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PERSPECTIVE
Inside the mind of a Kenyan teacher
Jancan Limo, Education Consultant
13th December 2019

My previous experience as a teacher coupled with my current career as an education consultant had me convinced that I, more than anyone else,  understood the plight of teachers. This was until recently, when I engaged a  lot of teachers on phone that dwarfed my experience. I painfully discovered that there are some scaring experiences that I was spared from. Unfortunately, most teachers have not had the same privilege extended to them as I did.

The following is from a recent phone conversation with a teacher. ‘’Limo, I am overwhelmed.  My current school admits students who averaged 250 out of 500 marks in their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exams. Consequently, I have students in form one who cannot write their names.

“What do I do? Teach physics or teach a form one student how to write their name? and how do I balance this with a tight deadline for completion of syllabus. I am clueless’’

I question my skills. Perhaps I am the problem. It is at this point I wish I had better students.
Photograph from Pexels

The sound of defeat was all too familiar and yet new to me. The struggles of this teacher is not too far for me to conjure empathy. But it might be for you. Perhaps this is a tired tale that you have grown numb to. If you agree, then spare a few minutes and allow me to put you in this teacher’s shoes.  

You are a form two physics teacher of a mixed day school that is resource constrained and holding 60 students each class. While explaining Newton’s second law of motion, you notice a student still struggling to write their name. Just as you solve that, you ask a random student to read a text on the chalk board.

The student stares at the board for a while and that is when you realize he cannot read the word ‘Newton’ He stares down in shame. To save him from the ridicule, you direct the question to one of the only five students who seem to be literate in basic education. 

 “I have students in form one who cannot write their names.”

Let me pause this illustration to share this with you. I take no pleasure in classifying these students. My everyday struggle with this situation is whom to be sympathetic with: the teacher who inherited the problem from primary school or the student, who is a pawn in a broken system that he had no part in putting together. 

The ripple effect of it can be illustrated better through a school in my local area that registered 15 students for the physics national exam. 10 of these students scored ‘E’. This year, the same school has registered three students for the Physics exams. You can see why I am worried here.

Let’s get back to the class. 

You write ‘Particulate Nature of Matter,’ the day’s topic on the chalkboard. As you do, you hesitate to face the 60 innocent young faces. It is clear what to expect from their expression. The faces of missed breakfast, depression, diminished self worth and hopelessness.

Pressure builds on how introduce the topic. Should you disregard the 11 slow students and focus on the majority? Or should you work with the pace of the slowest learner? If you chose the latter,  you will take up too much of the class time ultimately hurting the syllabus coverage. 

But there are deadlines and targets to beat. So you chose the beaten down road of working with the fastest learning students. This shaves off time doing the topic introduction. 

 

Just before you begin, you question your skills. Perhaps you are the problem. It is at this point you wished you had better students, perhaps like those from national schools. You imagine how easy the teachers from those schools  have it. But I snap back. I’m reminded that i am possibly the only person who will believe in them today.

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