The "Working in Ghana" Project

Primary School Teacher/Petty Trader

[Mrs. Appiah is well educated, having completed four years of study at a teacher training college twenty years ago. She has been a teacher for half of her forty years. Mrs. Appiah, her husband, and three of their four children live in a single room of a house in the Accra suburb where she teaches primary school. To supplement her salary, Mrs. Appiah operates a petty trading business. She spoke with fervor about the standing of teachers in contemporary Ghanaian society. Philip Awekeya conducted the interview at night, in the yard outside the room where she and her family live.]

I leave the house for school each morning at about 7 o'clock. When I arrive, I go to the head teacher's office to greet him and to sign the arrival and departure register for the teaching staff. At 8:15 the bell is rung for the school children and staff to assemble for morning devotion and singing of the national anthem.

The morning assembly takes about fifteen minutes. At exactly 8:30, normal lessons begin. I teach eight lessons a day: arithmetic, English reading, writing, social studies, cultural studies, life skills, environmental studies and physical education. Before I start to teach the first lesson of the day--which could be cultural studies, English reading, physical education or arithmetic, depending on what appears first on the timetable--I usually mark the class register in order to know the number of pupils present and absent. Knowing the number of pupils present enables me to plan effective group work.

In most cases I give the pupils some written exercises, or I assist them in dramatizing what has been taught. Sometimes I organize project work in groups of five, depending on the nature of the lesson. I might also assign group reading or individual silent reading while I inspect their books to ensure that they have done their homework.

Besides teaching the pupils eight different lessons, each thirty minutes, I also fill in each child's cumulative record form. At times I act as a judge, settling quarrels among the pupils to bring peace and understanding between the stronger and the weaker pupils. A peaceful teaching and learning climate must be created so no pupil will feel afraid to come to school or be absent simply because of bullying by bigger children. In addition, I settle minor theft cases and also counsel wayward pupils in hopes of reforming their character.

At about 2 p.m. normal classes come to an end and I go back home. As soon as I return from school at about 3, I prepare a quick lunch for my children and then pick up my cosmetics wares to go from house to house to sell until about six in the evening.

In order to broaden my market and ensure regular sales of my products, I visit offices and homes to sell on a hire-purchase basis. I let office workers buy items in two monthly installments. I ask ladies who sell foodstuffs or food in chop houses (eating places) to make payments every third day until they cover the cost of whatever item they buy. I always write the names and addresses of people who buy on credit so that I can keep track of them to collect the balances at the agreed-upon times.

This petty business exercise is good for me because it unconsciously makes me learn simple bookkeeping, which I did not learn in school many years back. Above all it makes me learn the secrets of successful business techniques such as keeping a cheerful face and being able to convince customers that the products I am selling are the best, yet are at prices they can afford. Most importantly, it supplements the household income. From it we have been able to buy a T.V. set and a refrigerator for family use. With this small petty trade it would most probably have taken my husband and myself donkey years (many years) to be able to buy such basic amenities for ourselves.

From 6:30 in the evening I cook for the family and prepare lesson notes for the next day's teaching. I am always on my feet either going to school, standing to teach, or moving from house to house selling cosmetics to young ladies and young men.

Many years back I used to take pride in teaching because teachers were accorded respect in Ghanaian society. Parents visited us with gifts of all kinds of foodstuffs, such as eggs, fish, yams, and even money. Teachers were contacted for advice on social and political issues. In short teachers played the role of effective opinion leaders.

These days, the teacher has been pushed off her former position of glory. Her position has been hijacked by academic dwarfs. Now what carries weight in this society is money and not academic qualifications or brilliant ideas. Once someone's pockets are heavy (is rich), people take what he says no matter how worthless his suggestions. The erosion of respect for the teaching profession has made me lose interest in teaching.

I see the whole job as a frustrating venture. There is no motivation for teachers at the moment in our society. The only thing you hear daily is "he/she is just a mere teacher", which indicates that no one thinks highly of teachers. No teacher dares whip a pupil for fear that the child's parents will come to attack you physically on the school premises or ambush you in town.

In any case, most children these days are not interested in learning, no matter how hard you try to motivate them. What most of them are interested in is kicking a football (soccer ball) around. Some are also pampered by their parents at home, hence they scarcely heed instructions from the teacher.

Another thing that makes teaching in this country uninteresting is the total absence of basic materials for teaching and learning in the public schools. Most schools lack textbooks in nearly all subject areas, and there are no teaching aids for science and English. The teacher is always told to improvise.

In the midst of these mounting problems, the government and parents still expect higher output from the teacher. Teachers are being told every now and then to pull their weight and raise academic standards in the country. No one seems to see, as the teachers do, that the materials to work with are totally absent.

Some pupils, too, come to school without exercise books and pens, saying their parents cannot afford to buy such materials for them. Yet when the pupils finally fail their end-of-course examination, it is the teacher who receives open condemnation and curse. No one ever raises a finger against the government for its inability to provide the basic materials and equipment for effective teaching in the schools. If I were a man I would have left this job a longtime ago. The classroom business is rotten beyond repair and the earlier one quits, the better.

Teachers generally are their brother's keeper. The public seems not to recognize teachers, hence we have come to realize that we should help ourselves. It is in the light of this that the staff in my school have grown to relate very well with one another. The head teacher is quite open with me and the rest of the teachers. He encourages us to perform our routine duties satisfactorily. He never takes pleasure in querying me or any of the teachers on the staff. As a sign of a good working team, we operate a welfare fund which any of us can borrow from in times of emergencies, for instance, if any of us is bereaved or on admission at the hospital.

The issue of limited opportunity for promotion in the teaching service is now a problem of the past. These days there are good chances for one to gain quicker promotion either through writing of professional promotion examinations or attending refresher courses. One can also get promoted from one grade to the next by serving a prescribed number of years in each grade. I have no quarrel with the Ministry of Education on the matter of promotion, for everything possible has been done to resolve this formerly knotty problem.

Nowadays teachers have no justification for complaining about our pay. Everybody in this country is aware that the past military government gave teachers a big deal (good pay). Unfortunately for teachers and other workers in this country, our dreams have been shattered by the government's austerity budget this year. It has reduced our pay pockets to zero level. Had it not been for the budget, I would have been feeding on eggs (well off) but this bad budget has made my big pay worthless.

The Ghana National Association of Teachers, to which I belong, has done marvelously well for teachers in this country. I personally hold the executives in esteem because it was they who exerted pressure on the erstwhile military government to raise teachers' pay.

My husband and children like what I am doing. They know it gives me time to carry out the private business which supplements the household income. They do not share my view that teaching is no longer a good job. They think that so long as I am properly paid and get enough time to do petty trading, I should not concern myself about the low morale of teachers in the country. It is therefore partly the views of my family that keep me on this job. Otherwise, I would have struggled to leave the classroom like most of the male teachers are doing.

Being a teacher, I am known in the neighborhood. Some parents bring their children to be admitted to the school where I am teaching. Some illiterate adults also come to me to either write or read letters for them. Despite these services that I render in my community, some people seem not to accord me reasonable respect. For example, at Christmas some people usually present gifts to bank clerks and other people working in public establishments, yet none has ever even brought a single egg to me. All these things point to the fact that no one cares about what I am doing for the good of the society.

I am deeply troubled about the total lack of recognition of my contribution to the education of the youth of this country. However, I do get consolation from my husband. He says I should never get disturbed about people not showing gratitude for the work I do. Rather I should take pride in the fact that I am contributing the eradication of illiteracy and ignorance in the society. No human being can adequately compensate the teacher. The reward is in heaven.