I started school at the bottom of the class. In nursery school classes 1 & 2, I had no understanding of what I was doing. My results showed it for a fact. Reflectively, I think it was because of the population of the classes, the style of teaching, the disinterest in the teachers and the class settings which favoured the wards of teachers & principals over the rest of us. They received adequate attention while I simply fell within the cracks. Who cares if I understood the Yoruba literature text – “Alawiye”? Who cares if I thought the English teacher spoke too fast? Being bullied all through Nursery school hadn’t helped matters either. But, (and here’s the wonderful thing about this opening paragraph) I finished school at the top of the class.
What was the turning point, then? Well, I was transferred to a private school in Primary 1. I remember my shock when the teacher mentioned my name. I was surprised to see that my former class of 68 had shrunk to 7. I remember thinking something had to have been responsible for their absence that first day. I was equally surprised when the teacher asked about our learning goals. I was surprised to find I didn’t have a problem telling the teacher she talked too fast. I was more surprised to find her slow down her pace for me to catch up. Perhaps, the biggest surprise of all that year, was coming home with a report card that claimed I had come 1st in class.
My parents thought the teachers were responsible for this inexplicable change in me. They concluded that these teachers surely had better qualifications than the teachers in my previous school, but I knew it wasn’t the qualifications, it was the class setting. It was as much the pedagogy as it was the removed peer pressure. It was the learner-centred approach. It was the simple fact that my teachers knew my name and thought I had something to share.
I discovered for the first time in my life that I loved to read and I read to know. I read to explore. I read to laugh. I hardly read textbooks. I read story books. The focus on subject matter had obviously been a turn-off for me. I loved diversity. I loved imaginary characters and I understood their motivations, I resonated with their fears, I shared their hopes, I cheered their mighty deeds and I was sympathetic to their shortcomings.
When, upon resumption in Primary 2, my English teacher in the first week of school had claimed that no English word could be pronounced without the presence of the 5 vowels a,e,i,o, and u, I remember asking “what of myth sir, or rhythm or why?” I had no trouble asking because I had found these words in the storybook I read over the holidays and like a photographic shot, they brazenly confronted this new piece of information I was about to be forced to swallow down hook, line and sinker.
I knew I was in trouble when this brave question dragged me down to the headmaster’s office. I had NEVER been called to the headmaster’s office before. Not ever. The worst fear I nursed as I trudged along was being asked to present my evidence. I had borrowed this book and I had returned it. But I hadn’t borrowed the word “Why”, had I? Since I could not explain this injustice, I counted my steps down the corridor armed with one simple word I could ask if the beating got out of hand – “WHY?” How do you explain to your colleagues that a rebellious question earned you an immediate promotion to Primary three.
I finished primary school as the head boy and the best graduating student in my set. It happened to be the 1st in the school’s history, and I confess, I did not believe the award meant much, since I had finished top in a class of 9. Then came the common entrance examinations which were hosted in public centres and converged up to 1000 students from various schools – public, private, missionary, Montessori. These examinations remain critical in the furthering of primary education to secondary in Nigeria today. Before the examinations, I decided not to kid myself. I was a local champion. Nothing more. What kid does that? I mean, there are a few things a kid is allowed to do, right? Chief among them, is the God-given right to KID yourself. I felt my performance in the small class of 9 couldn’t have meant anything here. I was wrong. I was the best student in this centre and that was when I knew something special had been deposited in me. Scratch that – something special had been nurtured in me and I had discovered myself.
I started school at the bottom of the class, but thanks to teachers who engaged me to my core, thanks to a head teacher who felt the penalty for questioning my teachers was a promotion, I finished school at the top of the class.
I wish I could say Secondary school was as much fun as Primary. It wasn’t. I…….
[Part 1 of 3]