I arrived at school to meet a colleague teacher deeply engrossed with something on his mobile phone. He barely heard my greeting; so, I asked, “what has taken your attention this early morning?” He smiled and replied, “I am reading some advert about the teacher prize competition.”
“In Ghana here?” I questioned in surprise. “Yes o,” he said with a laugh. I didn’t give it much thought because what I was privy to was only a district and regional level competition which was fraught with ‘deficiencies’.
I remember a particular year my head teacher asked me to apply, and I explained to him that the process wasn’t “genuine”. Some weeks on, my colleague teacher approached me to assist him with his application.
He read some headings and I explained what he should write about. He then said to me, “Won’t you apply?” I repeated that the system wasn’t fair to people who truly deserved the award. He nodded and walked off.
Schools were on vacation, and this colleague teacher called again for assistance with his write-up. I wondered why he hadn’t finished by then. He explained that there were ten essays in all to be written. And that the least was about 400 words.
I sighed and gave him the needed assistance. This time, he stressed that I should apply as well. “You are more than qualified for the award. Who knows, you might be lucky,” he added.
I thought about it and decided to give it a try. I went online and read all about it. Incidentally, it was a day to the deadline. The bulk of work that greeted my eyes nearly put me off, but as I began writing I got more and more interested. I finished the day after and submitted it.
As the weeks and months wore on, I went on with my daily routines at work. I was at a training workshop in Kumasi when I received a call from a lady at the National Teaching Council (NTC) to submit my professional passport picture. I was taken aback so I questioned the purpose. All she said was that she will be sending me a mail.
I waited for about an hour for the mail. The subject of the mail was the ‘Ghana Teacher Prize’. That was when I remembered the forms I had submitted in April. I forwarded my passport picture and went on with my duties.
I was still skeptical. Then two weeks later, I got a text message to participate in the launch of the Ghana Teacher Prize. I did and, to my amazement, saw my picture and profile among the top 23 finalists. I was beside myself with disbelief and joy (jumping and screaming for all to hear).
Congratulatory messages and well-wishes started flowing in.
A WhatsApp platform was created for us, and interview dates were scheduled. In fact, the platform was very formal and closed-ended, so there wasn’t any room for informal communication with the organisers. That suited me best because I knew nobody at NTC and wasn’t planning on going through the back door with a ‘brown envelope’.
The list of items to present for the interview was another huge hurdle to cross. Documents, books, and teaching aids dated five years and three years back (attendance books, lesson notebooks, SBA, BECE, and WASSCE results, among many others) were to be presented as evidence. Having taught in different regions in the past five years, I had to travel to my previous schools for the requested documents and books.
The challenge was intensified by the fact that schools were on vacation and contestants had less than a week to assemble the items for the interview. I put in every effort to get all of them, with the assistance of my head teachers.
It was at the interview that it finally dawned on me that the organisers really meant business and were truly out to seek for outstanding teachers. Before the interview sessions, they assembled us and allayed all our fears by stating succinctly the kind of questions they were going to ask.
They went on to assure us that they weren’t after questions on pedagogies, teaching ethics, laws, and all other technical stuffs. Indeed, that took a huge sigh off my chest. For I had spent the previous evening reading about the history of the Ghana Teacher Prize, GES code of ethics, among many others.
During the interview itself, the panel’s professionalism was at its peak. Realising that I was nervous in the beginning, they began asking questions on my background, then my teaching career, community involvement, why I do the things I do, and so forth. As I spoke, they critically went through the materials, documents, and books that I have sent along for proof.
It was so conversational I didn’t even realise an hour had passed. Then I taught briefly on adverbs, using the panel as ‘my classroom learners’. They made the lesson very lively and fun. They did their work so diligently and with tact.
Afterwards, we were assured of the final announcement of the winners during the grand durbar on the 5th of October. And that was it. The organisers gave no room for communication with them in any manner. So formal and professional was the entire process that I felt “it wasn’t happening in Ghana”.
Indeed, a chat with majority of the other contestants revealed that they had the same experience (they didn’t know anyone at NTC, didn’t pass through any middlemen, didn’t receive any communication on the final winners, etc).
To cap it all, there was a two-day symposium preceding the grand durbar. I was fortunate to be among five others selected to present our ‘stories’. With 15 slides and allotted 10 minutes, I made my presentation just as the other competitors.
Indeed, the presentations by a section of the competitors, if well-scheduled would have quelled a lot of doubts in the minds of audience gathered and those participating from across the nation. Comments from some of the people were,
- “These contestants truly deserve to win the award.”
- “Such selfless service to their learners and communities.”
- “These presentations should have been delivered in the morning when the auditorium was fully packed, and not to an almost empty auditorium at 4:00pm.”
Quite interesting enough, when we were invited on the podium to introduce ourselves, the audience grumbled whenever contestants from Accra took their turn (because they felt they were too many among the top 23 finalists). They questioned, “why everything Accra, Accra? It is not fair.”
At this, the master of ceremony, had to take his time to explain the process to the audience. They were however not satisfied with his explanations and continued quibbling after the session. As I observed these scenes, I noted to myself that if this audience had sat to listen to the presentations of the awardees later in the afternoon, or better still if the organisers had scheduled the presentations much earlier their doubts would have been erased totally.
The presentations by the awardees is a huge testimony by NTC and the Ghana Teacher Prize organisers that lends credence to their integrity and professionalism. They left no room for ‘finger-pointing’.
I personally want to congratulate the Registrar of NTC and the chairperson for the Ghana Teacher Prize (GTP) for such a sterling organization. Even if a single staff knew the final winners of the competition, none let it slip but were all tight-lipped till the final day.
It takes a great deal of effort to manage an entire staff to uphold such oath of secrecy and integrity, especially in Ghana. Indeed, other organisers of similar competitions must emulate the work of NTC and the GTP team.
To my colleague teachers, this is very genuine. No “middlemen”. The National Teaching Council is truly looking for the best. So, if you believe you have contributed immensely to the teaching profession, please don’t hesitate to apply next year. You will surely win.
There is light down the tunnel, all hope isn’t lost after all. The fight against corruption, nepotism, favouritism, and the like can indeed be won.
Thank you NTC and the entire GTP team for showing the way. Long live the Ghana Education Service.
The author was the First Runner-Up in the 2022 Ghana Teacher Prize (GTP).
Fati Issifu is the first runner-up in the 2022 Ghana Teacher Prize