Last week, I was a guest in a unique function. The alumni of Kaheho Primary School near Nyahururu decided it was time to say thank you to their mentors and their teachers.
They contributed money and invited teachers to the school, but there was a catch.
The teacher must have been retired. Some had retired for as long as 25 years.
One teacher, Albert Kinyua started teaching in 1958. Those he taught have already retired. There was a moment of silence to remember the departed.
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The school was started in 1959 and was formerly called Penrose, after Penrose Farm on which it was built. The farm was owned by Kenneth Wilfred Nunn who bought it in 1958, possibly from an Afrikaan called De Wet.
Nunn had immigrated to Kenya around 1955 and started as farm manager to Major Harold White near Ol Kalou before finally buying his own land.
There is a stage on the Nyahururu-Gilgil road called “Ha Meja” One of the things that struck me is how teachers seem not to age.
Could it be interaction with the children? Could it be that they are more realistic than most of us? Another observation is that in the past, teaching was dominated by men. Few of the retired teachers were female. The roles have reversed now.
The high noon was introduction; each past student introduced himself and what he or she has been doing since they left primary school.
They shared their experiences on when they got their first pair of shoes and how teachers’ encouragement and some caning made them who they are.
I never saw any bitterness in any alumni. The teachers then introduced themselves, when they came to the school and their experiences in school and after.
They were quick to advise the alumni on the need to prepare for retirement early enough.
Could the early preparation for the retirement be the reason the teachers seem so healthy.
Most operated from their homes while teaching; that provided them with a smooth transition to retirement, no physical and emotional translocation from urban to rural areas.
As the teachers reminiscenced, one thing came our clearly; they did not work for money only.
There was a higher calling, a missionary zeal that went beyond the call of duty.
That was reflected in the personal interest they took in their students. Some students like Martha Mburu now working for Geothermal Development Authority said teachers’ encouragement and reaching out to her parents “rescued” her from dropping out.
If you recall Carey Francis the legendary teacher at Maseno, Alliance and Pumwani and former lecturer at Oxford University used to visit his students’ homes.
How else can a teacher appreciate the background and the motivations of the pupils?
Calling a parent to school is not enough. What does Education Ministry think about visiting students’ homes?
What of today? Teachers have lost the respect they once enjoyed. It dawned to me from this occasion that as they lost the respect, we all lost.
Good old days
Today, it is hard for teachers to go beyond the call of duty.
That has removed the inspirational aspect of teaching which is more important than knowledge.
The inspirational part of teaching has been left to self made motivational speakers who may not have had formal classes in child psychology or education.
Why are our kids so demotivated in school?
Once we took lunch, we had time to interact and reminiscence the good old days when everyone was younger and possibly more innocent.
We planted commemorative trees preceded by heavy rain, maybe a blessing to the school and its alumni.
Let us ask in whispers.
How often do we take time to thank those who go beyond the call of duty? One teacher even confessed that his children have not thanked her that way.
We seem to assume that once you pay for services, story ends. Money has never been the best way to thank people.
It is the small things that matter. The retired teachers were most thankful because of the time the past students sacrificed to meet them, talk to them and be with them.
More importantly was the pleasant realisation that despite the passage of time, there is someone somewhere who remembers them, someone somewhere is thankful.
Thankfulness is priceless. That we are thankless in Kenya is not in doubt.
We only look for our parents, our friends, relatives or other people likely to help us only when we are in need.
Once we get the help, we disappear until we have another need.
Yet being thankful is what sets us apart from the rest of inhabitants of this small planet.
How do we thank the national heroes? We can’t even get them a resting place.
One easy was to show our gratitude to our schools is through endowment funds, used by schools to help the needy, improve the infrastructure, fund research and make the graduates more competitive.
You may not have the money to give back to your alma mater, but a thank you to those who went beyond the call of duty can be a great starting point. Just try it.
You may not have money to give, but a thank you can be a great starting point
The writer teaches at the University of Nairobi