‘Work it Out’- with Vivian: Tribute to my English Teacher

If you think I write well, late Dr. Ife Ogbonna (AKA Ala Bingo) of the University of Nigeria Secondary School Enugu, Nigeria, was responsible for it. He passed two weekends ago in Enugu.

He and our English literature teacher made the English Language and creative writing feel like the highest art to learn. They were consumed in their love for the courses and passionately sought to impart the knowledge on us young and naïve teenagers.

I remember how learning English used to feel like we were learning Greek, with so many writing and sentence construction rules. The academic doctor really took us through the drill. Phew! We had just entered the senior secondary school where he taught and had to ‘man-up’ to learning this ‘new type of English’ under his tutelage. It was clear then to me that I did not know anything much about the subject and I had just been ‘coasting’ since. After some challenging weeks of learning the English his way, I just defaulted to taking the classes, copying notes, nodding in agreement to his teachings and taking things one day at a time.

The drill continued up to Senior Secondary School 3 (SS3) when the university entrance examinations started looming in our faces – the West African Examination Council (WAEC) and Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) examinations. I often pictured myself at home – waiting one year, 2 years, or even endlessly to pass the exams, then having to be responsible for all the house chores at home (it was needless to say that mom was not going to spare me at all – the amount of house chores in our home then at each point in time was suicidal). 

I do not think I ever totally got through the feeling of anxiety and fear I struggled with in my SS3, since I have continued having dreams of where I am either writing WAEC or the JAMB examinations, up till now. My elder siblings did not help matters as they did not make all their papers once. The neighbors’ children too had the same dilemma. I thought everyone was condemned to spending one or two years at home after SS3 waiting to pass JAMB or to make all the required WAEC/ GCE papers. 

Note that even the WAEC results that came out in the news yesterday, 3 March 2020, showed only 32% success rate. So, the fear of WAEC is really real!

So, when it was almost time for our Mock WAEC examinations, students in my set started this challenge of writing trial essays and submitting to Dr. Ife Ogbonna for rating. English and Mathematics were the core subjects that one must pass alongside 3 other courses, at least.

Dr. Ogbonna would give a trial topic to the interested student, the student would write it as though it was actually a WAEC question and the Dr. would review/ grade the essay using the WAEC standards. Essay writing was a whopping 50 marks out of the total 100 marks allocated to the subject. Many of our SS3 mates kept writing the trial essays and kept coming back each time with very discouraging grades. In fact, the highest score then of all the students who wrote was 18 out of 50.

Because I had already told myself, “Who am I deceiving?”, “I would do my best and leave the rest”, “God would help me and save me from all the impending house chores at home if I had to stay an extra year or two retaking the exams!”. It was a terribly depressing and sad period for me. My whole life was starring me right in the face and I could not even help myself. I always thought I was ‘Man-o’-War’, ‘Warri no dey carry last” kind of girl. That confidence vanished and left me totally empty as I dreaded the 2 examinations that were going to shape my entire life and future – WAEC and JAMB.

So, boom! Uzo, my classmate wrote the trial English Essay and scored 26! out of 50. I thought to myself, “But I was supposed to be the best in my class. So, if Uzo could write and score a pass- 26 then………”.

The next day I ran to Dr. Ogbonna’s office and asked if I could write the trial essay- he said he had been waiting for me since. So, he gave me a topic to write- ‘My Cynosure’.

I wrote and scored 37 out of 50 and that became the turning point for me; for everyone.

That experience has also shaped my career till date, just like the quality of the schools we (or our children) attend shape our lives and career paths.

May the heroic acts of our teachers towards raising and shaping the future generations never go unrewarded. This is Service, noble in its highest form. We do not have to be rich, famous, top company executives or running successful businesses to change the world – our teachers, mothers, fathers, nurturers; those who carry out vocational jobs in one form or the other; change the world everyday through their jobs of molding and shaping humanity.

May the soul of Dr. Ife Ogbonna, and those of all our teachers departed – through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

And yes! I did pass all the entrance exams in one sitting! So, if you are a young girl reading my post, you can do it too.

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