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 this week’s A Week in the Life is Hero Lewis, a maths teacher based in Port Harcourt. He talks about learning patience on the job, why he misses flogging students and the aspect of his job that brings him the most joy.
Every Monday, except I’m exhausted, I wake up by 4 a.m. and commit my day to God’s hands. I grab breakfast, freshen up and mentally prepare myself for the week. Then, I get ready for work.
Transport to school can range from ₦150 to ₦250 depending on if I use a keke or cab. I arrive at 7:30 a.m. and join the assembly, which lasts from 8 to 8:20 a.m., after which students disperse to their classes and the bell for the first-period rings.
I teach math at a senior secondary school, and the first item on my schedule is to teach SS1 for two 40-minute periods. I teach maths and physics from SS1 to SS3, so my Mondays are jampacked until school closes.
After school today, I stumbled into two students from Uniport who’re doing pre-degrees and trying to gain admission into 100 level. They needed help with maths, so I assessed them, only to discover how bad they were. But I promised to tutor them.
The economy isn’t smiling, so I take classes outside my day job at school. Some students from my class convince their parents to enrol them in my after-school classes. So, even when I close from school by 4 p.m., work has not finished. I move to different places around town for private tutorials.
From Monday to Sunday, I have private classes until 7 p.m. when I truly close from work. I only compensate for all the stress by making sure I rest at night.
Maths is boring and tiring, and if you don’t teach it in an atmosphere of joy, you won’t get anywhere with your students. That’s why I have a few tricks. For example, when I walk into a class, I don’t just start teaching. I take a few minutes to tell an interesting or funny story. When my students are really feeling the story, and I’ve caught their attention, then I start teaching.
But it doesn’t end there. I take short breaks to crack a joke and tell a relatable story. When I ask a question students can’t answer correctly, I correct them with care so they’re not demoralised. Many students look forward to my class.
When parents hire me for private tutorials, nine times out of ten, the student asked them to because I teach them very well at school but they want to do even better. These days, I’m overbooked, so if someone wants to hire me to tutor them, omo, the money has to have serious weight.
Thank God good work has a way of advertising itself because, again, the economy is not smiling. That’s why I invest a lot of time into being a better teacher each day. After all, it’s from where person work person go chop. If they do the work well, they would chop well.
Irrespective of where you come from, numbers remain numbers. Maths is the most universal language. That’s what I always tell my students. So if a child’s maths foundation is faulty, they would struggle. I’ve seen students change what they wanted to study because math is hard and their foundations aren’t solid.
Earlier in my career, there was an SS1 student who was terrible at maths. I was called to help them, and based on “I believe myself die”, I dived right in. After assessing him, I was shocked. The boy’s rate of assimilation was very low. And the thing about parents is, when they hire tutors, they expect magic. They expect to start seeing results immediately. They want their children who were bottom of the class to start blasting A’s next term.
Unfortunately, this boy failed the next exam. So I had to switch tactics. I started by helping him revise the multiplication table — it’s not every time you depend on calculator. I went back to the very root to teach him things he should’ve already known before getting to SS1. I taught him foundational fractions, decimals, percentages, profit and loss, etc. It took months, but it was worth it because they’re building blocks. Gradually, he started catching up. I would ask, “eight times seven,” and he would respond, “56!” in a blink of an eye.
One day, the boy won a maths drill in assembly and received a voucher as a reward. The principal called his parents and confirmed their son had improved in maths and sciences. I’ve never been happier.
As a maths teacher, the most valuable lesson I’ve learnt is patience. Secondary school students are a handful and every day is a test. But I have the experience to handle stubbornness without losing my head.
But it’s not always been rosy. There are some people who challenge your every sense of restraint. Like one SS3 girl a few years ago. I swear children like her can ruin someone’s career. I was hired to tutor her for WAEC, but I was brought in late. There wasn’t enough time because I had to go back to primary school level to even make a mark. Unfortunately, it was too little too late.
In the early years of my career, there were students who drove me to extreme anger. I would teach something this minute and ask them the same thing the next, and they would be mute. I would be like, “Ahn ahn, why is this one giving me problem like this na? Something I just explained now now?” In my mind, I’d be like, “Make I tear this girl slap?”
I had to deal with noisemakers again today, and I’m happy how much things have changed. In those days, any student who misbehaved or made noise in class would receive major punishment. By the time you receive five or six lashes, it’d be like they poured you water to make you calm for the rest of the day.
Many schools no longer allow corporal punishment. And that’s a good thing, I won’t lie. I used to flog students because it was the easiest punishment, and it was just to assert authority. But I’ve found sometimes, students are restless and just want you to divert a little from the subject, to tell a story or banter and make learning a little more engaging. As a teacher, I realised that in any atmosphere you enter, it’s your person that sticks. A joyful person will encourage a joyful atmosphere while a sad one will reflect sadly on the students.
Maturity has come in, and I have a different outlook on life, from the need to flog all the time. Sometimes, I just issue threats. Another tactic is when I get employed at a school, I’ll be very stern at first, then later, I calm down.
The downside of no more flogging is teachers have to talk too much these days. Sometimes, I wish I could still flog. Some children are so stubborn that out of the 40 minutes period for a class, I can find myself using 15 minutes to manage the class and calm students down. Something that cane would’ve solved, I now have to talk and talk. But the government says teachers shouldn’t flog again, so no wahala.
I work so hard because of inflation. I find myself spending much more money to enjoy the same meals I’ve enjoyed for so long. But I’m not getting younger, and I can’t keep working every day of the week for the rest of my life.
I would like to do my master’s, so I no longer have to work so much just to get by. The more you learn, the more you earn. And since secondary schools don’t pay much, I want to level up.
I’ve told my students my days with them are numbered. I know they’ll miss me, but I hope their next maths teacher will treat them with the same level of care.
If you enjoyed this story, you might also like: “Nigerians Think They Know English” — A Week in the Life of an IELTS Tutor