What you need to know:
- Unless addressed, the challenges may lead to stress, depression, or even death of many teachers.
- Finances: You all know that teachers earn peanuts.
- The economy is doing badly, people have no money, and only a fool would start a business at this time.
- TSC pays us just enough to prevent us from going to the streets.
I was the first person in Mwisho wa Lami and its environs to know that schools will re-open next year. The day before Prof Magoha made the announcement, Pius, my brother, called to give me the news.
“You people are very lucky,” he said excitedly. “You are going to be paid a whole year without any work. I wish I was you,” he added. But I told him that was not possible.
“I know this government very well,” I said. “It hates teachers so much it would rather have them die from Corona than pay them for a year for no work.”
The next day, Pius called me at around 10am. “You see what I told you? You guys will be free for a whole year.”
I did not see anything to celebrate so I asked him what he would do if he were a teacher. “What do you mean Dre?” He wondered. “I would do a lot of things — spend time with my family and start a business so that I don’t go back to teaching in January.”
I did not answer. I just forgave him for he did not know what he was saying.
You see, we teachers may be looking happy and okay, but deep down we are suffering. Real suffering. No one should tell you that we have anything to celebrate for being at home for a long time. Far from it. The decision by the government to close schools until next year may on the surface look good, but I tell you it is dragging teachers through a rough time.
Allow me to share some of the challenges I am going through as a result of schools’ closure. Challenges not unique to me, but affecting all teachers countrywide. Unless addressed, they may lead to stress, depression, or even death of many teachers.
Ten O’clock tea: You may not believe this, but the tea is one of the most important events in a teacher’s life. Over the years, the body has gotten accustomed to taking the school tea amid stories and banter in the staffroom. I have really missed it.
Home tea may be much better than school tea, but the later has a unique taste, which, together with the staffroom stories and banter, does magic to the body. The thought that the next time we will take school tea is next year is something that will surely make many teachers slide into depression.
Finances: You all know that teachers earn peanuts. We are not like the other workers who spend less when they stay at home. If anything, we are now spending more. First, we are spending more on food. Staying at home means more eating. For instance, I have six mouths to feed — breakfast, lunch and dinner; and lots of tea in between.
They eat more food and frequently than they used to when going to school. This has such a big impact on the pocket. Secondly, even if I wanted to send these children away to a relative, it’s not possible. You just have to stay with them. For some of them like Branton, they eat so much that I fear if he doesn’t he may contract Corona from hunger!
Business: Allow me to address the people who are saying that teachers can easily start businesses and grow rich. There are three reasons why this is nothing but a dream. First, the economy is doing badly, people have no money, and only a fool would start a business at this time.
Secondly, our skills are in the education sector, a sector that has literally been closed. You can’t run a private school, can’t do any tuition. Nothing! Last and more important, we have no money.
TSC pays us just enough to prevent us from going to the streets. Just enough to feed you and your family, and nothing else. The people suggesting that we start businesses are daydreaming!
Children: Until last week, I had been trying to maintain a consistent learning and revision regime in the house. As you know, Electina is in Class Eight, Honda in seven and Branton in four.
But on Friday, Electina did not turn up for my 30-minute lesson. When I questioned her, she said there was no need for home studies. “We are not missing anything since we will start next year afresh, and all these things you are saying I may miss will be taught again.” She was right, I could not argue with her.
Students: One of the most difficult things is meeting your students out there who no longer consider you as their teacher. I know of three boys who are now boda boda riders, two girls who are pregnant, and three already married.
The other day I met one of the boda boda students who called me by name – as a way of showing me that we are equals. I felt insulted. But not as bad as I felt when I met one of the Class Eight girls. She is currently married to a distant cousin of mine. “Mlamwa, please say hello to Fiolina.” She had just called me her brother-in-law — she did not recognise me as her teacher. Such a thing may seem small to you, but to a teacher it is serious, and can easily lead to depression.
Nagging wives and too much time: These items affect male teachers. Unlike the female teachers who have a lot to do at home, we men have very little to keep us busy. And an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. You find yourself with all kinds of thoughts.
The other thing is the nagging we get from our wives. If you stay at home throughout the day, you are told you need some work to do —you get assigned chores like a child. If you leave, you are told you may bring Corona, or it is assumed that you are going to see your other wives. And you can’t go to Hitler’s for lack of money. It’s a tough, stressful life.
I can go on and on. But let this be an open letter to Prof Magoha: I have heard you talk about the welfare of students and parents, but I want you to know that unless you do something for teachers, you may have no tutors by the time schools re-open next year. So please do something for them. And before I forget, we will not take that Covid-19 test unless all students and parents take it. Hatutaki kuletewa Corona.