Television comedies debase teachers

The portrayal of teachers on television, radio and print platforms as petty, naive and nutty people can have untold effects on the perception of millions of school children about their teachers and affect their relationships with them.

The earliest organised depiction of teachers as mediocre by the local entertainment industry probably started with the Reddykyulass comedy group.

This cast would occasionally depict teachers as careless dressers and dim-witted people with ample pronunciation challenges. And the apparent crème de la crème was Teacher Wanjiku, a comedienne playing the role of a near-psychedelic female teacher. She would dress sloppily on stage and do her bit in a shrill voice.

It was her stage habit to talk in a heavy ethnic accent aka “shrub” and utter many ambiguous words. But above the whoops of laughter at her “murder” of grammar, a keen observer would be left wondering which living teacher could possess all these perceived failings.

In between Reddykyulass and Teacher Wanjiku, there have been local television programmes whose theme is education and what goes with it.

These are Classmates, Gumbaru School and Tahidi High programmes. Regrettably, these series give weighty educational issues a flippant and pedestrian rendering that leaves any self-respecting teacher seething with anger.

These dramas thrive on salacious stereotypes that depict teachers as amorous, lazy and generally mediocre. And given that a vast section of our population is functionally illiterate, nothing can do a worse disservice to the teaching profession than these television entertainment programmes.

It is noteworthy that some noticeable professional decorum is put in some local TV dramas that illustrate the work of police, Judiciary and medical officers.

Apparently, caution and a closer adherence to professional ethics rule here. The scripts are clear on the civic and personal rights disseminated by these dramas. But it’s a different issue on education-based dramas.

The Classmates cast speak English with deliberate Kenyan ethnic accents for its own sake. It’s a class that is oblivious of many national issues of the day and there is no subtext in all that they do. But what intrigues most is the Classmates’ stage teacher’s nonchalance and hands-off style that leaves his class in a bedlam. Every episode depicts the teacher as ineffectual and vain.

In Gumbaru School, the stage teacher comes across as unkempt and thuggish.

Illustrating teachers this way reinforces a sublime and erroneous view of tutors on impressionable pupils and gullible parents. This “school’s” roughhewn antics portray the provision of education as an extremely casual enterprise.

Tahidi High breaks from these casual scripts. Every episode has a tangible story line. But in its apparent sophistication of plot, this series imparts the most subtle damage on the teaching profession that is often delivered with artistic panache.

So, within Tahidi High’s cast are teachers given to whiffs of scandal. But often they go beyond the limits of decency by chasing errant students to the washrooms, hitting the bottle too hard, and (cunningly implied) canoodling with their charges.

The school principal, the irritable Mr Tembo, adopts a master-servant approach to his teachers. In fact, he portrays a stereotypical view of the bossy head teacher who routinely lords it over his teachers, pupils and parents.

This is the narrative furthered by these local TV dramas. Positive stories are few and far apart. Local television producers and directors should accord the teaching profession some decency, accuracy and balance in these education themed dramas.

They owe teachers and the rest of Kenyans some artistic honesty.