Chinwe Njoku portrait

Written by Chinwe Njoku

Qualified teaching professional with a background in Engineering. I have written three books related to the education space (Good Morning Year 11, Raising an ‘A’ Student and From Diapers to Doctorate Dollar-Free).

Try teaching as an African teacher in a non-African country to a mix of students from various backgrounds as different as the colours of a chameleon! This is true hard work! All your paradigms of how children should (not) behave are upended and challenged. Sometimes completely obliterated, you wonder why you lived by those beliefs in the first place. Either culture clash or languages blended.

For example, a student from one of the most popular Asian countries that can also be ‘black’, joins in about halfway through the year and it soon became clear that she and her family must have recently migrated to the UK.

Because, at the start of the next lesson, she walked over to my desk where I was sat and greeted me, “Good morning, Teacher”.

I did not know how to respond as it took me by surprise. Without making eye contact, I just said, “You don’t need to greet me like that every lesson”. I felt embarrassed. Thank God I’m brown skinned or I would have turned red.

Next lesson, I made sure I was at the door welcoming students in to avoid the intense attention of being called Teacher, which I am but dang, just call me “Miss” or “Dr Njoku” like the others. 

Second example. A fellow African student was revising after school for her upcoming exams in my classroom, with her friends. But they were chatting quite a bit with this girl being the loudest, most animated and more loquacious of all.

I called her by her last name with the tone of, you need to stop talking and getting on work, or you shall hear from me in a not so fun way! And child, your parents would not be happy either!

Calling children by their last names or rst and last names is an African thing. To remind the child of whose they were, and not to bring disgrace to their ancestors and everyone on their family tree?

In response to hearing her last name, she said “Yes, Ma!” And this was not the first time African students have responded to me this way. I have even had, “Yes, Aunty!”, “Yes, mummy!”

Her friends responded with audible arghs, expecting me to caution her against saying that. She quickly caught herself, recanting that she was just used to saying it. I simply raised my eyebrows, shook my head and carried on doing what teachers do after school. 

Her default response which caught her off guard, got her to be quiet, but only for a while as nature sometimes trumps nurture.

Last example. One Maths topic I teach KS3 students is Introduction to Data, including the different classifications of data that there are. Data can be classified as either Continuous or Discrete, or as Qualitative or Quantitative. To help students distinguish between the later, I typically go through different contextual examples getting them to decide which class the data type belonged to.

Now because Qualitative and Quantitative sound alike, it was difcult to know which one was being said as an answer. I tried enunciating it for my students so that they could emphasize the ‘li’ and ‘nti’. But try as I may, it seemed not to be working.

Ideally, they would each have mini whiteboards so that they could just show me their answers, saving me the tongue twisting/biting! But not this time for some reason.

Eventually, my tongue could take it no more. Repeatedly asking them to repeat themselves and make a clearer distinction in their pronunciation, I blurted out, “Qua-gini?”

Gini, in my native tongue, Igbo, means ‘what’. By the time I realised I had spoken a different language in an English-based Maths lesson in a British school, it was too late. I could not take back my words.

My students who looked at me confused. But since no one else knew what just happened, I kept a poker face, swiftly correcting it to, “Qua-what?” 

All was calm. Teaching and learning resumed. Except in my mind, of course, as I tried not to laugh at my blunder. 

Then it happened again in a different lesson. I was in the throes of solving one question after the other on the board and taking requests from the audience – my Year 11 students. Then, someone called out, “Question 36, Miss!”

To gain time to gure out the solution to the problem, I responded as I walked to the board, “Thirty-gini?”

From the eyes at the back of my head that all teachers have, I could ‘see’ the two students who had Igbo heritage chuckling to themselves in mutual knowing of what they just heard.

Somebody, help!