Interview With Consolata Nahimana, A Teacher For The Last 40 Years And Still Going Strong

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Not all heroes wear capes! Teacher for the last 40 years, Consolata Nahimana is the epitome of what real life heroes look like. Since the beginning of her carrier up to now, she has a track record that a few people could measure up to. She was a teacher of English for many years in different parts of Burundi. In Kirundo for two years, in Jenda for one year, in Gitega for three years and two years as prefect of studies and discipline in Bubanza. After that, she served multiple purposes in the National Ministry of Education and gave English courses to many tertiary education institutes. She is now a full-time lecturer at the University of Burundi since 2001 and a part of the national team that implements the integrated pedagogy for the four higher institutes training teachers for the post-basic level. Below is our detailed interview with her.

 

Andika Magazine: Who is Consolata Nahimana? What is her story?

Consolata Nahimana: My name is Consolata Nahimana. I am married and a mother of six. I have got other children; three sons-in-law and six lovely grandchildren. From my parents, I am the first born. There were twelve of us; three brothers and eight sisters. Unfortunately, one sister died in 2021. May her soul rest in eternal peace.

As a small child, I was afraid of vehicles, particularly trucks. If I saw one from a distance, I would run fast away from the road to hide. The popular cars used for transport were vans commonly called “tanu tanu”; that name referred to the amount of money [BIF 5] for the fare. I felt comfortable when I boarded an open vehicle, a Toyota brand, which was referred to as Stout.

When I heard I had got a job in Kirundo, I was so worried because I was often road sick and from Bujumbura to Kirundo was a long way. One teacher at Kanyinya who knew that I was appointed Teacher there came to my place and informed me that there was a possibility to travel by air! I was very happy. Thus, we made some arrangements to meet at Air Burundi office to pay for the air ticket to be able to travel the following day. We travelled by a helicopter and this was nearly 15 minutes to get to the Kirundo airfield. There was a bus service from the airfield to my new home. I felt I was being spoilt! Therefore, the issue of road sickness was solved.

 

Andika Magazine: How long have you been working as a teacher?

Consolata Nahimana: My work experience is a bit longer. I started my teaching career in 1983. While I was studying at the University of Burundi in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in the English Department, I thought I would become a journalist or an interpreter. However, I found myself a teacher and I enjoyed and still enjoy it very much. After all, these three share a few things in common such as communication skills, giving information and instructions, public speaking and so forth.

I am proud to be a teacher because as a daughter of a former primary school teacher; I felt inspired by my dad who was a very dedicated teacher. [He had started his career in 1957 and retired in January 2009]. He used to encourage me, telling me that the teaching career is among the top best professions in the world as you deal with caring for people, educating them, helping them to grow intellectually, morally, physically and impact them. It is often said that “teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions.”

As mentioned earlier, I was appointed Teacher of English at Ecole Moyenne Pédagogique of Kanyinya in Kirundo on September 16, 1983  but went there in October 1983 because of some academic reasons. I stayed there till July 15, 1985.From September 1985 to July 1986: Teacher of English at Lycée Etoile des Montagnes of Jenda.From September 1986 to December 1989: Teacher of English at Lycée Sainte Thérèse of Gitega.From January 3, 1990 till 1991 and from July 1992 to October 31, 1994, respectively Prefect of Studies and Discipline and Prefect of studies at Ecole Technique Moyenne des Métiers (Public Junior Technical School) / the Ministry of National Education in Bubanza.

From 1994 to July 2001:  Pedagogical Advisor in the English Department of the Curriculum Development Bureau for Technical Education in the Ministry of National Education. From 1994 till 1996, I was a part-time teacher at the University of Burundi in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in the English Department. From 1996 till 1998, and from 1998 till 2000, I taught English courses at the Higher Institute for Commerce (ISCO) and at the Institute for Applied Pedagogy in the English Department (IPA).

From July 2001 up to present, I am a full time lecturer at the University of Burundi /Institute for Applied Pedagogy in the English Department and pedagogical advisor for BAC I students. I have been taking part in different commissions of the Ministry of National Education, in the former office for curriculum development to help set up English programs. For the time being, I am part of the national team to implement the Integrated Pedagogy in the four higher institutions training teachers for the post-basic level. I took part in adult education through English language centers like International Language Center, and the Burundi English Teacher’s Forum respectively from 1996 to 2010 and from 2010 till the beginning of 2017.

 

Andika Magazine: What challenges did you meet in your career as a teacher?

Consolata Nahimana: Finding me appointed to go and teach in Kirundo was unthinkable. I learnt about the place Kanyinya when somebody who had come to welcome one of my classmates at Bujumbura International Airport [we had just arrived from language immersion and research in Tanzania] whispered to me “Kanyinya, Kanyinya, Kanyinya.” I did not understand what the word meant; I thought he had become insane. I could not figure out how that had happened, who did that to me, and so forth. So many thoughts crossed my mind. I did not go there right away as I had to be closer to my lecturer who had to supervise my thesis. When I finally went to the school, I had to request for permission to go to Bujumbura to meet my supervisor; I did so three times. This meant that another course was planned in lieu of English and had to catch up with my class as soon as I got back to the school. Luckily I was able to defend my thesis in February 1984 thanks to my commitment and motivation I had to get an academic degree.

The other challenge was first to get to Kanyinya from where I had found my provisional home. It was at two kilometers far away from the school and I made 8 km to go and back for lunch and after the afternoon classes. To meet the school authorities, my colleagues and pupils who were eager to see the unique female teacher with the university level was not that easy for me. Their expectations from me were so high. A female D7 teacher had been teaching them while waiting for my arrival.

Dealing with young learners, sometimes putting you to test to check if you are knowledgeable was my daily good combat that I had to struggle for and win. Vince Lombardi illustrates that better that: “It is essential to understand that battles are primarily won in the heart…(people) respond to leadership in a most remarkable way and once you have won (their) heart, (they) will follow you anywhere.” My learners developed hope and trust in me because their mind was opening up. Indeed, I had contributed to raise their awareness of being able to speak English without fear. For that purpose, an English club was initiated to give the learners opportunities to express themselves in English as often as possible.  Robert Frost underlines that a teacher is rather “an awakener.” Before, they thought it was impossible to speak English. As days passed by, they became enthusiastic and positive about English. They felt satisfied because all their expectations were met. The Prefect of studies; a Belgian Nun from Les Dames de Marie Community, [probably through a discrete investigation and lesson observation] was also happy with my job.

Once in Kirundo, I can say that I experienced a “cultural” shock. I stayed with my two female colleagues who were respectively from Busoni and Ntega. When we met their family members. I often heard this greeting “Muraho?” which had a response “ Muraho!” I could not believe my ears. For me, I thought the right reply was “Turaho”. Then, they shook my colleagues’ hand but not mine! I could not believe my eyes!  Then I asked my friends what was the idea behind. They told me the reason was simply that with people they were not familiar with, shaking their hand was uncommon.  I started getting familiar with their culture and noticed Kirundo was a very good place. Then, I decided to stay there for two years. From there, my teaching career took root. Wherever I was transferred, the school authorities were satisfied with my job. I remember in July 1985, the Headmistress of Lycee of Jenda from the Annonciade Sisters Community  came to my native home; she wanted me to go and teach at the school which had brought me up [I had studied there since Grade Six of the Primary school]. Because of the phobia about my newness, I promised her to go there the following school year; which I did.

The more you take a step forward, the greater the challenge. At the university level, I had to work harder than I was used to earlier at the secondary school level. Thus, I had to prove that I was the right woman at the right place and at the right time. I had and still have to keep abreast of the latest theories in connection with my courses. This is not that easy as I have to reconcile my family life and career to satisfy both. Colleagues’ collaboration and support have always been very helpful and valuable to help face all the challenges.

 

Andika Mazine: What motivated you to continue?

Consolata Nahimana: Parental encouragement. Ladies first: I will start by my mother who understood that to educate a woman is to educate the whole nation. She had always encouraged me to go further in my studies. In 1991, I applied for a scholarship to go and continue my studies in the U.K. When my third child was only three months old. When I told my mother about it, she encouraged me to go without any hesitation by promising to bring me a second nanny for my baby in due time. My father, who was educated, was rather reluctant at the very beginning; but later when I went to visit them, he told me that his worry was his son-in-law [my husband], who would be alone caring for our three children. When I told dad that my husband was very enthusiastic, he became happy and gave me his blessings before my departure overseas.

Close family support : Support from close family members is vital. My husband was caring and very supportive. One day, I told him that I regretted having applied for that scholarship in the U.K. and wanted to cancel my application. He then became very angry with me; asking me the reason for changing my mind. I told him my concern for our children in general and our baby in particular. When I got admitted, the first was 4 and half years old; the second was 3 years and the youngest 9 months old and was still breastfed till the day I left for Edinburgh. My husband had vowed to always sleep with the baby and to feed her to the bottle; which he really did very well.  When I came back home from Edinburgh, I found my children grown up and healthy.

Special profession for special people: I have always had this in my mind that a teacher is not anyone. Simply put, teaching is a special profession for special people from play group, nursery education, and primary, secondary to tertiary education. It is a special job that is very demanding and society expects more from teachers. Those are people who are attentive to what they do and how they do things the right way. Some already have qualities and skills that go hand in hand with their teaching job while others acquire them through training and job practice.

Some of those qualities and skills are active listening skills, adaptability, comprehension, courage, critical thinking, empathy, encouragement, fairness, flexibility, good communication skills, good conflict resolution skills, good time management skills, honesty, and leadership skills,  public speaking skills, sustainable attention, responsibility to name but a few [as the list is so long]. I have been operating in the education sector for a longer time and feel enthusiastic about it. I cannot say that I have espoused all of those but it is an ideal to achieve to become successful in your teaching career and to impact the learners you are charged with whatever their category and level.

Teachers are heroes and candle lights: Teachers are really heroes and Guy Kawasaki a businessman states it well that “If you have to put someone on a pedestal, put teachers. They are society’s heroes.” I cannot agree more; they are real heroes when you come to consider how enthusiastic and selfless they deal with their daily work to meet societies’ in general and people’s expectations. It is not a secret to anyone that a teacher’s salary in our country is low compared to how exacting the job is, however, satisfaction is fully met when you notice that those you contributed in shaping their intellectual, moral and physical as well as psychological development are successful in their respective country life sectors and various personal businesses. You are even praised to the skies when you come across your former pupils, students, smiling at you and reminding you that you once became part of their life blossoming. Some are University lecturers locally or abroad, bank managers, lawyers, others are involved in business. You feel you have contributed to build through them the world in general and your own nation in particular.

Furthermore, to corroborate the Turkish statesman’s idea, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk,“a good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others”. Being selfless, teachers care for others rather than they do for themselves all along their career. The knowledge they impart to their learners is enlightening the latter to allow them to leave eventual ignorance darkness. In a nutshell, teachers are really caring people; they love their job and the people they are responsible for; briefly, they seek for other people’s success. Teachers give information and which enlightens people and leads them to the right way. The teachers instill educational values and grant knowledge. The latter contribute to open up people’s minds and revive their desire to learn more and thrive.  The Irish author and poet William Butler Yeats stated that “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”.  I have decided to stay in this career because I believe that the fire mentioned here is the one that nurtures the human spirit and keeps it alert for continuous learning to be effective.  Like John Dewey, I am strongly convinced that “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

 

Andika Magazine: What can you advise young women in the same profession 

Consolata Nahimana: Continuous learning:Learning takes place at any age. Therefore, there is no age limit for learning. Further education; helps people in general and women in particular to thrive and to know how to stand for their rights. The more you learn, the more you become open-minded. Steven Paul Jobs contended that “there is always one more thing to learn”.  This is true because learning never takes an end; it is rather a lifelong process. Learning involves curiosity and the latter is the “wick in the candle”. While teaching, always raise your learners’ curiosity. Curiosity develops learners’ engagement and is the key to education.

Empathy and Love:Saint Paul to the Romans 12:15 urges people to “rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep”. Someone who is able to put themselves into other people’s feet, understand them and feel what they are feeling, cheer them up and encourage them knows empathy rule of thumb.

Scott Hayden commends that “teachers have three loves: love of learning, love of learners, and the love of bringing the first two loves together.” You need to be compassionate to your learners; the latter have emotions and their feelings. Therefore, you should avoid hurting them and become more understanding.

Hard work: There is a common saying that work ennobles man, so does hard work. The latter is always rewarding and teaching is not an exception when it is done the right way. Teaching requires serious preparation, knowledge of the learners’ level, of their expectations and needs. Hard work is a way to success; there is “no sweet without sweat”. If you as a teacher want to achieve your goals; you need to commit yourself to getting positive results. You should set your learning objectives properly; have good organizational skills and time management skills. As the learners are never identical, teachers foresee who need more or less attention.  However, in our Burundi context, you can find mixed ability learners, but you can try hard and satisfy their needs. In addition, you can face lack of school materials like books and that fact can make matters worse. It is up to you as the teacher to prevent this situation by borrowing or getting a copy from a colleague. In addition, handling large classes can be exacting; it is necessary for the teacher to get very good organizational skills for effective learning to take place.

 Be inspiring: What kind of person are you in front of the learners? Do you create a favorable learning environment? You may have your family or personal problems or you are probably experiencing some trouble. Remember that your learners have nothing to do with your problems or trouble. Ensure that you leave the latter outside the class and pick them up from where you left them as you go back home to deal with them. Be inspiring; motivate your learners more to make them different from the people they were before you met them. Create an impact on them. As stated earlier, a teacher is a special person who helps to change people’s lives and to thrive.  Henry Adams illustrates it well that:A teacher affects eternity: he can never tell where his influence stops.”  Be self-confident and trustworthy when you speak to them, have good communication and public speaking skills.

Remain positive: Normally, teachers should be positive people and if you are positive towards learners, the latter will also be positive about you. You have to encourage them as any learning situation can be stressful. Georgio Lozanov, a Bulgarian psychiatrist, with his Suggestopedia method puts forward that learners have some psychological barriers that teachers have to dessuggest. Simply rendered, they have to remove those barriers from the learners’ mind. Create a positive classroom atmosphere to help your learners feel secure and motivated to become successful.

Stick to your ethics and principles: For people who stick to their ethics and principles, success is obtainable. Teaching should be a calling not a stopgap while waiting for getting another job. Therefore, it has a code of ethics to be observed. Teachers should treat their learners in the same way, and avoid all kinds of discrimination. In other words, they have to give them fair treatment. You should pull your learners up instead of pushing them down. Abide by the teaching principles, teacher’s code of conduct and ethic should be the rule of thumb; teach efficiently to help the learners acquire knowledge and thrive.

Value your learners: A Buddhist philosopher and educator states that “It is much more valuable to look for the strength in others. You can gain nothing by criticizing their imperfections.”

When you have learners, whatever their background and level; all of them count in your eyes as their teacher. Whatever you think is the weakness they may have should be turned into strength because it enables you to be aware of ways and means to help them grow intellectually, morally, physically and psychologically.

 

Andika Magazine:What would be your comment about “Women’s International Day?

Consolata Nahimana: We will be celebrating The Women’s International Day and we often do so every year. We need to remember that some women sacrificed themselves in order for other women to live decently.  They contributed a lot to change the whole world. Therefore, whatever you are doing, ensure that you are contributing to make other people change their life and thrive. Thus, impact positively all those who come your way. Be yourself and value who you are as you are a special person. Strive for your dignity, respect and justice for yourself and for all. Like Bob Marley’s song: “get up and stand for your rights”, but do not become rebellious. Encourage, support other girls and women to join education. Women’s education transforms society; girls who have the opportunity to go to school and graduate become open minded, they are able to fight against some crooks who may want to cheat on them and spoil their life for good.

If I talk about women or girls, men and boys should not be left behind; they often think that every 8 March is only for us! I say no! It is for all of us. Therefore, we should join our hands and celebrate it together. Men [boys are included], you should remember that you are blessed as you were born from a woman. For that reason, I invite you to cherish her. She is your mother, your wife, your sister, your daughter, briefly, your colleague and friend. Stop battering her, nor subjecting her to any unnamed treatment.

 

The Editorial Team

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