The troubles of an unintended ‘know-all’

It will sound paradoxical for me to say that I was “unlucky” to get a very good teacher at the very beginning of my school career.

The guy was called Teacher [Kwasi] Akwa, and Class one of the Asiakwa Presbyterian Junior School was the very first class he taught, upon graduating from the Akropong Teacher Training College. 

He came to us in 1945, in the company of a classmate of his, Mr Kwasi Aryeh (a slightly fair-coloured man, who taught Standard Six in the senior school).

These two teachers were full of beans. They wore the same Boy Scouts outfits a lot of the time. This meant that when they were walking on the cement floor of our school veranda, we could hear them a mile away.  They had also been taught to speak loudly and clearly. So their voices carried very far and no-one could remain unaware of their presence.   (In the voice category, however, they were not quite up to the standard of another teacher, Teacher Osae (whose deep, bass voice was so authoritative that he would have been much appreciated by the Gold Coast army, had become a parade commander in it!)

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 In January 1945, when we started at Class One, the Second World War was yet to  draw to its fierce end, and these  teachers probably desired to demonstrate to all  that they too were “fit” to be soldiers, though they had been trained to be  “mere” teachers. .  

Such a desire, if it was present in them, would have been due to the fact that the British, being great propagandists,  had subtly spread the word that “able-bodied” men who didn’t join the army and fight against  Hitler, in defence of the British Empire, were “slackers” or “the rejected”, who were physically lacking in something. 

This was a serious charge to be made against any man. In fact, one of my own uncles, Kwasi Aade, had been sent back from a recruitment centre, because they said “gyatↄↄ” (yaws) had been uncovered in the soles of his feet, during his medical examination!)  So, young men like the three teachers must have resented the fact that to some in our community, they were what were contemptuously termed   “kↄsa-ankↄbifoↄ” [literally, “those who had evaded the war”!] 

Being regarded as a kↄsa-ankↄbinii” was a terrible disaster, for a man was enormously “heroic” if he deserted wife, children and family and got himself sent to Burma, by ship, to fight on the side of one group of white men (the Brits)  against another group of white men (the Germans). Men plotted in secret for weeks before “running away” to go and “di soja” (be recruited as soldiers.)  

One early morning, all a man’s kinsmen would notice was that he had not joined in the early morning gathering, as usual. His mother would be roughly awakened and informed. She would then wail and wail and refuse to eat the whole day. 

Mourning would be appropriate, for next would come news, a few months later (usually brought by a cryptic telegram) that the man had been killed.  (Indeed, up to the arrival of the universal mobile phone, the arrival of a telegram was dreaded throughout Ghana!  The killing ground could be in Burma or Abyssinia or somewhere in “East Africa”. (No-one in the family would have the slightest idea where these geographical expressions existed!) Few would ever have seen the sea, either!).

 It didn’t matter that a dead Ghanaian might never have set eyes on a German. Even the British were only seen occasionally — at the parade ground. But the Good Coast soldier would be as “dead as a door-nail, all the same. That was how one fought to save ‘King and Country’ one would never set eyes upon!

 Teacher Akwa brought an unrealised military zeal into his teaching. He was a great psychologist, for if he asked one a question and one got the answer correct, he would praise one to high heaven. A wrong answer attracted the bitter b taste of his raffia cane.   

Because elder brother of mine was already in Standard Three) when I started in Class One, I had had a good collection of textbooks to study privately before I ever set foot in a classroom. So I could answer most of the questions Mr Akwa asked us. He took my ability to parrot what I had read before as evidence of genius, and would get the whole class to clap for me.

 On one occasion, he embarrassed me by giving me a desk all to myself (whilst everyone else shared desks with another child). This was because when I had scored ten-ten in an examination, the second best person had only got eight-ten! Mr Akwa went berserk in his excitement: beneath the “One-pupil” desk, he wrote, in large letters, DANGER ‘DD’ BOY! And he invited older children from the more senior classes to come and see it and look at me!).

Naturally, the flattery went to my head and I studied even more ardently, to try and win more plaudits. The result was that he divided the class into two —   one to be taught by him, and the other to be taken through their lessons by me (under a tree). The bigger boys (some of whom owed their ability to evade being whipped by Mr Akwa to my efforts) adored me. But some classmates of an equal size to me began to hate me. Was I some freak inserted into their midst to show them up as “numbskulls”?

With misguided enthusiasm and a desire b to broadcast my standing in the school and provide other children an incentive to study hard, Mr Akwa promoted me to Class two, before the end of the year. It turned out, however, to be the worst decision he could have take with regard to my future. For when I got to Class Two, I found that the class teacher, a sleepy fellow called Teacher Otu, had no interest, whatsoever in teaching me what he had already taught my new classmates,  so that I could catch up with them. In fact, he was so lazy that he left the class to a bully, who could ensure that the classroom was as quiet as the teacher wanted. Otherwise, the teacher would keep shouting “QUIET!” all day.

Well, without any warning, Teacher Otu one day suddenly sent me back to Class One!  It was a major blow, but I was pleased. Yes, those of my classmates who were jealous of me could mock at me for getting my “comeuppance”.  But I didn’t care. I was again “lord of all I surveyed”.

Best of all, at the end of the year, I was jumped to Class Three! I was as happy as a lark, for I was going to rejoin the Class Two pupils, out of  whose ranks I had been thrown earlier.  In the new class, we would all have the same brand new teacher and start on an equal footing in every sense of the word. Just let them wait and see, (I confidently told myself!) 

By Cameron Duodu

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