are as frustrated as anyone else. Our hands are tied.
No matter what we do, no matter how much time we spend, someone somewhere will always find something to blame teachers for. Regardless we press forward.
Take for example Performance Appraisals. The resistance with which it was met is not because teachers don’t want their performance to be evaluated. But how exactly do you evaluate the performance of a teacher based only on how students perform in examinations? At this point, we all know that passing exam is not the only measure of educational outcomes.
Teaching goes beyond the classroom. It involves much more than what is tested in the national examinations. How do you quantify values impacted? Experiences? Behavior change? With Performance Appraisals, teachers have been reduced to clerks, working on paperwork rather than doing actual teaching. It’s tiring. It’s draining. It takes time that would otherwise be used to give extra attention to students who need individualized lessons.
We are being hit with summon letters right, left and center. Why? To explain why we haven’t covered the syllabus. I don’t know about you, but much of the content being taught in schools now is the same with what was being taught 10-15years ago. Is this content still relevant? Some yes, others no. So why do we still insist on teaching them? Wouldn’t it be better to teach current content even if they are not reflected in the syllabus rather than sweating to cover content 80% which is stale? Sometimes you want to do much more than you are provided with. You want to schedule an extra lesson to teach outside the syllabus which is a crime. You want to help that artistic student practice her drawing after class time which is against the law. You cannot teach anything else “outside” class hours. So much for trying.
Teach and go home has become a favorite slogan among teachers of late. Because anything else you do that has not been “approved” by the ministry will land you in problems. Dealing with student indiscipline has become impossible. We’re literally breeding monsters, learners who feel they are above everyone. Learners who can lock you out of a class for being late never mind the principal had summoned you. Learners who can decide whether or not they want to do assignments and there is nothing you can do. Am a proponent of dialogue when it comes to dealing with student discipline issues.
We all remember the teachers who were attacked by their students with clubs and machetes for being reprimanded for misconduct. How exactly are we supposed to teach? How are we to restore sanity and dignity in school? If dialogue is not working, do we sacrifice teachers’ lives in the pretext of “protecting students”? And to make matters worse, parents, who are supposed to be collaborating with teachers to make the education of their children meaningful are often disinterested or turn against teachers when their support is sought. If we could do more, believe me, we would.
All the way from the classroom to marking national exams, we still carry blame and ridicule. When results are rushed and there are discrepancies, teachers are blamed. When marking schemes keep changing every day and results are inconsistent, teachers are blamed. Working from 4 am to midnight trying to beat exam release deadlines set by people who have no idea how marking is done will make you curse the day you decided to become an examiner. Yet, for those of us whose only mission in life is to prepare future leaders, we press on.
Now that the teachers’ unions are clutching on straws to remain alive by being starved of contributions from the teachers’ employer, the last blow has landed. Without a vocal union to fight for teachers rights, we are finished. The CBA that unions were forced to sign has come to frustrate teachers with the current delocalization and mass transfers. Let no one cheat you that this is aimed at National Cohesion. The game plan is to separate heads, deputy heartaches, and senior teachers and move them far away from the communities where they hold influential positions and are vocal. Compulsory modules have been introduced which teachers are expected to pay for. I don’t know of any single organization that asks its employees to pay for courses they offer which are supposedly for improving performance. Employee training should be part and parcel of employee motivation. But what do I know?
I could go on and on, but let me stop here. Am not speaking for the rascal teachers who inflict bodily harm on students in the name of punishment. Am not speaking for the teachers who provide avenues for students to cheat. Neither am I speaking for those to whom teaching is just a means of survival. But for the passionate teacher, whose joy comes from seeing students succeed regardless of all the hurdles thrown their way. Hang in there. Things may not get better, but hope springs eternal.