As a teenager, who had just gained admission into St John’s School, I was confronted with all sorts of temptations. I had been a stubborn chap in basic school and in secondary school there was the temptation to take it to a different level. Waywardness beckoned. There were new freedoms and there were days I felt like going all out to explore the world out there. I was really tempted. But I didn’t give in because I wanted to remain in the good graces of my English teacher.
Mrs. Grace Vera Effah (pictured with her grand children) was a sweet lady. She still is.
She always wore a smile, which could calm any raging storm in a teenager’s heart. She had a good sense of humour and she joked about her VW beetle. I first heard the ‘kornumtea’ joke about committees being avenues for people to drink tea, from her. So whenever I hear that a committee has been formed, I smile and remember Mrs. Effah.
She knew her stuff and she taught it well. But she wasn’t just a teacher. She was a mother to us all. She advised, she chastised and she encouraged us.
“You are not just passing through the school,” she used to say. “Let the school pass through you.”
I don’t know about my classmates but Mrs. Effah touched me with her kind words, her beautiful smile and her work ethic. She was never late for class. For the three years that she was my English teacher, I can count the number of days she was absent on the fingers of one hand. And each time she couldn’t make it to class, she made sure that word got to us in good time.
Mrs. Effah was the first person who told me to read just about anything I laid my hands on. I become a voracious reader because I wanted to impress her. She made me want to impress. I wanted to build my vocabulary, improve my grammar and write creatively – just so I could be in her good books.
Mrs. Effah hardly came to class with a cane and I never saw her whip anyone with a cane. She reprimanded us in her own special way. Whenever she reprimanded me (and it wasn’t often), it hurt more than a cane would.
One day, most of the class scored miserably in a class test. Mrs. Effah was disappointed and she didn’t hide it. It was an easy test and she couldn’t understand why so many people flunked. As she spoke about her disappointment, I could see her eyes glistening. There were tears. She took out her handkerchief and quickly wiped them off. That image is etched on my memory forever. I passed the test and much of what she was saying did not apply to me. But seeing those tears in her eyes made me realize how passionate she was about her job and how she cared about her students.
She wanted the best for her students just as any mother would want the best for her sons and I wanted to please her just as I would my mother. I did my best and today, I am all the better for it.
If I ever win a Pulitzer, I’d dedicate it to Mrs. Grace Vera Effah. But since a Pulitzer is such a long way off, I decided that as Mrs. Effah celebrates her birthday today, I’d honour her by telling the whole world, that I am eternally grateful for the positive impact she made on my life.
She taught me to use a lot of words but none of them can sufficiently render my gratitude to her. All I can do is pray that she’s blessed with many more years of good health and abundant joy.