I could not wait for Thursday….we still had two whole days; how on earth could he do such a thing? We still had 40 minutes for the lesson, he was barely there for 20! What teacher leaves his class unattended and not appoint a monitor for the rest of the period?… All of these thoughts ran through my head all at once, and I was already thinking of my new assignment. Having read Oliver Twist the previous year was purely  for the pleasure of it.

All that I got out of it was that poverty knew no borders or boundaries, and that wickedness and corruption equally found its way right up to the white peoples countryside as well. I remember all of the children and their unfortunate existence and it reminded me so much of mine in some ways…..seeing that I lived at the mercy of which ever stepmom was in command at that time. Their plight was all too familiar with my environment, all you had to do was step outside; and you would see it every where.

Child labour, abject poverty and destitution beyond your imagination, and the unfortunate victims were the most defenseless, most vulnerable…children. The sad irony was that oftentimes, their own mothers and fathers put them into these; because their own parents knew no other way than that…….and the cycle just continues.To now write about the moral and  psychological opinions and implications I had about this same subject proved to be a big challenge for me….how exactly do I begin to do this? What could I possibly write that would make an impression on the man who had  managed in the brief twenty or so minutes of encounter to put me in awe of him.

The rest of the class period went by quickly and then we had biology labs, and agricultural science, that meant lots of stink and chicken poo…..another topic I might add. When the bell went for the day at 2:55, I was ready to go home: home being my dorm room of course.Thursday came and as the day progressed, am very sure that I was not the only person waiting anxiously, but also eagerly for  12:55, last period double literature.

Time finally came and precisely on the clock, he walks into class. We all rise as is customary when a teacher enters for class, we remain standing until instructed to sit. When he did, he started to speak immediately. He went on about the age and time and period Dickens wrote his book, and pointed out the style of the grammar and then went on to tell us that the book was obviously satirical and that was the basis of his challenge to us.Everyone handed in their paper and the first ten minutes or so he glanced through some of the papers ,putting about three or four to the left, and the rest he left in a pile. We read two more chapters of Oliver twist, he would call a name from the register and after 4 or five minutes of reading, he would call on another. when  we concluded  the two chapters, he got up and asked us to introduce ourselves.

We were 32 in my class, and 32 young men and women introduced themselves, feeling quite grown up I might add. After the introductions, he said to indicate by show of hands those of us who wanted to be writers or teachers. Around half the class raised their hands, and he said “very good”; now can the rest of you tell me what profession if any at this time you would be interested to pursue in your future?One by one each remaining student said their piece, with him asking a question here or there to a few people. When they had finished, he cleared his voice and spoke again”..now that we all know each other properly, class can begin”. He divided us into three groups which he called Alpha. Beta, and Kappa. Mr Andy then told us that he really did not like to teach…he preferred  to say that we were all trying to discover.

He said that everyone had an interpretation to an object or observation, irrespective of it’s original or initial intent, the receptor being the human, had the sole right to discern what he wanted to from it.So based on that, he wanted us all to be thinkers……”convince me, he said”, make me see what you see…I may not agree with you, but I will understand you…and after that, we can do it the curriculum way, so you get your passing grades, and also attain the purpose of being here in the first place, an education.

The groups were to work together to form the three classes in Dickens times….the royals, the court and the lower class. We were to present our perspectives of that time and our rational and reasons for why we lived and behaved a certain way . This was 1980’s Nigeria. What we had to eventually present to Mr Andy had to be our best understanding of Dickens tales and somehow try to equate it to our modern reality.I know…..this sounds far to advanced for 11,12 and some 13 year olds; it sounded more like what a second year university student would be expected to do….but we were buzzed with excitement.

If there was one thing Mr Andy was good at, it was making you eager to try anything without fear or reservations; his enthusiasm and optimism was intoxicating.So began my love for literature and groups Alpha, Beta and Kappa went on to produce very outstanding  contributions in our joint quest to discoveries, and very different but compelling arguments about our classes and what ills or good we gave society. This was a dialogue no particular group could possibly win, but it achieved something that taboos and societal dictates forbade; human beings, irrespective of class or creed, talking and interacting as should be.

Those were some 32 years ago and a far cry of what my world is today; but the lessons I learnt from that single teacher in the 8 months of that academic year, are the same ones which made me what I am today. My Dickens class taught me love, respect, discretion, integrity and dignified human life. I learnt loyalty and confidentiality, I learnt not to be afraid to show my emotions, be it anger, fear, dislike or love……”Convince Me”, those were Mr Andy’s words….. I learnt how to convince people and make them see me.