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Friday, December 1, 2023

I used to love teaching

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By Kebba S Juwara

How many times did you hear people say “teaching is just a gateway” or teachers saying “I did not choose teaching, I did not just have a choice”?  Well, you will be surprised that this is actually the truth in almost all cases. More than ninety percent of teachers I met and discussed with either told me they did not have a choice or they are planning to leave the field. Nonetheless, this is not the case with me. I loved teaching and I chose it.

When I was in the lower grades towards junior high, becoming a medical doctor was my dream or rather dreamt dream for me. That is because a my father has respect for only the sciences and wanted me to be a doctor. Continuous repetition of this to me made me make it my dream. However, this did not last long after discovering my talent and adoration for reading and writing subjects and my weakness in Mathematics. Fast forward, the dream for medical doctor got dropped in the dustbin and I took a better calling, one closer to my heart. It was teaching- yes you read that right. I loved reading extensively, especially on areas I am sure no one within my circle reads and come to explain them in class when the class is free. The more I did this, the more I realized how sweet teaching is. I enjoyed every bit of it: The deliberations, the digressions and moreso, answering questions posed to me.  There is nothing sweeter than receiving a question you can answer.

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Progressively, I began helping my classmates in English Language and Literature and many times, some would tell me they only understood certain topics after I explained them. However, this does not mean my English Language and Literature teachers were not competent. In fact, they are my favorite teachers. Thanks to them I am nurtured. I believe, the reason why my colleagues understood from me better than them was my close link with them or perhaps, they feel more comfortable around me than them but their competence is unquestionable.

Consequently, when I graduated, I chose to study English Language in order to be a teacher. My father on the other hand had a different plan. He chose Public Health for me since it is closer to medicine which was impossible for me to study anymore. He pushed it on me so hard that even after starting a program at The Gambia College, School of Education, I applied Public Health. My luck came one day when he discussed with some of his seniors at his office and he realized that almost all of them were once teachers. He came home that day with some respect for the teaching field and gave me a choice; to continue the teacher training or go for Public Health. Without a millisecond passing by, I told him I prefer teaching. This was how I continued the program.

From this point, nothing in life became really challenging to me. I loved what I was doing and I was doing what I loved.

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I graduated from the College in 2018 and got appointed by the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education. I was the happiest man on earth.

All this time, the teaching condition and whatever difficulty surrounded it was never my problem. In fact, I was posted to a village and the staff quarters was very far from standard. There was no electricity. The houses were small and we all know provincial villages are hotter than those in Kombo. But my love for standing in front of students transcended and overrode the tribulations. I woke up very early in the morning and go to school. I taught with passion. When school closed, I felt eager for the reopening. I loved the art.

However, things began to crumble in recent years. I began seeing my high school colleagues doing better financially. I barely enter a new month with a thousand Dalasis from the last month. The conditions of the schools (public schools) became unbearable and instead of getting motivated, we are being hunted and haunted by those above us. I lost my grip. I lost the love of my life. Teaching became a burden to me.

In 2022, I got knocked down by the ministry through the Region 2 Regional Office. They asked me to stop going to the university or else I will have my salary halted. I tried to negotiate and put to them how important the studies is to me but that made them even more furious particularly Alasan Jallow who was then the Human Resource Officer at the Region 2 office. He blocked my salary and asked for my deferment letter from the university before releasing my salary. Our elders say; “On a day of misfortune, even cold porridge burns your mouth”. I went to apply deferment which was never difficult but the university administration told me that they don’t offer deferment at that time of the semester. I had to complete that semester. To make the matter worse, it was the same time postings were done, I got posted to Nioro Jataba, a village in Region 4. At this point, I lost the battle. It was impossible to continue University whilst in Kiang. The message from the Ministry and the Regional Office was clear- “Stop Your University Program”.

I went back to Alasan Jallow but his stance was clear, deferment or no salary. I told him that the university was not offering deferment at that time of the semester and moreover, I was posted to Region 4 so I have no choice but to defer when deferment opens. It was only then he wrote a letter to Payroll Office to release my salary. But I never got drawback for the months I did not receive salary.

This experience made me bitter. And by every little inconvenience in the teaching field, I get sour. What I used to love so much is losing its place in my heart and it is not my fault. The system needs improvement. Teachers deserve better. This is why on the occasion of the World Teachers’ Day, I composed this poem to lament that Gambian teachers have nothing to celebrate:

“Anything to celebrate?”

“Happy Teachers’ Day”, we proclaim

But what celebration can we claim

When we cease to overlook the reality

Look at the condition

Of our teacher training schools

And tell me if you have anything to celebrate

Take a tour of our public schools

See the working condition of teachers

And tell me if you have anything to celebrate

Visit the home of teachers

See how hard they are sustaining their families

And tell me if there is anything to celebrate

Study the economic gaps in the civil service

See the level of teachers

And tell me if you have anything to celebrate

Ask provincial teachers about living conditions

Ask urban teachers about the transport system

And tell me if you have anything to celebrate…

Take a good look at a teacher

See what frustration he hides behind his smiles 

And tell me if you have anything to celebrate

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