“Nigerians Think They Know English” — A Week in the Life of an IELTS Tutor

May 10, 2022

“A Week in the Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.


The subject of today’s “A Week in the Life” is Adeola Badmus, an Abuja-based IELTS tutor. She talks about her struggles with teaching proud adults, Nigerians who think they shouldn’t write IELTS and why she loves her job so much regardless.

graphic design of A week in the life of an IELTS tutor

SUNDAY

My Sunday tutorial sessions are in the afternoon, and I don’t go to church, so I sleep in until 9:30 a.m. When I get up, I do my morning skincare routine. While my skincare mask is on, I clean my apartment. After that, I take my bath and go back to bed. 

My session usually starts at 1 p.m., but today, I decided to chill because I knew I wouldn’t have to deal with the traffic at City Gate on weekends. It would be a smooth 20-minute trip from Lugbe to Central Business District in town. 

My plan worked to the “T”: I stepped into my workplace at exactly 1 p.m. 

IELTS has four parts: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. Today, I taught Speaking, my favourite class. 

People communicate with each other every day — with friends, family, colleagues — but once you start asking them questions and expecting them to give you answers, to practise for a test, everything changes. You see people changing their accents and stumbling over their words, unsure of what they’re saying and making mistakes they may not make on a normal day. People behave differently when they’re being monitored; they feel judged. My job is to make sure they perform well in such situations.

During the class, someone expressed discomfort. She said, “I’m sorry. Can I take that again?” after answering a question. I asked why, and she said she felt like she had just messed up, from the way I was looking at her. I hadn’t even said anything. It’s funny to see adults squirm under perceived pressure, a wicked kind of fun, but it’s just interesting to watch otherwise hard guys and babes become very feel self-conscious. I spent the next few minutes making small talk with my students and trying to draw them out of their shells. I always make sure students can be comfortable with me at all times. 

By 5 p.m., I got dinner from a cafe on the next street and headed home, where I had a private class from 6-9 p.m. waiting for me. I ran the three-hour private listening classes virtually, and today’s client is in Dubai. She struggled with names, especially “Kramer” because the letters “C vs K” confused her, but I walked her through several examples.

After the class, I was exhausted and slept off while scrolling through Facebook.

MONDAY

On Mondays, I have morning and afternoon sessions: 9-12 and 1-4 p.m. 

Teaching adults is not the same as teaching children. It’s actually more difficult. Teachers can punish difficult secondary school students who are misbehaving. Growing up, my teachers scolded or flogged me, or sent me out of the class. But all these are off the table when you’re teaching adults.

Managing petulant adults is a skill that requires patience and diplomacy. And that’s what a lot of teachers don’t know. There’s a student who got transferred to my class today. He complained that his previous teacher was rude. While reporting to my boss, he said, “I’m in his class, but I’m not his child.”

Many of my students are people with jobs and responsibilities. They come to classes from their place of work, and many have multiple jobs and families to support. So I have to consider that they’re stressed already, and I’m careful not to give them more than they can handle.

The costs of japa-ing are not cheap, so some of them are upper-middle-class snobs — people wey get bread, so I also have to manage big egos. Some of my students are professionals like senior doctors and nurses who want to get a better life abroad. 

A lady came to my class during the afternoon session and was sizing everyone up like we were all beneath her. She looked me over and asked my boss, “Do you think this one has anything to offer me?”

I smiled gracefully. I’m in Abuja after all.

I’ll just give her two weeks. She’ll want to be my best friend.

That incident made me remember the Indian guy who joined my class last year. He was surprised to see a Nigerian teach IELTS so well. He said, “How come you know English this well?”

He told me he had Nigerians working under him, and he saw us as half-baked. He had also wanted to sign up with an American prep centre because he didn’t think a Nigerian could teach him. Funny, because he wasn’t exactly the brightest student. I didn’t know how to respond to such a backhanded compliment, but I brushed it off and got on with teaching. When his results came out, he passed quite all right, but he wasn’t among the best performers in my class, so what was up with the snobbery?

If not for confidentiality and ethics, I would have rubbed my best students’ results in his face. It’s tough dealing with snobby clients like these, but it’s the job I chose, so I do my best to handle them.

TUESDAY

When students get frustrated, they start complaining, “Why do Americans and British people force us to write IELTS?” They say it’s unfair for Nigerians because English is our official language. The common argument is that many indigenes of Western countries have a very poor command of the English language, many of them are illiterate. 

And I get it, but I explain that the British Council grading system is not placing applicants against illiterates, they’re measuring us up against educated indigenes. They want to attract competitive talent, people who’ll add value to their economy. 

WEDNESDAY

Today, a former student sent me $500. He used to have doubts about his abilities, but he passed his test in flying colours and is now in Canada. 

When former students send me gifts like this, I’m always emotional. It’s a gift to be able to help people’s dreams come true. My current job is the healthiest I’ve ever had, and my students really help me shine. But it wasn’t always like this.

At my previous job in Ibadan, I endured an abusive environment and barely escaped rape. The job didn’t pay much, and during COVID, they slashed my salary. I had to take extra classes to make extra money. I was barely hanging on. I no longer looked forward to stepping out of my house in the mornings.

But when a staff sexually assaulted me at work, and the boss said, “Not every man can be around a woman and not be tempted,” I knew I had to leave.

A few weeks later, a friend recommended me to my current company. I sent in my IELTS results and attended an interview. They liked me so much that they relocated me to Abuja. Now, they pay a major portion of my rent, and I work with the best people. My salary has increased twice in nine months, and my employers seem to care about my growth.

Why won’t I keep shining?

ALSO READ: “Nigerians Like to Do Anyhow” — A Week in the Life of a Wedding Planner


Hi, I’m Ama Udofa and I write the A Week in the Life series every Tuesday at 9 a.m. If you’d like to be featured on the series, or you know anyone interesting who fits the profile, fill out this form.

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