Monday, March 23, 2015
Which mentor or teacher contributed most to your academic success? It is difficult to choose without diminishing all those teachers who formally and informally contributed towards making me what I am today. After reflecting on this question for a while, I recently called my Form 4 History teacher at Awgu High School, Nenwe, in Nigeria to thank him for being the best mentor that I ever had and for sharing the skills that I continue to pass on to younger scholars. He instantly told me that another student of his who is now a Professor of Medicine paid similar compliments to him recently. Good to know that I am in good company.
Mr. Simon Okolo was then a young ex-Seminarian who came to us in the middle of the year when we had no History teacher. In the one term that he spent with us, he instantly departed from the tradition of dictating or copying verbose notes on the blackboard for us to take down and memorize, then regurgitate in the exams. The young Auxiliary Teacher, who was probably younger than some of his students, chose to give us bullet-points, or what would pass for Powerpoint slides today, as notes and assured us that once we can remember the key points and explain them in our own words with illustrations, we would pass any examination with flying colors.
We were incredulous and thought that either the young man, who had just completed the equivalent of High School himself, did not know how to teach or he was a lazy teacher. In our Senior year, again we had no History teacher but since history was my best subject (a shame that Nigeria has banned the teaching of history probably out of paranoia that the history of Biafra will creep up sooner or later), I registered for history in the O’Level examination for West African School Certificate. This is not as daring as it sounds because I also registered for Igbo language without any teacher in the subject and I also registered for Commerce, a subject that I was never taught formally.
Thanks to the skills that Mr. Okolo taught us, I aced History with A1 and I must have applied similar skills to Economics where I got A3, same as English where I had a good ear for grammar but never learned the formal rules. In all, I passed my nine subjects and made First Division in WASC but I was still hooked on cramming large chunks of information that took a lot of efforts to memorize and remember.
It was not until my Freshman year at the University of Calabar that I was formally introduced to study skills as part of the Use of English 101 compulsory course. The memory aids and note-taking skills vaguely reminded me of the note-giving methods of Mr. Okolo but I continued to cram for decent grades.
Then in my Sophormore year, Mr. Okolo gained admission as a Freshman in the same university and since we hail from the same Awgu Local Government Area, we became like family in our small association for the handful of students from Awgu. He is now called Simon Okolochukwu but we called him Brother Si. The day he matriculated, we contributed money to buy drinks and have a small party for him and other freshmen from Awgu who also matriculated that day.
When we returned to Hall 4 where we all resided, in Malabo, the name given to the residence halls by the students in recognition of what we saw as harsh living conditions with eight students per room, I asked one of the brothers to take a picture that I had been composing in my head. I told him to wait until I had posed on the balcony in a contemplative mood before he took the picture from the ground floor. While I was posing, ‘denge pause’, I did not know that Bro Si had contrived with the photographer to wait for him to bomb my picture. After the negative was developed and the picture printed, I was a little pissed off but looking at the picture again recently, I realized that Bro Si was trying to tell me something. With his academic gown, he stood like an angel behind me and the window of Hall 4 appeared to be smiling upon us like a gigantic Calabar mask.
When I shared this impression about the picture with Bro Si, he told me that it is a calling of his since childhood when he had an encounter with Our Lady of Fatima. He sees his mission as that of a peer mentor. Then I reminded him that he was the one who convinced me that I was a First Class student. He had seen my results and immediately exclaimed that I was a straight A student. ‘Na lie’, I told him, I only got a few As and lots of Bs. ‘Surely’, he insisted, ‘if you repeat what you did to get the As systematically, you will get straight As’. I did so in my Junior year and my grades shot through the roofs because I stopped cramming and started applying the mnemonics and note-taking skills across all my courses. Just as he said, I ended up with First Class Honors in Sociology.
When I shared this testimony with him over the phone, he said that he wished that I had told him earlier so that he too could try for a First Class Hons despite our shared condition of skipping subsidized meals to make ends meet as poor students. But I thought that he already knew since he was the one who taught me the successful study skills.
He is now a High School teacher with a Master’s Degree and he has published two books on English composition to continue doing what he does best, mentoring his students and peers. Anyone with funding for a deserving doctoral student in English composition should contact this exceptional young man. Thank you Bro Si for your mentorship. May someone else mentor you too.