I couldn’t take my eyes off her drawn eyebrows, she must have shaved the last trace of hair off many years ago, from where I stood, it looked like she chose a semi liquid eye liner and made perfect semicircles where her eyebrows used to be. I took my eyes off her eyebrows and concentrated on other parts of her appearance, she was dressed in ‘’iro’’ and ‘’buba’’ and had on matching head tie in gold and black. This made her look like a wedding guest instead of the vice principal special duties of the secondary school that was to be my home for the next one year.
I listened to her jump from Yoruba to English as she talked to me about the ‘’time book’’ I needed to sign on days I came to work, the ‘’pink card’’ that had a list of my classes and ‘’dress code’’ that was appropriate for work. I had to stop myself from laughing out loud at that point, I made a mental note to laugh about it later.
Finally she handed me a collection of WAEC past questions on Literature in English, a pile of photocopied poems with footnote analysis on the poems to teach SS1 to SS3 students’ literature. As I walked out of her office to the sitting area for NYSC teachers, I wondered about the texts for drama and the texts for prose and if she knew that the SS3 students’ syllabus is different for the SS1 and SS2 students’ syllabus.
On my way, a male teacher walked past me in ‘’buba’’ and ‘’sokoto’’, talking with rapt attention to a female teacher dressed in a long skirt, blouse and head tie to match, made out of Ankara and almost matching winter jackets. They were conversing in Yoruba and clearly painted on all the walls in green were the words ‘’Always speak in English’’.
I arrived at the makeshift office for NYSC teachers, I sat at one of the tables and gave the school another look. From where I sat it looked like a bunch of rectangle boxes around a field with yellowing patches of grass and two football goal posts; just the rusting iron frames, without the nets.
I didn’t pay any attention to the conversations going on around me; I tried to remember at which point I fell in love with Literature in English and why I choose to teach it.
‘’Why they keep giving us nasty fish stew and bread is beyond me’’ I complained to my friend as we prepared to attend Literature class. I had my ‘’Exam Focus in Literature’’ in one hand and tapped my head to make sure my pencil was tucked safely into my hair. We walked to the class next to ours because our teacher; a short skinny man whose clothes never fitted properly was already waiting. When he opened his mouth to speak all his other flaws disappeared and anyone listening was sucked into whatever he was saying immediately.
We were analysing a poem ‘’The Road Not Taken’’ by Robert Frost. My teacher recited the poem by heart, when he was finished he made us take turns in explaining how the poem made us feel and what lessons we were able to draw from the poem. Maybe it was because of the magic in his voice, we all had something to say; the poem took us all on personal journeys within the 40 minutes of the lesson.
I yearned to give my students the same experience, help them fall in love with literature and appreciate words and the weight they carry.
My eyes caught the first poem on the pile ‘’The Fence’’ by Lenrie Peters, I read though the poem and decided it was fit for my first lesson. I decided to give the students my best, study properly before each class and help them find an escape in words.
But this wasn’t what happened.