Mr. Sayer was a Canadian teacher in the MaP English department many moons ago. He taught me at the start of my high school career when I was in Form 1 and, if memory serves me well, in my Form 2 year too.
Towering, sandaled and always perfumed with the erstwhile smoke of a recent cigarette, he would triumphantly stride into the classroom after break and begin the lesson. Mr. Sayer was a man who walked triumphantly, we never knew what it was he had conquered. He just did.
We would reveal our homework for inspection and Mr. Sayer would make his rounds with his spectacles perched atop his head. Often, he would need to contort himself to be able to reach the plebeian height of our sitting, deskbound forms in order to peer closely at the work done.
Inevitably, he would reach a student who had not completed the assigned task and, spittle flying, he would shame them with the lisped invocation of: ‘TOURIST!’
He had no time for tourists in his classes, those lethargic students that operated on perpetual vacation mode. ‘Operated’ is maybe too generous a verb.
To be a tourist was to be lacking, to be bland and vapid in attitude, to seek pleasure in all things static.
By the end of my Form 1 year, I had a keen and unrelenting understanding of the expectation of excellence placed upon us by Mr. Sayer, and without a doubt, all my other MaP instructors. Threadlike, this expectation of myself would continue to unravel across the ensuing years all the way to my completion of Form 6 before I moved to Cape Town.
I shunned the torpor of the touristic attitude and I still do in my classes today; all my students are expected to self-propel and relish the travelling of the road of learning. They have to walk to meet me along it. Tourists, on the other hand, would much prefer to sit and be driven, to see and experience the world as they pass it on their game drive, scenes flashing by them and distinctly removed from the viewer.
To be a tourist is to sometimes have your attention caught by a flash in the bush and not need to explore further save exclaim: ‘I thought I saw something there! Not sure what it is!’
It is not enough to be a learner and be uncertain about a thing you think you’ve seen in the distance.
I am certain that my years at the University of Cape Town were easy because I knew how to apply myself in ways that proved fruitful. This is one of the many gifts that a MaP education offers its learners.
Did I ever consider that I would end up a teacher?
Did I ever consider that not only would I end up a teacher, but a teacher at my old high school?
I don’t know many young people who carry the pedagogical dream, and if they do, perhaps it’s contemptible to speak openly about it.
Whatever the reason for not knowing many, it’s ultimately a shame as Botswana is in dire need of a corps of youthful educators who can help revitalise the sector.
I found myself freshly graduated and in need of something to do while I was ‘in between places and things…’ – a tourist of sorts if you will, and so not wanting to remain idle for far too long, I gravitated back to MaP to see old faces, but I also think I felt it imperative to return because it was the place I had undergone a fundamental change in; a tweaking of something in my DNA that left me transformed for the better. Criminologists will speak about the criminal that returns to the scene of the crime, and whatever the antonymic equivalent idea is, that would be what happened all those years ago.
My first stop was to see MaP’s gentle matriarch, Mrs. Tosefsky. After spending time catching up, she asked me what I was up to and in her omniscience informed me that the school reception was down one person. I was to let her know if I was interested in helping out and making myself some pocket money. The lure of pocket money is how I became possibly Botswana’s first male school receptionist. It was soon after that I transferred to teaching English as that is what I had majored in at University.
12 years later and I am still here, standing in front of students urging them onto vitality and robustness of thought and skill. My wish for each lesson is that in some small way I can cheer each student to become an active and forceful agent of their learning, encouraging an indefatigable curiosity of not just the subject matter, but of themselves and the world that surrounds them.
I often think of Mr. Sayer and I wonder what he may be up to – is he still teaching? Perhaps he is working on a detective novel, clacking away at an old-fashioned typewriter in a haze of smoke? Or maybe he is retired and donning those extravagant Hawaiian shirts on a beach somewhere…Waikiki?
And whenever I think of him, his voice cuts across the years and rings clear and true:
‘Don’t be a TOURIST!’
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