Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here.

This week’s #ZikokoWhatSheSaid subject is a 31-year-old Nigerian woman who has seen shege as a teacher trying to make a change. She talks about deciding to pursue the profession NYSC forced on her, being bullied by students in a private school and considering teaching in South Korea instead.

Photo by cottonbro studio

How long have you been a teacher?

Four years and a few months now. Although I studied history and international relations in uni, I thought I’d change the world by teaching the leaders of tomorrow.

What inspired this interest?

NYSC. In 2017, I was posted to a private school in Ogbomoso. To my surprise, it was just as run down as I would’ve expected a government school to be. The whole school had five teachers, and the 100+ children were learning nothing. The management was unserious, the classroom facilities were poor, there were barely any teaching aids or books, and there were no computers. The parents of the students were just getting by. They didn’t know how to hold the management accountable.

The state of the school made me so scared about the quality of people we were pushing out into society as the next generation. I was sad, angry, and I wanted to do something about it.

What did you do?

I decided I’d teach and gain enough skills, experience, and eventually, the funds to either start my own school or an education-focused NGO. At first, I thought I’d enter the civil service so I could help at a more universal level. But I discovered early the amount of politics it took to even get into the system. I also needed to earn enough to actually make a living.

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Do private schools pay better?

Well, they’re easier to gain employment with. I got my first job easily because the school management was even surprised I’d want to work for them given my credentials — I graduated with a first class from a top private university. Even my friends and family were shocked; everyone thought I was making a big mistake. But I honestly couldn’t sleep well at night knowing most children were getting poor education even though they were attending school. I just felt so worked up about it; it’s not something I can readily explain.

What was your experience at this first job?

I was given a wake-up call very quickly. 

It was a private secondary school in Yaba, and I was a teacher’s assistant — I didn’t have a teaching license or certifications. I also needed to have taught the curriculum for a year before I could be a full teacher. My NYSC experience didn’t count even though I performed the responsibilities of a full teacher during that time. 

From the beginning, I was constantly shut down when suggesting ideas to management. I wanted to push for a more empathetic approach to dealing with the students. But in hindsight, I can see how having a newbie act like she knows it all in just over a year of being a teacher could be annoying. 

How did they react?

One day, the school administrator sat me down and said, “Look, we like how you’re trying to make everything nice and good-looking, but we didn’t hire you for rebranding work. There’s no room for that here. The parents are barely able to pay school fees, you’re talking of giving their children special treatment.” I was mum. 

This was seven months in. I left the next month, but I grew up a little. I wasn’t going to make a change overnight. I’ll probably never even make a change.

Don’t say that. What kept you going then?

Everyone involved was so resistant to change. And the truth is I didn’t know what I was doing. What did I really have to offer? Just good intentions?

But stubbornness was what kept me going. I needed to prove myself and everyone wrong. Also, I truly cared about these students. I wanted them to get the type of education I got in this same Naija. It’s unfair that a greater majority of Nigerians don’t have access to a basic standard of education because of their parents’ financial circumstances.

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True. So what happened next?

After staying home for about three months, I got a job at a better quality school. But believe me when I say the parents were paying a lot of money — not as much as popular elite schools, but it was a lot — for just fine wall painting and uniform. Their children were learning nothing. The teachers were nonchalant, using handwritten teaching guides that were at least a decade old. 

If most parents knew how ill-prepared their children were to compete in the future world of works, they’d be shocked.

Were you at least able to make a difference there?

Yes and no. I stayed for about two and a half years, and I was able to get through to members of management to some extent. I was moved into administration and operations six months in, only taking special classes in speaking and diction once or twice a week. As deputy administrator, I was able to enforce annual review of the teachers’ notes to make sure they stay relevant. The teachers resented me for this. 

To be honest, I didn’t feel like I was making real lasting change because I was sure they’d ignore all my policies as soon as I leave the school, and they filled the role with someone more laid back. However, the changes I may or may not have made weren’t the most memorable thing about my stay in the school.

What was?

The bullying. I’m sure you think I’m referring to student on student, but no. I mean, students bullying teachers. It was rampant.

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Please, tell

The students had no regard for the teachers at all. This isn’t new to me as I saw it happen when I was in secondary school, but this was a whole other level — maybe because I was now on the receiving end. The senior students would talk down on teachers, make fun of them, and sometimes, humiliate them. And they were encouraged by the negligent school management and overindulgent parents. 

When you say humiliate—

One time, a teacher seized a student’s drink — La Casera — but later found out that the teenage boy had emptied the bottle before class and replaced it with urine.

No way!

Yes o. Then the other students started encouraging the poor man to drink it. He didn’t, but it wasn’t until when he got to the teacher’s hall that he discovered it was urine. Can you imagine?

Another time, I was taking the non-academic speech and diction class when the whole session turned into a conversation about my marriage. A group of male students started verbally attacking me about my decision to use a Bible as a symbol of my marriage instead of an engagement ring. 

They made it a whole thing about my husband being too poor to afford a ring. I was so triggered because it was a religious choice — my sect doesn’t believe in wedding rings, and we hardly wear jewelry. I was close to bursting into tears, so I had to rush out of the class. And these students started laughing. That day, I cried ehn.

It was one of my few firsthand experiences. Don’t get me started on the female students. They were all so unruly.

That honestly sounds traumatic. How did you stay there for more than a year?

I couldn’t get another job early enough. But also, I didn’t want to ruin my CV with too many moves. I didn’t have to deal with the students directly so much though. I guess I could pretend it wasn’t happening, but the teacher turnover was staggering. When I finally left, I told the owner she had to do something to rein in the students and their parents. I don’t think anything will change there though, like almost everything else in this country.

Hmm. So what was your next move?

My family sponsored me to start taking standard teaching courses and certification exams to improve my qualifications. As an aftereffect of COVID, there was a huge demand for online schooling. I transitioned into giving tutorials for higher education early in 2021, preparing online students for JAMB, TOEFL and IELTS. In 2022, I registered with the British Council, so I now teach English to students all over the world, particularly Indians and other Asians.

But what happened to your dream to improve the quality of secondary school education in Nigeria?

It’s still there somewhere at the back of my mind, but I’ve partly given up on it. I’m disillusioned. The gravity of the problem is too much for me to even wrap my head around. My parents are visibly relieved. The plan now is to get a master’s in the education line in UK and work with NGOs there that focus on education in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are a couple of them.

There’s a clashing possibility of moving to South Korea to teach English with my British passport. I’m ashamed to say this because of my initial declaration that I’m determined to make a change, but I’m entirely in love with the K-culture and the Korean government is on a recruiting spree for English language teachers, so why not help a society that’s actually willing to develop?

Have you started working towards any of those plans?

For sure. The UK master’s plan is the major reason I had to transition into freelance teaching. I’m earning a lot more now, enough to actually save for a UK education. And on top of that, I’m getting the kind of experience that will be useful in my statement of purpose application essay. The South Korea plan will work seamlessly once I get that UK degree.

You mentioned being married. Is your partner making japa plans too?

He’s a banker. Bankers and health workers are always the first to jump, so he’s way ahead of me on that. He was working on a move to Canada through PNP and Express Entry before we got married in 2020. COVID was a huge set back for him, but now, we’re putting the money together so he can come with me when I go for my master’s. The plan is for him to work full-time while I study and work part-time.

So you’ll never go back to teaching in Nigeria?

If I can help it, never. It’s the absolute worst. We need to check on our teachers o. I understand now why they do the barest minimum. They’re overworked, underpaid and get very little motivation. In private schools, their interests are belittled in favour of the rich students and their parents. I feel guilty most times because I’m privileged enough to choose to take a step back from that path, but most aren’t. They’re going through serious financial and psychological stress. 

Then again, who isn’t seeing shege in Nigeria?

Our leaders clearly aren’t. They are the ones showing it to us.

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