Their Teacher, My Father! by Ayobami Oke.

The roundish woman, with tribal marks, flashing a winning smile during a traditional wedding ceremony I attended last week was the focus of all eyes. Well she ought to be as she was the lively Master of Ceremony.

The guests had already had their full of good food and drinks so the distraction of hunger was already check-mated. If you are not looking at the Master of Ceremony and you are too full to look at the empty plates of food, what then are you looking at?

With a flourish, she raised her hands and opened her mouth letting out sonorous music. And like it was pre arranged, a large number of women and men stood up to dance to the home made anthem:

‘A d’omo re ko ni’
‘A ran’mo re l’oko’
‘Eni ba f’oju di t’isa’
‘A ran’mo re l’oko’

He will teach his child all by himself
He will send his child a farming
He who thinks little of a teacher
He will send his child a farming!

So apt. Teachers make or mar a society. They mould the oncoming generation. I started out my life with teachers; my parents are both teachers. They are retired secondary school principals today. The initial inclination when I started out on this tribute to teachers was to talk generally about teachers who taught me at different stages of my life, however, I think I should talk about the very first teacher I got to know: my father.

lean-on-me-movie-poster-1020347587Mr. S.O. Oke lived for his students. He taught from school to school and left a part of himself in the students he had contact with. My father just loved to teach. He taught Mathematics, Economics and character. Even when he became a principal, he would still take up classroom teaching roles. He chased students from hostels to the classrooms and to all their various hide-outs. At a point, he had the boarders’ house-wears and disguised as a student to catch those that broke bound. He got myriad of nick names from his students. Some of these nick names I got to know at a very tender age.

You didn’t need the brain of a mushroom to know education was of primal importance at home as we grew up. Teachers didn’t have a lot of money. Now when your two parents are teachers you get to know what budgetary living was all about. We didn’t have money but we were rich. Rich in values. Dad taught us the value of hard work. We even had a farm!

It’s difficult to separate his role as father from his role as teacher. I strongly feel parenthood is a bigger form of a teaching role. The teachers that made the most of impact in my life transited from just pushing dry curricular materials to my skull to being parent-like. They had zeal, compassion and a desire to contribute to my attainment of some success in life. These teachers somehow mimicked my father.

‘They can, those who think they can! They conquer those who think they can!’ My father drummed that into our heads as soon as you are old enough to ask for food intelligibly. I recall him teaching me Mathematics at an early age. I remember I used his undergraduate textbook on Economics by Richard Lipsey to clean my O Level Economics. I remember vividly the day he went to drop me at my nursery class at St. Bernard School, Oyo. I remember asking him why the sun followed our car as we drove to school everyday. I asked all forms of questions. I don’t forget answers so he needed to be sure he gave the true answer all the time.

Mr. Oke left home by 6.30am every morning to make it to school in time. There were times he traveled long distances when the school was far. He was a career teacher. He was teaching because he wanted to teach and derived great pleasure turning impressionable young minds from raw carbon to diamonds.

Time would fail me to talk about all his sacrifices. Today as we talk of teachers, I feel strongly the greatest teachers in the life of any child are first the parents. And until the teachers in school see themselves as some form of parents to the ward in their care, the impact they make can only be minimal. Teachers are priceless. Only God can adequately reward them.

It the World Teachers’ Day today. My tribute is to the greatest teacher I’ve ever known. My father. He served his students, he impacted his family.

Ayobami Oke

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