By Ekemini Simon
Utibe’s classmates were all in mockery and laughter when she mentioned in her class her dreams of being a teacher. When asked by their teacher what they hope to become in the future, among the 22 pupils in her class, Utibe, a nine-year-old girl was the only one who mentioned a career dream of teaching. When the teacher enquired from the respective pupils the reason they do not want to teach as a profession and at worst laughing at the person who wishes to become a teacher, they responded that they do not want to become poor or suffer in future. But this experience is strange to many who had witnessed in time past how noble the teaching profession was.
Dr Udeme Nana, a teacher in the Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic, Ikot Osurua recalls that when he grew up, everyone dreamt of being a teacher because of the nobility teaching was known for. To paint a picture of how times have changed, he notes “when my father was a teacher, women were struggling to marry teachers. If you are a teacher and propose then, no woman will turn you down. But try that now, women will run. They will wonder how they will cope with you”. These experiences give a glimpse into how many view the teaching profession today. There is increasing decrepitude of interest by the day. It is not surprising then that the 2019 World Teachers’ Day commemorated world over on October 5, 2019 had the theme: ‘Young Teachers: The Future of the Profession’. What really is behind the declining interest in the teaching profession and how can this be salvaged?
Teaching—the Cost, the Discouragement
Although some teachers make it look easy, teaching can be a marathon of hurdles. It has to be admitted that this “most vital profession,” as it has been called, presents many challenges—from inadequate pay to poor classroom conditions; from excessive paperwork to oversize classes; from disrespect and abuses to parental indifference.
The Challenge of inadequate pay for teachers is almost everywhere.
William Ayers writes in his book-To Teach—The Journey of a Teacher: “Teachers are badly paid . . . We earn on average a quarter of what lawyers are paid, half of what accountants make, less than truck drivers and shipyard workers. . . . There is no other profession that demands so much and receives so little in financial compensation.” The sentiments of Ayers hold sway in Nigeria too.
The Director-General, National Teachers’ Institute (NTI), Dr. Aminu Ladan, while speaking at a symposium organised to mark the 2019 World Teachers’ Day in Abuja points out that Nigerian teachers are de-motivated because their remuneration is abysmally low.
Ladan said “Today, teachers’ pay is so low that most of them can barely put food on their tables by the time they settled their children school fees, utility and medical bills. Yet they are expected to perform magic.”
According to Nsikak Udo a graduate who teaches in a privately owned secondary school in Uyo, despite teaching from JSS1 to SS3 for five years in the school, he is on a monthly salary of just N18,000. He says sometimes he goes back home at the end of the month with N12,000 after the school may have deducted some money from his salary as punishment for a few minutes of lateness to school. Those who teach in public schools are not left out. They also complain that the workload is not commensurate with the pay. “Although we are paid just as other civil servants, the workload in public schools deserves consideration to be given to teachers. In just a class, you may have over 100 students to attend to. Sadly, at the end of the month, you get the paltry salary that will be exhausted just for transport fare”, says a teacher who teaches in a public secondary school in Uyo.
Another complaint of some teachers is that many parents do not shoulder their own responsibilities to educate their children in the home. Teachers feel that parents should be the very first educators of their children. Good manners and etiquette should start at home. Little wonder that Mercy Idiong a teacher with a private Nursery/ Primary School says that “teachers . . . need to be treated more like other professionals and less like glorified babysitters.”
Parents often fail to back up the discipline given at school. Mary, a teacher in a Nursery school says: “If you report delinquent kids to a parent, the next thing you know, you are being abused by the parents!” Joy another teacher says this about dealing with difficult students: “Family upbringing is on the way out. You can no longer assume that most children come from families with a good, reasonable upbringing.” Yet, there is still another challenge that stands as a big discouragement for teachers.
According to a study by the National Foundation for Educational Research and published by Daily Independent Newspaper on 25 February 2019, teachers suffer job-related stress than other workers. But does this study really reflect the reality on the ground? A teacher who lectures in the University of Uyo, Abasifreke Idiong, says the result of the study reflects what teachers face.
While describing the stress teachers face as what one cannot easily quantify, he notes that what makes it the hardest is when one is a good teacher. “A good teacher is like a candle. It consumes itself to light the path of others,” he explains. Nevertheless, what really is involved in the teaching work that makes it so demanding? Idiong offers insight into the fact that a good teacher does more than teaching. He states “Primarily we teach, but we are also counsellors and parents to our students. We conduct researches, write reports and papers, supervise projects, attend conferences. Some are examination officers, Heads of Directorates among other responsibilities.”
Yet, there is something more challenging for teachers especially the ones in higher institution. The University Don mentions that the most challenging issue is the fact that there is never a time to unwind all through the year. How true is this when there are provisions for a break between each semesters for students? Idiong answers “When students are on breaks, you are in school mobilising those for National Youth Service Corps. You are grading scripts, preparing results and attending to part-time students. Senior lecturers will also be teaching postgraduate programmes during this period”. Yet, are these challenges enough for teachers to give up? Are there still gains which can fire them up?
Teaching—the motivation and Joy
In spite of all the challenges, setbacks, and disappointments, many teachers today persevere in their chosen profession. What motivates them when they know that they may not receive adequate recognition or reward? What keeps them going? For Edidiong Udobia, a young teacher in a public secondary school, his motivation is the realization that as a teacher, he plays a fundamental role in nation-building. He notes “ Having the privilege to transfer my knowledge to students and help groom them, for me, is a huge responsibility. As a teacher, I am always conscious of the fact that, outside the four walls of the classroom, the students still continue to learn from me. “So, it’s quite exciting and at the same time, a very challenging responsibility. I draw motivation from the fact that, as a teacher, I play a fundamental role in nation-building.” Yet, there are still other motivating factors.
Abasifreke Idiong quoted earlier reveals what motivates him: “My motivation is this feeling I usually have each time I see my products excel, and in good conscience, I can say I made a significant contribution to the future that is unfolding. That feeling is second to none.”
But that is not the only driving force for him. Idiong insists that he simply loves the teaching profession hence his readiness not to allow challenges associated with the profession weigh him down. “ If one loves what he’s doing, the motivation to drive on comes naturally”, he adds.
For Nana quoted at the beginning of this article, what keeps him going is the fact that his parent had instilled in him the spirit of being contented with the little he gains as a reward of teaching. Yet, he reveals what spurs him most: “ The main drive is the quest to be a model to other people and the zeal to impart knowledge and leave a legacy. No profession offers the opportunity to fulfil these desires than the teaching profession. These things make me feel proud to be a teacher.” Nonetheless, what can be done for the interest of the younger generation to be revived towards the profession?
A revival of Interest – The role we all play
Many teachers opine that for the teaching profession to become interesting as it used to be in the past, effort must be made by everyone to restore the dignity of the profession.
Ndianabasi Udofia, a teacher who is in her late 20s recalled how she developed interest to become a teacher. “ I chose this profession because I was fascinated when I read the old letters from students to my mother. They were very appreciative of her effort and that touched my heart to impart knowledge to others.” According to Udofia’s experience, a heart of appreciation to a teacher who has imparted into your life could become the magic wand that can spur others to venture into the profession.
Yet, have you, as a student or parent, ever thanked a teacher for the time, effort, and interest is shown? Or even sent a thank-you text message or letter? Udofia adds a valid point: “Teachers thrive on commendation too. The government, parents, and students should highly esteem them and their sacrifices. Such appreciation can infect others who witness it”. What is more, for Nana, the narrative can change when teachers are found among dignitaries recognized in public events. This he says can be among the things that can entice the younger generation into the profession.
He nevertheless gives a more drastic recommendation. Nana posits that interest can be revived if there is an adequate reward for the labour of teachers by making a provision for a rich salary structure for teachers. To make that happen, he insists that the salary of teachers must be replaced with salary of lawmakers especially senators. The Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic teacher asserts “ We have to take salary and other entitlements of Senators and pay teachers while you take that of teachers and pay senators. Let them enjoy what the teachers are benefiting now. That’s the way we can recalibrate this country. “The senators sit for 180 days as the constitution provides. Sadly, most of them do not sit up to 90 days in four years but they still take those huge allowances. Can you compare the sacrifices teachers make daily? The senators are enjoying what teachers should. So, there must be justice in the reward of labour”. When this is done, Nana maintains that he is confident that interest will grow and glow in the profession.
Indeed, despite the challenges and fears over the future of the profession, it is unanimously acknowledged fact that teachers lay the essential foundation for a person’s education. Even the best professors at the most prestigious universities are indebted to teachers who took time and efforts to prime and cultivate their desire for education, knowledge, and understanding. How grateful we should be to those women and men who provoked our curiosity, who stirred the mind and the heart, who showed us how to satisfy our thirst for knowledge and understanding! May we always remember the words of Udofia that: “Teachers thrive on commendation…such appreciation can infect others who witness it.”