I Would Love to Teach, But…

Omar Bihmidine is a high school teacher of English. He holds a BA from Ibn Zohr University, Agadir. His writings take the form of short stories, poems and articles, many of which have been published in Sous Pens magazine  and  ALC Oasis magazine in Agadir.

Sidi Ifni, Morocco,

Teaching has always been my passion, and it will remain so. As a student, I held my teachers in high regard and always hoped to become one in the future. Now that I am a teacher, I wish to teach truly, greatly, and conscientiously. During my training days, I was so excited to set foot on my classroom for the first time and make a difference in my students’ lives: this has been my aim, my impulse, and my ambition.

Since I joined the teaching profession, I have been stunned to learn that teaching in Morocco is not tantamount to teaching in other parts of the world, such as Finland or Germany. This is why I would love to teach truly, but I have some reservations that I think are worth sharing.

I was appointed to the city of Zagora upon graduation. At first, I complained about the remote place where I was going to teach. But since I had a passion for teaching, I dispelled my complaints and went on to do my noble job properly. I was very ambitious to be the candle that would burn itself to light the way for the marginalized students of Zagora. I taught them basic English. Even though I have read a great deal about teaching methodology, I simply attempted to be eclectic and not make a mountain out of a molehill over teaching skills. I was there to teach my students how to speak, read, and write simple English, and that was all. I was not there to engage in extra-curricular activities, for I work for the state. And the state is thankless. I did not do extra work; all I did was the necessary.

Upon receiving my first salary, I wondered whether it would be enough for me to cover my basic expenses and those of my family. As a teacher of English, I had to buy a PC and often had to Xerox handouts and pictures to best teach my students. It cost me some money, for sure. Upon second thoughts, I concluded that my dignity allowed me to dress well, to pay my rent on time, to help my family, to save some money for a small house, to get prepared for marriage, and to live my life respectably. I preferred paying my rent to xeroxing handouts for my students. I preferred saving money for settling down to spending all my money on my students. I prefer repaying my debts to buying teaching materials. The Ministry never stated that buying teaching materials is part of the job. If it did, I would.

Students pay taxes, and it is incumbent upon the Ministry to provide them with everything they need to learn. Regrettably, people accuse us teachers of not providing students with what they need as though we were the ones who receive the taxes. I teach my students very simply, using the bare minimum tools I have at my disposal, such as chalk and the blackboard. I do not exert myself to look for sophisticated gadgets I cannot afford simply because inspectors have preached on the importance of Information and Communication Technology in fostering and boosting learning. We all know these theories. Oh, how masterful we are at theorizing!  I would love to teach my students using the latest teaching methods, but when I lack the teaching materials, I often do with what I can procure. It is up to the Ministry, which has wasted more than four billion dirhams on a big lie called the Emergency Plan, to provide me and my students alike with useless teaching materials.

Some might say that teachers are not excused for not being able to afford teaching materials. Others say that teachers must be creative and come up with excellent teaching materials that cater to the needs of today’s students. Some others went on to castigate teachers like me who teach in a simple way and who do not make a mountain out of a molehill over teaching. Some say that poor working conditions must not bar us from giving the most of ourselves to the students. But this is good only in theory.

In practice, however, I strongly believe that the more we ignore a disease, the more difficult it will become to cure it. And the more it is said that a certain stumbling block in our teaching practices is not an excuse, the more often we face hard working conditions. In all frankness, this is what we are going through nowadays. We teachers are going through a disease of poor education. However, instead of blaming the circumstances and taking action to change them, society goes on castigating those teachers and saying that such teachers are constantly complaining about their working conditions. “Why should teachers complain?” some inspectors say.

In Morocco, teachers are not allowed to justify themselves or blame the circumstances. They are not able to tarnish the image of education by speaking ill of it or to tell the truth about their working conditions. They cannot prefer living in dignity to buying teaching materials that cost them much money. But they are allowed to work like donkeys. “I will work harder,” said Benjamin, a donkey character in George Orwell’s satiric book Animal Farm. They are advised by their inspectors to be patient and sacrificial. They are advised to work no matter what the conditions are. Personally, I am not too selfless, but neither am I selfish. I know when to do favors and when not to do them. I help my neighbor students with their studies for free, but I never help students with extra hours at school. I do what I am paid for. I would love to teach, and I do, but the state must motivate us with a respectable salary. If it motivates us, it is doubtless we will see miracles.

Some teachers are too selfless. They think that by selflessness, they are making a change in students’ lives, when in fact they are wreaking havoc on the quality of our education. For instance, when students cannot afford or don’t have textbooks, such teachers intervene to say, “Oh, that is not big problem. We are going to buy them books.” When students walk miles to reach a school, such teachers say, “ Oh, that is not a big deal. We are going to raise money to buy them bikes, “. And when students don’t have a Maths teacher, such teachers say, “ Oh, that is not a big problem. A physics teacher is going to volunteer and teach Maths. He is so kind. He will not say no. That would be so conscientious and generous of him.” At this point, we think that by being selfless, we solve problems, when in fact we are creating more problems for posterity. We think that selflessness makes miracles, when in fact it makes our education lag behind more dramatically. Living proof is the bad international reputation we have knowingly or unknowingly built about our education.

If students don’t have textbooks, why do such teachers think of solving the problem that the Ministry itself has deliberately failed to solve? Why don’t teachers call on the Ministry to provide their students with whatever they need, instead of taking a sum from their extremely meager salaries or raising money for their teaching and students’ learning materials? If students walk miles school, why don’t teachers call on the Ministry to build a school in the vicinity of their students’ homes instead of buying them bikes?

Teachers who do not complain about their educational system and their working conditions are akin to the villagers who once wanted to cross a river. Instead of building a bridge, they cooled themselves down by saying that they must be patient until the tides slowed down; then they could cross it. Some other villagers added that they had to take the hands of their children and helped them cross the river lest the tides should drag them away. Why didn’t the villagers think of building the bridge and put an end to their predicament once and for all? In a similar vein, why didn’t teachers think of an enormous reform instead of solving petty, short-term problems for the Ministry? Why didn’t they think of a reform through which they would successfully move from the bank of a deplorable educational system to the bank of a flourishing education they can be proud of?

Let us now come back to our society, which still degrades teachers in a number of ways. The state has successfully conspired with the society to crack jokes about teachers. Because of this, students call teachers by the names of animals and vegetables. Some students call them “mice,” “donkeys,” cats,” “frogs,” “carrots,” “potatoes,” and “monkeys.” Is this the way we should treat the candles that light the way for future generations? In Rabat, police beat, taunt, and flog teachers. In other parts of the world, people say that teachers are like kings. They do nothing. They sit cafés. They receive much money during their holidays.

I would love to teach truly, but I like that I belong to a category of the society that is revered in Germany, Finland and Austria—not  that which is mocked, disregarded, ignored, underrated, and fooled in my home country. I would love to teach truly, but the more my fellow teachers suffer, the more demoralized I grow. I enjoy teaching truly, but I don’t necessarily enjoy being a teacher in a country where people blame you for being tight-fisted and badly dressed.

A teaching trainer once told me that either the teachers or the students are the masters. Put differently, they cannot be masters at the same time. Since the Ministry banned slight beating  at school, students have become the masters. It is they who now force their teachers to give them good marks, or they will call their teachers “mice,” “penguins,” or “ducks.” Students shout at their teachers, and when a wronged teacher wants to complain, people tell him, “Oh, that is just an adolescent. If he calls you a penguin, he simply loves you. Don’t take it personally.”

Nearly every day we hear stories of teachers being beaten, injured, assaulted, hit by their students either at school or outside. Our Ministry asks us teachers to never insult or cane students, but the Ministry has never taken a measure to penalize students who attack their teachers. I would love to teach truly, but the dignity of teachers is surpassed by that of their students. I would love to teach truly, but being a teacher in my home country is a source of trouble. 

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