My teaching inspiration: A headteacher in Dargala, Cameroon
I’ve always felt that good teachers are evident all the time, even outside of their classroom. It’s never a surprise, therefore, when I meet someone and can see immediately, even when they are not teaching, that they are or would make a good teacher. There is something about good teachers as human beings in general; how they interact, how they listen to people, how they give their time and eye contact to others, how they care about pupils’ wellbeing and potential.
Teachers are also social workers, parents, police officers and many other roles within their classrooms and schools. This can often be used as a negative by a teacher, complaining after a bad day / week. However, it’s also a great positive, as it’s a sign that we as teachers care about our students and that shows we are human. That is why I always believe it’s easy to spot the good teachers, whether they are school teachers or not. There are, after all, so many different types of teachers in our lives – some who never even teach in any conventional sense.
When I met the lady in the above photo, we were in the market of the village Dargala, Cameroon, where I lived and worked during my time as a VSO school adviser. For a start, the fact that I met her in the market was already something which stood out. As she is a Muslim wife and mother, it is therefore not the norm for her to be doing the shopping or even be in the market, as only Christian wives are allowed to be out of their houses in that sense. That’s when I first realised how different she was and I was to see even more so later on.
I won’t name her, as I see her as a representation of the women in society who are often missed and their skills overlooked for one reason or another, whether that be in developing countries or not. From our first meeting, I was struck by how she engaged with me and others in conversation, how she delivered her points of view, the way in which she maintained eye contact and kept her position within discussions. Above all, I was struck by the questions she asked and the way she listened to the answers – I knew she was a good teacher.
During one of our meetings, I learnt that she had been promoted to headteacher of a local school, which made her professionally equal to her husband, also a headteacher in the area.
Others spoke very highly of her, teachers and acquaintances of both sexes. Although my national volunteer and I didn’t work with her school, I knew I just had to see her teach,. This was partly as a way of reinforcing my belief about her skills and also for my colleague to see, as he said that he aspired to be a teacher. Well, it’s clear to me, when someone is learning about teaching, that you show them the best the area has, as well as the not so good, and allow them to work on the qualities they wish to have in their own teaching.
Off we went to her school, which was not a school as we would know one, but an area in a field at the side of the busy road leading into Dargala. We were there on a market day, the busiest day in terms of passing “traffic”. There were other teachers at the school who she asked me to also observe, a nice touch from a leader who knew I was really there to see her, but didn’t wish to show off.
With those observations completed, I eagerly sat at the back of her teaching area, waiting and watching the students. The first thing that struck me was there were no raised voices, no need to shout. The students were eager to listen to her, and this I could certainly identify with, as it was her voice and delivery which had first captured my attention in the market. For probably the first time in my observations in the area, I saw students actively engaged in their learning. They asked questions (something which in other schools the students seemed too scared to do), and answered unconcerned about whether they were going to make a mistake as they knew her reaction would be okay. There was respect in the lesson from both ways, and the students were able to demonstrate at the end of the lesson what they had learnt – I know this because she checked their learning before they left!
At the end I asked my usual question: “Tell me about your lesson, how do you think it went?” Without hesitation she told me the good points and where she would develop for the next lesson. Here before me sat a confident female teacher and headteacher who inspired me then and still does, when I look at her photo and think of her lesson and our other interactions.
What I have described above are the basics of being a good teacher, which are unfortunately the points we often forget too easily or quickly as we focus on lesson content and what we need the students to learn. This is therefore the lady who comes quickly to mind when I think of inspiration, not just for me, but also for my national volunteer that day. Throughout my teaching career, and no doubt previous to my decision to become a teacher, there have been many other inspirations, but for me it is often the ones that come as a nice surprise that stay in your memory.
On the surface we were very different. She is a Muslim, I am a Buddhist. She is a mother and a wife and whilst I was there I had more freedom than most women in the community because I was Nsara (foreigner) and my white face meant I was able to access the rights of the men as opposed to following the rules placed on women. We were and are similar in the way we believe in the whole education of the student, how we wanted them to be visible in the classroom and outside of it and how we believed we had a voice we needed to use to help others.
It’s not our differences that separate us but our similarities that bind us.