My world of work

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I thought I’d write about work this time.You may have gathered that I am a university teacher. I have been at it for some twenty-nine years and plan to retire in the middle of the year. But I have probably said that already since I so, so, look forward to that event. But this does not mean that I do not like what I do. As long as I am in the classroom I am fine. I enjoy talking to the students and getting them to share their opinions and other thoughts. I have noticed that unlike students I have taught in the United States and Austria, Ghanaian students are shy and not speak up easily. They may also get more active in the course of time, when they feel comfortable in class.

But how does one get them to feel comfortable? I find that this is a complex issue. In the first place, most of our lecture rooms have immovable seats. So the teacher or facilitator stands in front of the class and the students look at him or her. In their minds the teacher knows everything and will tell them everything they need to know. I am usually at pains to tell them that I do not know everything and am merely a facilitator whose duty is to point them to possible directions and help them to think critically. On the rare occasion when the class is small enough for the students to sit in my office, we sit in a circle and classes are more lively. But there are other reasons why Ghanaian students are reticent. This has to do with our educational system. Right from the primary grades schoolchildren are not encouraged to ask questions. They write notes and learn them for examinations. This goes on right through to the university. The duty of a Ghanaian student is to write notes and even where the teacher discusses issues, they want to write notes.  I think this system creates passive people who do not develop the art of ‘thinking outside the box’. We are all socialized to ‘think within the box’ and accept things as they are. No wonder we do not complain about policies that we do not like.

I was on campus for two nights last week. Each night, promptly at 6pm, the electricity supply went down until 10.30 pm. I found it very annoying because after a day’s work and a few minutes of relaxation to shake off the stress, the lights go out just at the time when one is ready to answer emails, prepare for the next day, or grade assignments. And I ask myself, “How will the students study effectively when the lights keep on going off in the night”? They never complain, though. We teachers also never do.

I did not hear the president’s state of the nation address because I could not watch the evening news. The electricity was down. Looking around the social media websites I did not miss much anyway. The cedi is falling rapidly, the cost of living continues to rise, and I have the feeling the students I teach are not getting their money’s worth from people like me, however hard I try. They have a lot of expectation in their eyes and faces which moves me. I have started sharing my lecture notes with them using Dropbox. My university has not purchased any teaching software, so that is what we use. I tell them that recall is unimportant in my exams. I will be looking for application of what we discuss in class to life issues. Learning the notes by rote will not help them.At this point I think that if, for every course I teach, one student develops critical thinking skills, I will be happy.

Oh, on another note. Back on the Akwapim Ridge where I live, the lights are now on most of the time. I wonder what is happening these days. I cannot believe it. I spoke too soon. The lights just went out. Before I could end this entry. Wow! “Dumso dumso” (our term for this ‘lights on, lights off’ phenomenon) is back on the block!

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