The greatest responsibility of head teachers is to nurture the talents of their students and staff. Ivan Okuda caught up with James Mudidi, the man who ensured St Peter’s College Tororo survives through the hard economic times of the Idi Amin regime.
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires,” wrote William Arthur Ward. If he were to walk down to Uganda, chances are high Ward would attribute the last part of his quote to James Mudidi. At 76, father of 10 children who is married for 50 years, has lost count of the number of men and women whose lives he has impacted on through his more than 34 years’ service in the teaching profession. He was born to be a teacher, a great teacher, as West Budama North Member of Parliament Fox Odoi describes him. The former head teacher remembers the outspoken MP as “stubborn but very intelligent”.
As a student, Mudidi says, “I admired my teachers. They inspired me. We were blessed with wonderful teachers like the late Bernard Onyango (former Academic registrar Makerere University), who taught History at A-Level and James Akabway (former head teacher Teso College Aloet).” These gentlemen, he said, touched his heart and inspired him into the classroom. “They were very humane and never missed class. They were very interesting and gave life to teaching”.
Becoming a teacher
Indeed, upon completing his A-Levels at St Mary’s College Kisubi in 1960, he was appointed by missionaries to teach History at Masaka-based St Henry’s College Kitovu during his vacation. When results returned, he went to Makerere University for a diploma in education, taught for a couple of years (1962-1964) and then returned for a degree, all in an effort of becoming the finest teacher he could be. He was to immediately serve the boys’ only school for two years as a teacher after leaving Makerere.
The teaching service commission advertised a position of head teacher. Hardly five years into the profession, he beat all odds and applied, scooping the competitive job and getting posted to Sebei College, Tegeres in Kapchwora.
“Oh! It was very interesting, the school was popular among whites because of the cool weather in Kapchorwa District,” he recollects fondly, adding: “80 per cent of my staff were whites but they respected me and saw me as a miracle worker when I curbed indiscipline”. Sebei College came with its own share of trials for the novice then during the turbulent Idi Amin era.
At one time, he vividly reminisces, a white teacher wrote to the Education ministry a rather lethal letter, describing Idi Amin as a buffoon and blood thirsty dictator.
“The next day, soldiers came to my office and asked for the author of the letter. He was arrested and we never got to know what happened to him but information we received informally showed he had been killed,” he says, a sad tone taking the better of his deep voice.
Going back to St Peter’s College
By and large, in 1975, Mudidi was transferred to St Peter’s College, fondly known as TC, where he studied for his O-Level, as head teacher. A cock tail of problems awaited him like a preying eagle eye-balling one-day-old chicks..
The economy was on its knees. But his students would not take any of that. “My predecessor, Albert Gumikiriza used to feed students on bread and tea for breakfast but times had changed and bread was scarce,” he said, adding that when they insisted on the old menu, “I gave them money and asked them to move to major towns in Uganda and get bread. They returned empty-handed and agreed to scrap bread from the menu”. Now that bread and butter issues were sorted, the challenge of students, some of them children to soldiers staying with guns and pistols at school, was his next migraine.
“I went with a teacher from West Nile and met the commanding officer, requested him to talk to his soldiers and fortunately, some withdrew guns from their children and others transferred them from the school,” he says.
As far as teacher-motivation was concerned, Mudidi had a plan. “We had to convene a meeting of secondary school head teachers and agree that we open up to parents and ask them to step in through Parents and Teachers’ Association (PTA).
That helped reduce the financial burden,” Mudidi, now a farmer and member of several school boards, says. He recollects with a smile illuminating from his well shaven face, “I introduced end of year parties where schools in Tororo hosted each other in turns. I believe teachers need to be treated with a human touch to their problems”.
Building an academic giant
With a morale boosted academic staff, self-controlled student body, the former Pallisa District LC 5 contestant embarked on nourishing the academic backbone of the school, then a star perhaps only rivalled by Busoga College Mwiri in eastern Uganda.
In fact, he asserts with a roaring laughter, “Three of my top-performing teachers were grabbed by big schools like Kisubi because our results spoke for themselves. The moment I left in 1998, they were snatched”. Indeed, TC continues struggling to revive its academic glory.