I have often heard my father say that teachers are not well-to-do and that “their reward is in heaven.” I vowed not to become a teacher. My mother was a different kind of teacher; she combined her domestic science school with successful trading and other business ventures like commercial baking, cloth-dying and sewing. She, however, favored education like my father. When I was at college, I looked forward to graduation and end of courses and classes. I did not know that I would go on and on to get more education. From English to Theater to African Studies to Women’s Studies, I focused on learning and the acquisition of knowledge. I found that I was happiest when I was interacting with other people as we shared knowledge and learnt from each other. I have enjoyed this aspect in friends, family, students, colleagues, and community groups. I like the enthusiasm, challenge, and information that flow in knowledge-sharing. This is not limited to the classes that I teach. It includes informal interaction with other people as well as communication through poetry reading and speaking engagements. 

“Side shows”

I was brought up in the traditional podium style of classroom where the teacher knew it all and stood by the blackboard while the rest of us took notes like we were in a church. Occasionally in small classes, the teacher would invite comments. I was shy and never used to say much until I got comfortable in the class. For me, the teacher knew it all, and with him (mostly him during my time) and his authority and power, I could not imagine commenting on or contradicting his views. In addition, he stood up there on stage while we sat down here taking notes. Some teachers made us comfortable by getting us involved through creative dramatization and narration of anecdotes. I have very good memories of the story-telling aspects of my elementary education syllabus in which we participated in the narration of folk stories. These “side shows” were internalized by me and have become part of my teaching method.

Critical thinking and team-work:

I use different teaching methods that challenge my students to independent thinking. For example, I create scenarios for class discussions. There are very few students who do not like to speak, but I try to emphasize the importance of their taking part in the control of their learning through their personal input in class discussions. I usually divide my large classes into seminar and presentation groups where students work together in small groups. They engage their learning though discussions and problem-solving skits devised by them under my direction. I find this effective in challenging students to think critically and relate issues to society and personal lives.  This has also been useful in boosting the comfort level of those who are shy in large groups. Some of them become more engaging in discussions that involve the whole class. 

I know that people like to be politiclally correct, but how can we get us, people, and society to critically examine issues if we shy away from nerving issues. Sometimes, some people get offended when you contradict their ideas. I know that it is hard not to be defensive, so I try as much as I can to communicate my views politely and also welcome contradiction because I may be wrong. This has landed me in trouble a few times. An example was when from a tiny African country, I agreed with certain views expressed about African scholars by a professor in America, but I also politely disagred with some of his ideas. This led to some heated rebuke and attempt at silencing me as some contributors pointed out (have a peek at excerps - H-AfriLitCine). The issue of race can be volatile, but I still engage it in my classes because "it is a task that must be done" in the global world of today. My students will join the global workplace, so they might as well think critically bout global citizenship.  I ran a race/gender seminar at the University of Southern Maine, Portland ME. I have made presentations centered on my personal story of racial and multicultural issues in women's studies' classes. An example is my presentation, "“Engaging Race in Women’s Studies’ Classes” at  the Conference on Teaching Gender in 21st Century (University of London in June 29, 2007). Winning a Tilford Grant in 2011 to design a syllabus that focuses on diversity and multicultural learning has empowered me to continue with this challenging education.. 

Local and International visitors:

I like to give students the opportunity to interact with other voices so that they can appreciate other perspectives and enlarge their learning beyond what I have brought into the classroom. It also gives me the opportunity to observe how they use the knowledge gained from the course. Visitors have included members of the university community like professors and students as well as members of the community outside the campus and this includes international visitors.

Local business owners, organizers, and people who live in our communities have spoken in my classes. Examples include Roselyn Onijala of Roselyn International, Wichita KS. She brought Nigerian tie-and-dye cloth and used it to discuss women’s work with students at WSU. Mel Zimmerman, a volunteer for National Organization of Women (NOW), has used her personal experience as a home-maker and mother in Kansas to discuss women’s contribution to society. Dr. Kate Wininger, a professor of philosophy, has used her personal experience of gender to discuss male privileging with my students in Portland, ME.

Students like to hear about other cultures, so I try to bring international visitors to the classes. In 2006 three Kenyan women politicians - Khadija Swaleh Hassan (Mombasa), Janet Ekumbo Mbete (Kwale), and Zahara Shee Mohamed (Lamu) - visited Wichita, Kansas. They spoke in my class about their challenges in the political process. Sometimes, I take students to international events so that they can experience other cultures and raise issues that we debrief in class. I also speak in the classes of colleagues in my university and elsewhere. Examples include the classes taught by Dr. D. Billings at Wichita State University and Dr. Gretchen Eick of Friends University, Wichita, Kansas. 

Global Telephone and Video conferences:

Sometimes the interaction is done through the use of technology. I have arranged discussions between my students and classes and/or writers in Nigeria, Southern Africa, Europe and parts of the US. Examples include a via-video conference with Tamara James and other women of an UN-affiliated organization in Geneva (2007), and telephone conferences with Professor Obi Nnaemeka, Chancellor’s Professor of Indiana University (2004-2005). In 2003, Professor Chioma Opara from Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Portharcout, Nigeria, had a public lecture at Wichita State University. Her take on language and resistance was so well received that my students requested more interaction with her. Subsequent students have continued to teleconference with her and sometimes with her students in Portharcourt, Nigeria. For many students, this kind of cross-cultural communication through video and teleconferences is usually their first experience of foreign cultures. This feature of my classes has continued to be highly received by students and colleagues. My department won the “Global Learning Most Outstanding Department Award” in 2004.

Mentoring of Women’s Studies’ and
International students through creative activity:

I organize performances that give students informal opportunities to benefit from my mentoring. For example, I write plays for students’ performances. In the process of rehearsals, they discuss and understand how the issues of the plays connect with their lives and the society. Examples include the rehearsals and performance of “Three Women” that was inspired by class discussions and performed in 2003 by Melisa Ford as Dana, Cindy Fowler as Lisa, Meg Wheeler as Sister, and Masuzyo Kalwani as Angel; My Scholarship,” inspired by concerns of international students and performed in 2004 by some members of the Nigerian Students Association of WSU. A scene from The New Toyi Toyi was performed in 2008 by The Griots (a performance group  based in Wichita, KS), and another scene was put up by students of WSU - Anthonio Pinheiro, Idia Tokumbor, and Norma Tokumbor. I wrote “Scramble for Africa 2” in 2009 in response to a request by some African students. It was performed by Zenas Chisundu as Papa Africa, Elgar as Mama Africa, Gui Nduikum as Oil, Fabrice Sagbohan as Kas, Leo as Coltan, Sandra as Gold, Norma as Sis, Augustine Nwana as Daimond and Yann as Silver.

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Page title: Learning & Teaching
Last update: March 28, 2011
Web page by C. G. Okafor
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