That Monday morning, I dressed up in a blue and white skirt wanting to look my best. It was an important day for me and my students and I aimed at carrying the weight of the day in my mood and attire. It was the day my all male class, the first class I taught after graduating from the Higher Technical Teachers Training College, had its first Open Door Day event. The day we were to show case our practical work to parents and other members of our school community. This meant so much to me because my job was and is still a vocation to me. I trod the path that led to the site where my students were doing their practical with extreme caution in order to prevent the mixture of cement and sand from smearing my black shoes. Little did I know that all these attempts to be classy and feminine were about to be rubbished. The set of students I was handling was an intimidating set of very tall and huge boys. In Cameroon at that time children that were sent for technical education were those whose parents considered not bright enough to undertake general education and so waywardness was the order of the day which was a norm I never questioned. What I was terribly uncomfortable about was the constant ridicule I experienced because I was a woman in that milieu. I knew I was considered out of place as a woman teaching an only male class in a Technical School but I did not know the oddness of my gender in this circle was reason for gross disdain in the sight of the very ones I could give my all to train and equip with technical skills.
As I supervised the completion of the building models, my mind so anxious to know if the boys had grasped the lessons I taught them. I could not wait to proof to that community that I was not only a woman technical teacher but an excellent technical educator. As I made my way through the models, one of the students who was really huge and brave looking was plastering the wall of his model. Suddenly a splash of fresh mortar fell on my face and then trickled down to my skirt! I could not believe any of the boys could go this far! Besides the event was to begin in a short while from then. How was I going to appear in front of the parents and other guests? With a big shout, I looked round to find out what was going on. I saw some students laughing and I became very angry and asked who had done that to me. The student who committed this act was very guilty as it could be seen on his face. He pretended as if it was a mistake however, the words that came out of his mouth were rather contradictory and hurting to me and I will never forget as he confidently said “But what is a woman even doing on a building site?” As if I had not received enough humiliation, the other students laughed the more and even jeered at me saying “Madam Builder!” It was so embracing for me given that I was so happy and excited that morning to showcase our work to parents, students and teachers from other schools including invited guests. As young as I was and eager to do my best at work, I became very demoralized and demotivated to continue working. It felt horrible as if I was actually in the wrong place. When women face violence they feel hurt.
I paused for a few seconds, calmed down myself and remember the lessons on self-control we had had in our Christian Women’s Fellowship group. I then decided to talk with my male colleagues. They were even, more bitter and decided to report the incident to the Head of Department and next took the case to the discipline master. The student concerned faced a disciplinary council, during which he was warned and sanctioned. During the disciplinary council that I also attended as a council member, one of my colleagues said something that has also stayed in my memory till date “Somehow I understand this student because until I saw Madam Sophie take up this job in our school, I had never imagined my sister on a construction site”. Later, one the discipline master came to class and had a talk with all the students. This situation served as a good lesson for other students, and since then I have never had this kind of issue again.
A student would never have done this to a male colleague but I am sure because I was a young woman he took it as an advantage to provoke me.
This incident would have belittled my self-esteem on that day, but I made up my mind not to spoil my day and I ignored it because I was confident of my technical prowess. The next day I recounted the story to my husband. He encouraged and gave my some tips on how to handle such issues. I am very pleased to have a very supportive husband with whom I share my dreams. My husband and I are passionately engaged in aspects of community initiatives, especially for the enhancement of the less privileged.
From that day I learned how to be brave and courageous in this male dominated field, to handle issues that could cause emotional breakdown and demotivation in my job. I thanked my male colleagues for the support and encouragement making work more comfortable for me. I believe we need to start at home by educating our boys. Building a collaborative and supportive work environment with our male colleagues can boost the motivation of women at the work place, thus increasing the incentive of women doing the so called ‘male jobs’ to break the glass ceiling.