Help a Teacher

Image via Financial Times

By Soji Ojeniyi

If you live in a country where leaders consistently loot the national treasury, where a tenth of annual budget is allocated to education, where politics is the thriving profession of the elites, it’s easier to understand a terrain with its own peculiarities. Of course, more serious issues brew on people’s front burners. There is insurgency which drives them so far away from home if they are lucky to be alive. There is religion which continually fuels cowardice potent enough to keep them off the protesters’ streets. There also is poverty which combines with ignorance to harrow the grounds ploughed by the previous two.

When you consider how far spent these grounds have been you begin to get a picture how tough the terrain about which we speak. Our topography evolved through ethnic differences and inter-tribal discord that degenerated into a civil war. Poor leadership and communal mismanagement continue to ruin the little infrastructure there ever has been. Area boys have been beatified when the uniform meant unbridled repression. Loyalty to patriarchy have desecrated the holy grounds of patriotism.

What these grounds need the most right now is the fertilization only quality education can provide. The leaders themselves realize that the fetters of servitude and the shackles of subservience will fall off upon the rise of a seeming oblivious followership. It’s just a question of time. But the ticking clock is slow. These are the days when the numbers of the dead are climbing past the three-quarter million mark. The claws snatching innocent souls are those of a ruthless foe invisible to unaided sight. Its strategies are cruel, very little known to experts, very poorly communicated to the masses. The globe’s most knowledgeable professionals, most powerful military and most influential democracies have been caught napping and the planet’s poorest are paying the steepest. We still don’t understand that poorly educated societies die faster with the help of a pandemic than without it. Therefore, at such a time when we should take education most seriously, we continue to neglect our teachers. That way, if their souls are not delivered to the fangs of the virus, they will succumb to the grips of hunger and malnutrition as well as the consequent lower immunity, depression and lack.

To understand the extent of their lack, dial up anyone who hasn’t earned a dime in the past five months. The experience they would share will shock the stout-hearted. Although the shock is familiar in this part of the world, people in other climes may find it strange. When the news cycle fed sufficient airtime to palliatives citizens were receiving from their governments, some people raised their hopes here at home. Now self-employed people in the U.K. have been paid £2,500 on average. Even those aids barely kept people above poverty lines, otherwise some 40 million job loses wouldn’t have been reported in the United States alone. As such, food queues are longer than thirty-six weeks.

Thirty-six months before however, a colleague shocked me with the starkest words ever used to describe people in my profession. He said, “Don’t you know society perceives teachers as poor?” No, I didn’t! No, we’re not! Well, some people have learned first-hand that a more painful coinage might just be apt. The true state of things is that the teaching profession has always been a little less than noble. Low pay, non-existent benefits, societal disrespect are the bitter recipe for the low self-esteem which ride down the shoulders of so many teachers on so many mornings. In many private schools that experience falls lower when you add job insecurity. If those are not bad enough, should the leaders of a country add neglect at a time these teachers need help the most? Most private school teachers grew through under-resourced schools, trained and continue to retrain through self-sponsorship and high-interest loans under the toughest economic realities. This is the first time they will ever look up to their government for help. Nothing should narrow their chances of survival.

Of course, the fittest will survive. Once these terrible winds blow past, they will have evolved with a firm decision never to be caught in such low state again. By that time my nation may have lost a fraction of its finest teachers. They’re taking their vows right now. No one hears, no one listens. They will dessert the profession in droves. They will take trade and artisan paths with pain in their hearts. Some will take flight to finer shores in search of greener pastures. The people who will take the place of today’s teachers may neither think as thoroughly nor act as carefully. Those ones may churn out even lower quality education into society. They will flip when the time is right. Our communities will not be the same when these toughest teaching times pass. Our city’s roads will be beaten when these tumultuous, trying terrain turns.

These are the times to accord our teachers some respect and show it with tangible financial help. Give encouragement to the ones who have always done no less for your children and grandchildren. Reach out to private school teachers directly and hurriedly. Let this nation know that the stakes they hold are those of honour at a time when circumstances have denied their employers the right to charge fees. They currently face the toughest times on the most trying terrain.

Soji Ojeniyi is a songwriter, pianist, teacher, public speaker and author of articles and books including ‘All In Africa,’ ‘Man Trust Thy Symphony,’ ‘Now That You Are Choirmaster’ and ‘Star Of Wonder.’