To all the teachers: You are the true heroes of this world

By Munyonzwe Hamalengwa, Ph.D.

We don’t thank our teachers enough if at all. In many respects they are the true heroes of this world. Almost everybody who has succeeded in this world has passed through some form of education through the hands of teachers. Some of the teachers have laboured in poor conditions, with poor pay, poor housing conditions, poor class room facilities, delayed pay or no pay at all for stretches of periods. Some are confronted by violence in the ghettoes of New York and Chicago and elsewhere. Yes most of them toil to teach.

Some students climb to the mountain top in their chosen field because of the encouragement of one or two teachers who never lost hope in them no matter their attitude towards education or lack of motivation or lack of conducive home environment, sexual abuse at home, neglect, natural lack of learning capacity and ability, hopelessness, and other disabilities. Most teachers never know that they made a gigantic positive impact on a student’s life and future, because pupils and students never tell their teachers about the life- changing influences they had on these pupils and students.

Most times the impact may not readily be recognized or appreciated until sometime latter. Sometimes it may appear that the teacher hates the pupil or student or is authoritarian when the motive may actually be the opposite. It may feel like being raised by what may resemble an authoritarian parent. The parent may have the best of motives and intentions in being that way towards his children. Years later, the way one was raised may turn out to have been the best thing that ever happened to that child. Discipline, respect for others, hard work and accountability may have been inculcated. Of course sometimes the road to hell may have been paved with the best of intentions. There is often, no straight line to anything in life.

This column is intended to get the reader to jot down some notes about some of the teachers on reflection, who had significant positive impacts on their education and future. Did they thank those teachers, our unheralded heroes? Can you trace some of those teachers and thank them if they are still alive? Can you trace their wives or husbands or children or brothers and sisters or parents and thank those teachers through these channels? Belated gratefulness will still be appreciated. We shouldn’t only thank our teachers who supervised us during our Masters and Doctoral dissertations.

You can’t of course thank all your former or present teachers. Not all of them had the same impact. And this expression of gratefulness must be genuine.

I recently traced my elementary and primary school teacher and headmaster who was crucial to my success in my earlier education. I had expressed my gratitude about that teacher  to my father and everybody over the years but not to that teacher because I had not seen him for decades, until April 2016. His name is Mr. Domenic Mooya. He was my teacher and headmaster from old grade one to grade seven at Chona Elementary and Primary School in eastern Monze. If I was absent any day from school all the years from grade one to grade seven, I would find Mr. Mooya  at my home with my father waiting for me. Most of these times I would be out malingering with other pupils. If I was sick at home, and therefore absent from school, there he was coming to see me. I thought the teacher hated me at first.
The Headmaster was responsible  for choosing where we would apply for high school education and how many students would apply to each high school. He made me apply to Canisius College as it was then called. No other pupil was allowed to apply to Canisius other than me that year. Canisius was the best secondary school then. I got accepted and went all the way to the heights of the academic ladder.

In April 2016, I cornered Mr. Mooya at Chikuni  Mission, where the Jesuit Priests gave him a plot of land, to first thank him profusely, for the positive impact he had on my life and secondly, to interrogate him about why of all the students during my years at Chona Primary School, he took particular interest, care and notice to my educational well-being. Was it in conspiracy with my father who had constructed a makeshift classroom behind our house even before I started going to school?

Mr. Mooya looked at me and simply said, “you have always been the pride of my teaching life”. I had traced this teacher to thank him for what he had done for me, only for him to turn the tables around and give me one of the biggest complimentary boosts of my life. If my young brother Listene Hamalengwa and my taxi driver Austin Mwale had  not been  there, I would have cracked and cried. It was that intense. Thank the teachers who impacted your lives positively. Sometimes even negative experiences could turn out to be positive.

I have thanked a great deal of my teachers.  The teachers I thanked most are those who taught me in Law School mainly because that is when it dawned on me that teachers make a difference. Before that, I had taken it for granted, like we do to our parents, that teachers teach and they get paid for their services. In law school, I began to thank my teachers. I was terrified of Tax Law but the teaching enthusiasm and gentleness of Professor Peter Hogg made a difference.  I passed Tax Law and fell in love with it. Peter Hogg also taught me Constitutional Law and I now sleep and dream Constitutional Law of many countries. I write about Constitutional Law.
Because of the experience in Tax Law with Peter Hogg, I went and did further courses in Tax. I did Tax Policy and International Taxation  Law with Professor Neil Brooks. This Professor is out of this world in terms  of imparting tax policy and international tax law knowledge to his students. He always has a smile on his face as he expounds complex tax issues and you cannot help but fall in love with Tax Policy and International Taxation Law. I thanked Professor Brooks.

I thanked Professor Reuben Hasson who taught me Commercial Law. I thanked Professor Harry Glasbeek who taught me Corporations and Criminal Law. These professors could keep you laughing while they were teaching and you were absorbing the knowledge. These two were unique teachers.

I thanked Catherine MacKinnon who taught me Constitutional Litigation. When MacKinnon is teaching, you can literally feel and hear your brains shifting inside your head. You can feel yourself thinking about what she is teaching. You can feel right away that your paradigm about constitutional law and litigation will never be the same again. I have never felt that way with any other professor in my entire life. I approach almost every legal issue  I litigated no matter what area,  through the lenses of constitutional law. This is thanks to Catherine MacKinnon.

I have mentioned other teachers and thanked them in my book, How Are We Gona Win this One: Doing Time With Clayton C. Ruby, Criminal Lawyer Extraordinaire (2002). This book was to thank a most extraordinary criminal lawyer under whom I did my articles of law, Mr. Clayton Ruby of Toronto.

I call upon every reader of this column to take time to reflect and recall and thank all the teachers who made a difference one way or another in their educational paths. Teachers are some of our greatest heroes.

Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa is the Founding Head of the Graduate Studies Programme in Law at the school of law, Zambian Open University, Lusaka.

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