By Humphrey Njoku, bird story agency
Disturbed by the way she’s observed teachers were being treated, 12-year old Chimamanda Yvonne Anyagwa, decided to be a change agent by writing a novel chronicling the struggles teachers face within the school environment.
Amanda, as she likes to be called, always wanted to be a teacher. Inspired by her mother, Carol Anyagwa, a lecturer in English Literature at the University of Lagos, Anyagwa grew up admiring the teaching profession. But before she had finished primary school, she saw that teachers, despite their critical role in society, were not accorded the respect they deserved.
“I was observant. I usually observed teachers, how students treat them anyhow; and how parents just do anything they like in a teacher’s class, in a teacher’s presence,” Amanda said sadly, during an interview about her new publication.
“I want to be a change agent, so for me to make a change in the life of teachers, I decided to write the novel,” she added.
In 2018, Amanda picked up her pencil and diary and started jotting down notes, including her thoughts on the way teachers were treated shabbily by pupils, parents, employers, and society.
“The head of the schools, they don’t treat teachers well, they respect parents more than teachers, because the parents are paying money,” Amanda explained.
She was concerned that teachers and academics, like her mother, who has a doctorate, would stop teaching altogether if conditions deteriorated further.
“No one will want to become a teacher; why should they if this is how teachers are treated?” she asked rhetorically.
Two years later, in 2020, at the age of 10, those notes became the basis for a novel, “Behind the Walls”.
The 97-page book is a work of fiction in which Amanda explores what goes in and around a classroom and school.
Published by KT Publishers Limited in Nigeria, it is based on the day to day experience of a teacher and looks at her life in the classroom and how she navigates relationships between the pupils, school administration and the parents.
Amanda also talks about such vices as bullying, gossip, and noise, besides the reality of homework and examination.
“‘Behind the Walls’ is… about the teachers’ struggle, the problems in Nigeria, mostly based in schools,” she said.
“I wrote this book to teach Nigerians mostly how to treat teachers. It has other morals; it teaches us kindness, learning, and avoiding jealousy; it tells us that no matter how down you feel, you can still stand up,” she added.
To depict the plight of teachers, the main protagonist is the quintessential teacher, Beauty Ugochukwu – referred to throughout the book as Miss B – who teaches pupils “kindness, generosity and interest in education”. Miss B later gets fired but never gives up on doing what she loves: teaching.
According to Amanda, teachers help to shape society, yet despite that crucial role, are unappreciated.
“Teachers should be given more attention; they should be appreciated because it’s a teacher who teaches others to become teachers; teachers also bring up other professions,” Amanda explained.
“It is teachers who taught the doctors, teachers taught the president, so we all need teachers,” she added.
Many Nigerians today share in Amanda’s observations that teachers are not given the respect and appreciation they deserve.
Ndidi Chiazor-Enenmor, an award-winning author of many children’s books, explains that one of the most vital points in the novel is its ability to convincingly dramatise the excessive interference that teachers have to deal with from parents, while also working and in a society that is increasingly becoming morally bankrupt.
“Behind the Walls, is, by any standard, very interesting and instructive; the young author, through the agency of fiction, adds her voice to the unceasing and sensitive discourse on school and home,” Chiazor-Enenmor said.
While writing the book was in itself an achievement, for Amanda, the biggest challenge was balancing her time between classwork, playing with friends, and writing.
“I spent sleepless nights digging up information for the book,” she recalled.
Fortunately, some of that information was readily available to her, growing up in an academic environment.
“Writing is a passion ignited in me at quite an early age; I grew up in a university community and a home full of books,” said the child author.
“The rich collection of storybooks in and around me boosted my love for reading,” she added.
Despite her newfound fame as a published child author, has far bigger ambitions: she dreams of space science.
“As an author, I focus on things close to me; I want to be an astronaut; I can write about space and global warming,” she said.
Now a Junior Secondary Student at Maria Bellavenne Catholic College, Amanda is currently working on two other books, which she hopes will also influence perceptions and stir conversations around the injustices in society.
“I just like writing and reading stories; reading stories inspired me, so if I write stories, I will inspire other people,” she said, her face alight with hope.