There's a school in Mombasa, Sheikh Khalifa I think, which scored a mean of 9.03 in last year's KCSE, with three As and 38 A-. The headteacher, when interviewed by a local daily, atttibuted the success to a benchmarking trip the teachers took last year to Kabarak High School to learn the secret behind getting As in the national exam. He said they discovered the teachers at Kabarak are not jokers. "Those teachers are working. They are performers." Ever seen the way teachers in those high performing national schools dance crazy on the day exam results are released? It's because they have been working as hard as, may be harder than, the learners. The headteacher at Kapsabet Boys High School too applauded the teachers for working very hard to consistently deliver great results in national exams. Hardwork clearly makes great teachers. The other hallmark of great teaching is working closely with your learners. Great teachers are invested. They know who is struggling from a broken home, who is truly too poor to afford a new uniform, who is depressed and by what. Global Teacher of the Year Peter Tabichi summed it up this way in an interview with the World Bank: "It is all about having confidence in the student. Every child has potential, a gift or a talent. I try to engage students in various activities and mentor them. It is not a matter of telling them “do this” and then walking away. You need to work with them closely." Third, great teachers build confidence in their learners. A teacher in the UK had his entire class score A+ in Maths. The students said the teacher had them do the hardest math problems in class and by exam time, he assured them there is no math problem they could not solve. He gave them confidence in their abilities to handle any math question. The teachers I will never forget loved me, cared about my success more than I did myself and helped me see the greatness in me. They are teachers who took time, who went beyond the call of duty. The first has to be my nursery school teacher because she wiped my snotty nose and made me feel part of the pack despite my miniscule size and joining her class in the middle of the year. Whenever I meet Teacher Nkinga she is still very proud of me and speaks to me like a mother. Her passion will always stand out. She loved being in that classroom. And we loved being in her class. She was patient with us - we never felt like the rowdy pee-smelling fighting bullying bunch of brats we were. It reminds me of a story I heard recently about an education researcher who visited a high performing school in the US to collect data on the good grades and high discipline. "We love the brats," answered the headteacher. Good teachers love their brats. Then there was Mr Njagi. He loved us enough to beat the laziness out of us. I lived across the fence from my primary school but I'd still get late for school. But I feared Mr Njagi's wrath more than I feared the school bulls whenever I had to sneak through the fence to beat the bell. That man was passionate about children under him. So passionate he knew everything about everyone in that school, whose catchment area spanned a radius of 5km. You'd be roasting maize at night and Mr Njagi would show up at your kitchen door to ask why you were not studying. He gave the parents hell too if they failed to buy exercise books or paraffin for studying at night. Mr Njagi knew who was out at the shops at night, who wrote a letter to who, what you ate for dinner even how many times you went to the latrines. He was loud and funny and theatrical and always cleanshaven, his bald head shining from a mile away. Passion, hardwork, discipline, invested, the extra mile, consistency, results. Such teachers want our success even more than we want it ourselves. Those are the great teachers. I'll skip the Class 8 English teacher whom we loved because he was young and and had a nice smile. Or the teachers we flirted with in high school as we started to learn that a man's attention is something. The teacher whose story I keep retelling, the one who actually inspired this article, is my Form Three maths teacher Mr Nchunge. It's a miracle I remember his name because we bullied him and gave him nicknames from words he shrubbed. He was straight from college and was yet to be fazed and jaded by teaching high school girls. You see for the longest I was that kid who never understood Maths. I used to score C in Maths since primary school, the only downer in my otherwise stellar academic performance. I didn't have a brain for Math, I believed. This trend continued through Form One and Two. Can you believe I struggled to understand integers! Elementary math. That word integers sounded like theoritic physics. Then we got this new teacher in Form Three and Mr Nchunge revised with us all Form One and Two work and made Maths look easy. He then set a real easy exam and we passed. I scored a 72 per cent from my usual circles of 54 per cent. For the first time I believed I could pass Maths. Next assessmemt I scored 80 per cent. I never scored below A- after that even after we got a new teacher in Form Four. My Maths hex had been lifted by that shy bullied shrubbing teacher. He made me believe in myself. He made me believe my success was important. He made me taste my potential. I hear he now teaches at Mang'u. I hail you Mr Nchunge. That's the difference a teacher can make. I wrote this to encourage a young man who may be looking down on a career in teaching. If there is a person with the power to create change, influence an entire generation, thats a teacher. Teachers change lives. They shape careers and destinies. They shape society. They can become the parent figures for kids whose homes are a mess. Their word is more respected than Mommy's and daddy's. So if you see a door opening to the teaching field, dont spurn it. You have an opportunity to mentor and teach beyond clasroom material. You can be the reason kids grow up conscious about the environment or about peace, or gender equity, or self confidence or science, or even maths. Teachers are our unsung heroes. Your legacy will extend beyond your classroom into future boardrooms, offices, homes, hospitals, wherever you inspire your students to go.