Story: The Education of Sir Q

This orig­i­nally appeared on mis​ter​agye​man​.blogspot​.com on March 31, 2015.

I got this title in my head, and decided to try and write a chil­dren’s book to fit it. It was a fun project, and I enjoyed the nos­tal­gia it brought. But then my brave vet­eran laptop gave up the ghost, and I sort of let the enthu­si­asm grow cold. So here’s as far as I got.

The new teacher came on Tuesday. The chil­dren watched him through the win­dows as the head­mistress led him to his assign­ment. He was to be the class teacher for 5A. On Friday, the class said good­bye to their pre­vi­ous teacher Sir Justice. There was much crying, and promis­ing. The chil­dren had cried because they loved him. The teach­ers had felt like crying, because the chil­dren obeyed him. But Sir Justice had left to get his Master’s degree.

His replace­ment should have showed up on Monday, but he called to say that he had malaria. So the chil­dren had to be super­vised by the head­mistress of the pri­mary depart­ment. Of course, she was too busy to stay with them, and the chil­dren soon forgot their promises to Sir Justice. There was some talk­ing. There was a little inci­dent as well, involv­ing ink from a broken pen. When Miss Baah came back, she pressed her lips together in that way she had. Then she made them put their heads on the table, and picked up the long wooden pointer in the corner. As she walked up the aisles, sharp squeals of pain marked her progress.

The chil­dren didn’t much like Miss Baah.

‘And here we are’, Miss Baah was saying. The new man hes­i­tated in the door­way, patted his thighs ner­vously, and walked in.

‘Good morn­ing, class’, Miss Baah said. The man patted his thigh again, and waved a little wave.

‘Good morn­ing’, the class said. They sounded polite, but they were really feel­ing mutinous.

‘Class, this is your new teacher.’ He was qui­etly stand­ing behind her, but she held his arm and pulled him for­ward. ‘Class, say hello!’

Children only say hello when they are very happy indeed. They mum­bled ‘Good morn­ing’, and the new man beamed from behind his glasses.

The head­mistress told the chil­dren to be quiet, because they were leav­ing- but their teacher would soon come back, and then they’d all get to know each other. Then she asked the new man if that wasn’t right, and he nodded and shook his head all at once, still beam­ing weirdly. Then they left.

The class soon began to buzz with rebel­lion. That man couldn’t pos­si­bly replace Sir Justice, they said. This is what came of being so good this past term. People had for­got­ten who they were.

They talked about the look of this new man. He looked ordi­nary at first, but his side­burns were just a bit too thick. His belt was just a bit too high. His head was a little bul­bous, and his brow slightly heavy. Also, he leaned for­ward as he walked, and his arms swung out­wards. If you didn’t know what to look for, you would think he was per­fectly normal- but Class 5A wasn’t fooled. They knew they had been given a weakling.

The dis­con­tent grew, and still the new man did not return. Soon, First Break came. The chil­dren gen­er­ously waited for two min­utes after the bell, and then they shrugged and went out.

With the break-over, all the chil­dren returned to their classes in the warm glow of good nutri­tion. The new man was writ­ing at the board when 5A came in. They gath­ered behind him and watched brood­ingly as he dec­o­rated his ‘Hello!!’ with green and pink chalk.

When he turned around, he flinched a little at find­ing thirty-five blank faces observ­ing him. Then three voices jumped out from the mob.

‘You are sup­posed to write the date.’


‘And the subject.’

The teacher raised his hand to speak, and paused; they had a point. He pinched his nose, con­sulted his new timetable, wrote ‘SOCIAL STUDIES’ and ‘Tuesday, 4th May’ at the top of the board, and under­lined it with one nice wiggly line. Then he turned again. They were still there.

‘Let’s all just sit –‘

‘What is your name?’


‘Your name?’

He felt he had been dis­re­spected some­how, but he couldn’t be sure how. He pinched his nose again and considered.

‘What does your father call you?’

Okay. That was def­i­nitely dis­re­spect. But the girl who had said it looked so sweet and help­ful. The new man decided to fix things with laugh­ter. He believed in the power of laugh­ter. He also believed he was funny.

‘Well’, he said cheer­fully, ‘my father calls me Junior!’

The chil­dren muf­fled little gig­gles, and the new man grinned confidently.

One short girl didn’t laugh. She shot him a pity­ing look of dis­ap­point­ment. ‘Junior is not a name’, she informed him.

Behind her, a young man gasped. ‘But my name is Junior!’ The girl turned and shook a tiny fist under his nose, and he fell silent.

‘So we should call you Sir Junior?’ 

The new man frowned gently at the annoyed little girl. He didn’t like this game, and he dis­liked that ‘Sir’ thing. He had hoped he wouldn’t have to deal with it.

In the little silence, some of the chil­dren gig­gled uncom­fort­ably. But the sweet girl piped up again.

‘Just write all your name on the board’, she offered.

The new man turned to the board, and the chil­dren watched as he wrote ‘Xavier Quarshiga’ and under­lined it.

Somebody mum­bled, ‘How do you spell that?’

The patient man demon­strated, draw­ing out the syl­la­bles one by one as he drew another line under the name. He turned back and nodded encour­ag­ingly, expect­ing the chil­dren to sing it out back to him. They did not.

The little girl shook her head. ‘You can’t say it like that. You can’t say the ‘X’ like that. It has to be together.’

The teacher frowned, then shook his head help­lessly as the chil­dren decided to do with that ‘X’. Finally he clapped his hands together and said, ‘Class! Just call me Mister –

‘– Sir.’


‘It’s not Mister. It is Sir.’

‘… call me Sir Quarshiga, okay?’

Everybody con­sid­ered this pro­posal for a while, and seemed to like it. But the young lady with the dis­ap­prov­ing eyes shook her head. ‘It’s too long.’

He stared at her.

‘It’s too long. You have to do, like– Sir Paul. Or Sir Justice.’

He stared at her some more.

‘What’s your name?’

She stared back at him. With little gig­gles, half the class mur­mured, ‘Jessica’, and the other half said ‘Mama Jay’. She turned and threat­ened this other half with her little fist.

Mister Xavier Junior Quarshiga laughed. ‘Oh? I see.’ He turned and picked up the chalk again. ‘Then you can call me… Sir Q.’

Everybody gig­gled qui­etly, but the girl’s eyes glinted. ‘Okay, your name is Circle.’ She looked around at her mates, who duti­fully giggled.

Sir Q’s nos­trils flared as he qui­etly said, ‘That isn’t even funny. Do you want to go outside?’ 

Miss Baah had told him to do that in emer­gen­cies. Children found out­side were sent to Sir Frank, the school’s whip­ping cham­pion. Jessica said noth­ing after that, but her silence was the silence of a martyr.

Sir Q real­ized he had made his first enemy.

“They gath­ered behind him and watched broodingly.”

Things did not improve on the second day. At Ascension Primary & JSS, Wednesday was both PE Day and Worship Day. When he heard the chil­dren gal­lop­ing through the cor­ri­dor after one hour of stamp­ing on the Devil and two hours of mil­i­tary exer­cises with Sir Frank, Sir Q’s stom­ach felt funny.

Jessica appeared in the door­way, and headed straight for his desk in the corner. She wore a smile that made him feel small.

‘Good morn­ing sir!’

‘Good morn­ing, Jessica. How are you?’

She ignored him. Jabbing a finger over his head, she said, ‘What is that?’

He fol­lowed her finger to the wall behind him. ‘Oh yes, Jessica. That is the Ghana map.’

‘You brought it?’

‘Yes, I did. And that is the human anatomy. Do you like them?’

Again she ignored him. ‘Has Miss Baah seen them?’

He watched her care­fully before answer­ing. ‘I’m sure she will see them soon.’

Jessica smiled mys­te­ri­ously and skipped away. Arriving at her desk, she said, ‘Your Ghana map is removing.’

The walls of the class­rooms were painted with a spe­cial kind of emul­sion which seemed to hate Sellotape. Sir Q had used up a whole roll in putting up four posters. Now he sighed as the Northern region of Ghana brushed his hair.

The plump boy from yes­ter­day jogged up, with his face dotted with a mil­lion beads of sweat. He had such a help­ful look about him; he seemed to be saying, ‘We have to stick together, we Juniors.’ Now he stuck out his tongue and removed a large wad of chew­ing gum, which he kindly offered to his name­sake. Sir Q’s eyes went wide.

‘Sir, try it. It can stick anything.’

Sir Q shook his head gently and asked him to not to chew gum in class. Junior slapped at his mouth in regret because he had for­got­ten this impor­tant rule. He nodded vig­or­ously and he jogged back to his desk, under which he firmly placed the gum. This went against another impor­tant rule, but Sir Q didn’t notice; he was meet­ing all his pupils as Class 5A slowly filled.

Class 5A was a proud class. They often won foot­ball matches against other classes; last week, they had even drawn nil-nil with JSS 1. The mem­bers of the team were rewarded with hon­ourable nick­names. Their cap­tain was called Agama, and the keeper was called Spiderman. There were other ani­mals and super­heroes in the col­lec­tion too. The class clown was a spe­cial case: he responded to many names, includ­ing Umbrella and Kakalika. Most of the names had some­thing to do with the inter­est­ing shape of his head. Then there was the con­fi­dent, quiet young man with the begin­nings of a mous­tache who was respect­fully known as Killer.

Nicknames often spell trou­ble for a teacher. If you insist on call­ing a proud young man by his baby name, he might decide to hate you. But Sir Q was amused by the names, and won many hearts by asking for the sto­ries behind them.

These intro­duc­tions went on until Jessica- called Mama Jay by the brave and reck­less- primly asked if it wasn’t time for Spelling. It was, of course. Sir Q cleared his throat and asked every­body to sit down, and called for the book mon­i­tor. Jessica grace­fully arose and glided to the cup­board at the back, from which she began dis­trib­ut­ing exer­cise books. The class grew quiet; 5A and spelling didn’t mix. Sir Q soon got to know this.

‘Spell angrily’, he would say. 

A few heads would duck down and their pens would furi­ously write. Jessica was in this small group. But many more heads would snap up and look at the black­board. Then they would look at the ceil­ing. Then they would try very hard to look at somebody’s work while pre­tend­ing to be deep in thought. Junior was in this category.

‘Angrily’, Sir Q would gently repeat.

Junior and his kind would mouth the word, nod, and care­fully write. Then they would tap their pens against their pens, chew the cap a little, and make a cor­rec­tion. In some cases they would stare angrily at the word on the paper, won­der­ing how it got there, and angrily scratch it out. Then the process would begin again.

It was a slow process, and Sir Q became absorbed in it. Things moved quite slowly, until he had to speed up at the end. Jessica noticed. When she brought the books to his desk, she asked him why he went so slow. He resented the ques­tion, and told her so. She arranged her mouth in a prim line and informed him that spelling has to be fast. That’s how Sir Justice did it. She glided back to her seat as he began to mark.

Sir Q began to think that he didn’t like this Sir Justice.

As he marked, his heart sunk. He was a lover of English, and these chil­dren seemed afraid of it. Often the chil­dren would make a close guess, cancel it, and go on to create a very sur­pris­ing thing. Children who don’t like spelling use pho­net­ics. This can be a dan­ger­ous tool in the hands of a des­per­ate child. Instead of ‘pieces’, one girl wrote a very rude word.

He called each child to his desk and gave them their books, with a little advice for some. When he called Jessica, she bounced up cheer­fully and asked loudly, ‘What did I get?’ Sir Q told her to look inside. She informed him that Sir Justice always let them mark. He tapped his pen against the table and told her to return to her desk. She’d gotten 18 cor­rect, the second high­est in the class.

With a soft sigh, Sir Q checked his timetable. Next period, French. He cleaned the board and put away his books, then went to the door­way to greet a cheer­ful little man in a bowtie. As the chil­dren cho­rused ‘Bonjour Maysway’, he went to see Miss Baah for some comfort.

Miss Baah had a small sanc­tu­ary, next to the staff common room. It was a com­fort­able place with a little tele­vi­sion and a com­puter on a table, and a small neat cab­i­net beside it. Children never went in there; all their prob­lems stopped next door. Even teach­ers rarely went in there.

Sir Q could sense that he wasn’t exactly wel­come, but he per­se­vered. He asked for wisdom con­cern­ing spelling (yes, of course you do it fast – that’s how you know they know), ‘Mental’ (even faster – keeps them sharp), and the chil­dren of his class.

‘Jessica? Jessica Sarpong. Any problem?’

‘Hmm. I don’t even know.’ Sir Q leaned in con­fi­den­tially. ‘You see, I don’t even like lash­ing, but –‘

‘– You can’t lash her’, Miss Baah hissed, fiercely wag­ging her forefinger.

‘I don’t want to, trust me. But she keeps –‘

‘– Hmm. Mister Quarshiga, that girl is a spe­cial case.’ She nodded primly and whis­pered, ‘Sickler!’


‘Yes!’ The prim nod was repeated. ‘You can’t touch her.’

Sir Q said of course he under­stood; the poor girl. So what were his options?

‘Try to under­stand her better’, Miss Baah wisely offered.

Sir Q nodded slowly.

Next, he casu­ally men­tioned his new posters. Miss Baah looked ner­vous. She said ‘Hm’ and scratched her knee, and asked why he had done it. He said he hoped it would inspire the chil­dren. She said ‘Hm’ again and fell into thought for a bit.

‘We have some, you see’, she finally said. ‘Plenty posters. We had them in every class. But they are faded now. And now if you… You see, what do I tell the other teachers?’

Sir Q wasn’t sure he understood.

‘Some of your col­leagues are con­cerned by your atti­tude. Already they say your chil­dren have a nick­name for you?’

‘Oh that’, Sir Q rushed to explain. ‘You see-‘

‘I have heard the story. But what if they start call­ing Sir Frank ‘Sir V’? Or what if they call me ‘Miss B’?’ She shud­dered at the thought. ‘And now, you have gone and bought posters. You think chil­dren don’t observe these things? It can cause prob­lems for other classes.’

‘I never meant to –‘

‘I know you didn’t. That’s why I am telling you, Mr Quarshiga.’ She reached for­ward and gently patted the table as though it was his arm. ‘You told me you used to teach nurs­ery in your uncle’s school?’

‘I have been trained for Upper Primary.’

She waved off the train­ing with a know­ing smile. ‘You need to under­stand how to con­trol chil­dren. You need to watch and learn. I wish I could have started you with Class Two. They are still quite nice in Class Two.’

Sir Q thought long­ingly of Class Two.

‘You just be care­ful. It’s just one term, after all. Then we’ll see what we can do.’

And with that, Miss Baah turned her atten­tion back to her many foolscap note­books. Sir Q nodded grate­fully and backed out of the office.

When the chil­dren said Oray-vwa to May-sway, it was time for Social Studies. Nothing of note hap­pens in Social Studies. The teacher just strug­gles bravely to instil a con­scious­ness of civic duty and social respon­si­bil­ity, while the chil­dren strug­gle bravely to stay awake. Sir Q received Jessica’s prim answers with a mix­ture of sym­pa­thy and grat­i­tude. He vowed to love this brave little girl.

The chil­dren were called from sleep by the won­der­ful sound of the Second Break bell. They leaped out­side, des­per­ate for some real action before Religious and Moral Education. Alas, Sir Q hoped for some action during RME. It was not to be. The demon­stra­tion of Islamic prayer, the legend of Okomfo Anokye, the legend of King Agorkoli- Sir Justice had gotten all the good bits already. He was left with the hope­less pit of tribal naming cer­e­monies to run through, and actu­ally sighed in relief when it was time to sing ‘Now The Day Is Oh-oh-ver’. Sir Q said good­bye to his pupils and stayed behind to remove his posters.

He left the ‘Flag of Ghana (with National Anthem)’ though. Only a trai­tor would remove the flag.

Sir Q’s sudden trans­for­ma­tion into a model teacher was not lost on the chil­dren. Two weeks into his tenure, Junior reported to Class 5A that he had seen Sir Q talk­ing with Sir Frank after school the pre­vi­ous day. The sig­nif­i­cance of this wasn’t lost on anyone. A few brave ones directed accus­ing glares at Jessica. She merely sniffed and pranced away. It was easy for her. She would never know if their teacher grew wise in the ways of the cane.

He did not.

Children have their the­o­ries about teach­ers who exhibit spe­cial prowess with the rod of cor­rec­tion. Some teach­ers are believed to soak their canes in var­i­ous liq­uids to enhance their power- water, pepper and alco­hol, among others. Some make their canes them­selves appar­ently. After all, what does a teacher do when he goes home? It makes per­fect sense that they would have sophis­ti­cated car­pen­ter sheds ded­i­cated to the per­fec­tion of torture.

Junior was an expert in this matter. He nursed a dream of becom­ing a teacher him­self, and he was dili­gently devel­op­ing his own tech­nique. Once, he tried to make a cane, but the wood didn’t coöper­ate; so he made do with store-made ones, which he walked around twirling. Or at least he did, until the day a teacher spot­ted him and bor­rowed his cane for the cruel treat­ment of a JSS 1 boy’s bottom. Naturally, after school, the favour was amply returned. Junior limped home in a thought­ful mood; he had dis­cov­ered the wisdom of leav­ing cer­tain lights under the bushel.