“Those marks can’t take him anywhere!” Nambi felt as she took the result slip of her son, Ntambi, disappointed. He was in a school where kids were forced through a regime of caning and haranguing them to excel through nonstop reading. But this trick had failed to work on her boy. She called up her trusted friend Eliza, who was a retired educationist. “Where can I find another good school that can beat Ntambi to make the right grades, particularly maths. All the beating and 24/7 reading is not getting him anywhere.”
Eliza took a while before responding. From the little she knew about Ntambi there was no doubt he was a gifted kid, but who seemed a bit demotivated for some reason. The trick might be in finding the right environment, she thought. Although most of everyone believed in the cane, there were schools she knew of that had started using other non-conventional methods, emphasizing a more holistic approach. Just then one school with a certain foreign teacher crossed her mind. “Have you heard of Booker College School,” Eliza asked.
“No,” Nambi said. “Why, would you ask, do kids there make the right score!”
“Mostly,” said Eliza. “It has a Japanese teacher from the Japanese Overseas Development Network. I hear she is doing wonders with kids like Ntambi who seem not motivated, yet not for lack of talent.”
Nambi trusted Eliza’s instincts and decided to give it a shot. Next Monday without much explaining she told Ntambi to jump in the car. “I want us to try another school that can help you get the right grades for Engineering School. Isn’t it what you said you want!”
“Hmm,” Ntambi shrugged. “So, which school are you talking about. I am happy where I am.”
“Booker College School,” his mother shared. “There are doing amazing things with kids everyone had given up on but who then pass with flying distinction.”
Ntambi shrugged and stepped into the car, not in the least keen. Eliza had warned Nambi that the school had a tight admission policy. “The point is even if the Headmaster lets you in,” she cautioned her, “It is Miss Morita, the Japanese woman, to allow you in her class.”
Indeed once they got to the school the Head Master, Mr Jack Male, after perusing through Ntambi’s grades directed Nambi to see Miss Morita. “I believe we can help him but it will all depend on what she says.”
When they got to Miss Morita’s class they had to wait as she finished seeing some of her students. They could hear her talk excitedly explaining certain numerical concepts. After the class was through she then called in the prospective parent and student. She asked for Ntambi’s last grade.
“Why have you chosen to come here?” She queried while going through his results slip.
“He wasn’t doing well but I was told you can help him here,” said his mother.
“I want him to speak!” Miss Morita cut Nambi short. “Sir, why do you want to come here?”
“I don’t know,” Ntambi confessed. “They just told me to come!”
“Come on Ntambi!” Nambi turned to her son astonished and embarrassed.
There was a moment of silence.
“I shall take him on!” Miss Morita said shocking both.
Nambi turned to her, quite incredulous. “Thank you so much,” she said after going over her surprise.
Meanwhile, Ntambi was not enthused. Once he joined the school he sat at the back of the class, quite aloof. Whenever he was asked to contribute to anything he seemed like waking out of a deep slumber. However, she noticed that Miss Morita had a rather interesting way of teaching. Her class was pinned with posters that read “I can do it!” or “Yes I can!” She always started her class with some inspirational story and for every problem, she gave a local example. “Think of yourself as a banker and you need to raise so much funds for your business,” she would relate to various aspects that caught Ntambi’s imagination. “What kind of interest rate would you afford?” This sounded so real. He would wake from his slumber and try to figure the right answer.
On certain occasions, Miss Morita would invite students to her single flat, which was a story up on one of the dormitories. Whenever Ntambi visited, he was captivated as it was filled with paintings and all kinds of artifacts. During one visit there, Ntambi was struck when he noticed a picture of a little girl doing gymnastics. “Is that you?” He asked after discerning a certain resemblance.
“Yes,” Miss Morita nodded, inviting Ntambi to sit down for a cup of tea. Ntambi was rather hesitant. He had grown up in awe of teachers, whom he generally feared because of the cane. But there was something disarming about this light-skinned petite woman from overseas. He sat and took a tea cup. “How far did you go as a gymnast?” He asked, still curious.
“Actually I made it to the national team and even went for the Olympics,” Miss Morita confessed, with a bright smile.
“Did you win?” Ntambi asked. He loved athletic competitions. “Did you get any medal?”
“No, something happened,” Miss Morita said, her voice filled with a tinge of sadness.
“What happened!” Ntambi pressed her.
“I had a coach who believed in me,” Miss Morita went on to explain. “She taught and led me through all the jumps. I had lost my parents early in life and she was everything to me. I adored her and wouldn’t think of letting her down. But during the qualifying event I woke with a fever and while leaping for a triple jump I suddenly lost concentration and faltered. I could not progress to the next round…”
“Oh!” Ntambi mumbled, quite sorry. “What did your coach do!”
“She just run over and hugged me” Miss Morita said. “She didn’t say anything, just wrapped her arms all around me. She didn’t blame or scream at me. She just held me tight! The rest of the team went on to win medals.”
“Did you compete again?” Ntambi asked. “Since it was just a bad turn!”
“No,” Miss Morita said. “I could not see myself letting her down again. After that fall I run to the locker room and cried myself out. I had let down the only person who believed in me and my team. I then decided to take a break and that is how I ended up here to help nurture gifted and special kids like you.”
Something hit Ntambi now. This teacher had said he was gifted and special. No one had ever told him that. He had already observed how Miss Morita was giving her all to all her students. She would call on her students anytime to see how they were doing. Never would she miss a class. Above all to every child she would say she believed in him, even with the worst performance. “You are gifted and special and can do better!”
That night Ntambi picked up his books, he normally ignored. He started reading with a relish that if there was anything he could not afford to, was to let down this petite woman, who believed in him. Whenever he had any problem Ntambi would call Miss Morita and she was available. In fact, she constantly came up to the classes late during Prep time to help any students with a problem. Together they would crunch out solutions.
On the eve of the final exam Miss Morita set up an extra class and took it through a number of “the most difficult problems” and how to tackle them. After she was done she put her chalk down. “My part is done,” she said with confidence. “It is all yours now.”
Next day as Ntambi started at his exam paper, he first browsed through all numbers. Initially he could not recognize any familiar. His started sweating. He could feel his knees knocking. He was going to fail. But just then he remembered Miss Morita and how she had said he was gifted and special. How could he let her down! No, he couldn’t. At that point something took over him. He went through the numbers again. Suddenly they were all familiar and with renewed confidence found he could work out the right answers. He bent, and went for each, furiously working out solutions. When the final bell rung he had completed all.
The results came out after a month of marking by the national exam body. Ntambi went to pick up his results with his mother found he had scored a distinction. Before heading back home he asked his mother to see one teacher. “Stay here while I bring her up to you.”
He sprinted off to Miss Morita’s flat. He stepped to the door and knocked. There was no response. He knocked hard again. No response.
He started walking to the staff room, hoping to find her there. But just then a car approached and soon drove past him. He thought he had seen someone inside of a familiar face. He looked back and there was Miss Morita waving back at him. She was off back to Japan, her mission done. The entire class had passed with distinction. And soon the car was gone, leaving behind a dusty trail.
“She has gone,” Ntambi shared with his mother. “Miss Morita who believed in me and has made me pass.”
“I see that!” Nambi agreed.
“Before I met her I just had no interest in school work and didn’t believe in myself,” he confessed. “But when I saw how she wanted me to succeed I knew I could not afford to let her down. I am gifted and special.”