The great initiative of THISDAY Newspaper to honour Nigeria’s best teachers at its Annual Awards in Abeokuta on Tuesday will continue to reverberate across the country. Education is the bedrock of all the develop processes of a country. Primary school teachers in particular are the core teachers moulding the character of our children in their formative stage in school. But unfortunately, many teachers no longer take pride in the teaching profession. In public many teachers are ashamed to introduce themselves as teachers.
But one teacher who not only takes pride in the teaching profession but who still proudly introduces herself as a teacher is Mrs. Christiana Uchenwa Mbakogu.
Mrs. Mbakogu who hails from Amesi, Aguata Local Government Area, Anambra State, was educated at Loretto Teacher Training College – Adazi Anambra State and Government Teacher Training College, Lagos. Prior to her retirement, Mrs. Mbakogu taught at the following seven schools: Holy Rosary Schools, Nimo – Awka; Holy Rosary Schools Onitsha; Sacred Heart School, Onitsha; St. George’s Cath. School, Ikoyi – Lagos; Our Lady of Apostles School, Yaba – Lagos; St. Joseph’s Cath. School, Amesi – Anambra State and Baptist School Surulere, Lagos
Unknown to many people, Mrs. Mbakogu taught the following eminent Nigerians at various stages in her teaching career: Mrs Anthonia Omosu of Nigerian Television Authority (NTA); Prof. Clement Nwawolo, Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Surgeon at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), and Mrs Ifeoma Anyigbo, educationist, adviser, Public Affairs Section of United States Consulate
In her teaching career spanning well over twenty-six years, Mrs. Mbakogu placed a very high premium on primary and secondary school education because she believed that it was the most portend vehicle for the integral development of a child. Mrs. Mbakogu does not believe in the efficacy of the cane in imparting knowledge. She glibly believes that the best knowledge is imparted in a child in an atmosphere of freedom, love, understanding and inter-personal friendship. She was very friendly with her students, and sooner or later other teachers in the schools where she taught started emulating her good example. She espouses the ideal that corporal punishment instils fear in pupils, and that fear is the greatest obstacle to learning. Fear, according to her, prevents clear thinking, and a student who does not think is a misshapen student.
Mrs Mbakogu’s teaching style was built on enriching children in her care by offering them a new world and new skills each day. To do this, the children will begin each morning by presenting a diary of the day. This diary presented a narrative of activities children engaged in before coming to school and ending with expectations they have for the entire day. This approach to teaching and learning unconsciously armed children with skills for essay and report writing.
This is borne out of her real love for teaching and personal commitments in ensuring that she passes the right message in the pupil. Mrs. Mbakogu also has the dogged belief that every child has amazing strengths that should be explored. To buttress this, she does not believe in giving up on any child in her class, no matter how badly the child may seem to have performed in class. She would rather forfeit her break period for extra teaching to ensure that the affected child caught up with their peers and engaged in each school subject with confidence rather than the crippling fear of getting ridiculed by their peers.
Even at 84, Mrs. Mbakogu’s incurable passion for teaching remains unassailable. She has continued to impart knowledge and values to young children ex-gratis. This can be seen in her commitment to teaching her grandchildren at home. Every day, she sits down at home to teach her grandchildren ex gratis. But as always, she emphasised that their parents must have an input. But then, do grandchildren actually believe that the grandmother they see at home every day could once have been a teacher? A good example is with one of her grandchildren. She spent the entire afternoon helping this child with the English homework. That done, they moved to the Maths homework. Mrs Mbakogu worked him through the stages for getting the right answer in a certain way. The child insisted that the teacher had a different style. When he used this format he produced the wrong answer. When she got tired of arguing, she asked him to please submit the homework the teacher’s way. Of course, he returned home from school the next day with all the Math answers wrong. From that day on, he always worked on his home work with Mrs. Mbakogu.
Unfortunately in Nigeria today, the word teacher is gradually becoming a derogatory word synonymous with failure. Those who eventually opt out for teaching do so for lack of a better job to do. But this was not so in the past. In the past teachers formed part of the group we could call the elite group. They were respected and revered. Their children were respected too. The children of teachers were singled out for their elegant dressing and refined conduct. Unfortunately today we live in a new materialistic culture in which a person’s possession (and not a person’s worth) is the only measure of a person’s success. For example, the ambition of most Nigerian graduates is to work for oil companies where they hope to be adequately remunerated. With the exception of a few teachers in some private secondary schools still fully dedicated to teaching, most teachers in public secondary schools lack true commitment in the discharge of their duties.
As we celebrate Mrs Mbakogu today, teachers should learn to take pride in their profession. They should understand that the teaching profession is not reserved for never-do-wells but for the best and the brightest.
Mrs. Sowemimo, an educationist, lives in Lagos