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Cry the besieged profession! - Zimbabwe Today
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Cry the besieged profession!


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David Mungoshi Shelling the Nuts
My college principal loved these words: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren” (James 3: 1). Good advice, when we consider the many in it for the wrong reasons. True teachers teach for life and as a calling.

In days gone by, most schools, particularly in the rural areas, did not go beyond Standard Three — Grade Five these days — and were, therefore, known as lower primary schools. After lower primary school, if you were one of the lucky few with the intellectual ability, parental foresight to see that education was “where it’s at” to paraphrase black American English, and you also had the wherewithal, you proceeded to an upper primary school after sitting an entrance test.

Many teachers at rural schools had no professional grounding whatsoever. Most had done Standard Six or the Rhodesia Junior Certificate (Form Two) and found jobs in the schools. Through trial and error they stumbled upon teaching constructs. These untrained teachers were called “temporary teachers”.

Happily, if they excelled in their classroom practice they were sometimes upgraded to the same position as someone with a college qualification and henceforth enjoyed the benefits that accrued. Though rural schools were poor and under-resourced, we laboured on, regardless.

Many temporary teachers applied to teachers’ colleges where they could acquire professional skills and a plethora of teaching methods and organisational skills. On entering college, I found that I was one of the younger trainee teachers, among older classmates.

Mark Antony Kuwenga, an affable character with an impressive tone, spoke English authoritatively. He loved quoting Winston Churchill, a one-time roving journalist in the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, and later war-time British premier during World War 11 and the Nazi era in Germany. Mark Antony’s favourite quote from Churchill was, “A man cannot be called educated unless he has read Shakespeare and the Bible”.

Before college, Mark Antony had taught, uninterrupted, for 11 years and was proud of that distinction. On the day of our arrival and after we had been assigned to the hostels that became our living quarters throughout our stay at college, a clean-shaven and youngish-looking man in leather sandals, a pair of shorts and glasses walked into a dormitory where Mark Antony was regaling us with rivetting stories.

None of us knew who the man was and he did not introduce himself. Almost nonchalantly, or so we thought, he began to ask a few questions here and there and also made a few innocuous enquiries about this and that. That must have rubbed Mark Antony the wrong way because he snapped, “My boy, I have been teaching for 11 years — E-le-ven years!”

Early the next morning, after our first night at the college, we were shepherded to the athletics pitch where the mysterious visitor of the day before was the fitness officer. He made us run and jump like army recruits. You should have seen the look on Mark Antony’s face!

Our mysterious visitor was none other than Mr Charles Nzuma, now deceased, a veritable Shona, Physical Education and Geography teacher and enthusiast who also had a great singing voice and stage presence. He played the role of Jesus in Dumi Maraire’s musical aptly named “The Passion Cantata”. We staged sold-out shows at the Anglican Cathedral on Second Street (now Sam Nujoma Street)in Harare.

Mr Nzuma had a splendid reading voice. I never could wait to hear him read Emmanuel Ribeiro’s “Muchadura”, an enigmatic story in deep, idiomatic Shona. Through his reading I became hooked to reading Shona literature, including the poetry of Wilson Chivaura.

In my time, teachers spoke about teaching the children well; and while there was a lot of respect associated with the teaching profession, the material rewards were not that phenomenal. We got by with some help from credit shops. In those days, travelling salesmen were regular visitors at schools where they introduced themselves as well as the companies whose wares they were selling. They showed you catalogues and you made your choice of furniture, which was delivered from Harare within a week or so. The now defunct Nield Lukan from the Kopje area of Harare was good at this.

Before Dumi Maraire left for Seattle, he was, like many black teachers, not-so-well-off, but laboured with all his heart, nevertheless, this maestro, composer and musical genius. We taught with devotion and craved the prize from the Secretary for Education. Sydney Keyi was a recipient of this distinguished award and subsequently became highly celebrated. Results and the learners’ welfare were paramount then.

Now we hold parents to ransom every new term. Our work ethic is shoddy and amoral; we do not think twice about abandoning the children.

Teaching was a vocation; now it is a vacation. Cry the noble profession!

Source : The Herald

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