The bell rings and Mr Victor Polepole ushers his Form 3 students into the Chemistry lab, waving his arms with more enthusiasm than a plane marshall at an airport – “welcome, welcome, welcome!”
Chairs screech as students assume their seats, opening their notebooks to a crisp new page. Mr Polepole, wearing a striped navy shirt, turns to write on the whiteboard.
“Today we are talking about compounds and metals,” he says.
Despite this being his fourth ninety-minute lesson for the day, Mr Polepole is pulsing with energy as his marker scrawls without pause across the whiteboard.
He has loved Chemistry since he was a teenager when his older sister, Riziki, would tutor him about Topic Volumetric Analysis.
In Kiswahili, ‘polepole’ means ‘slowly’ however Victor Polepole’s classes are anything but that. As he talks to his students, he bounces around the room, like a metallic ball in a pinball machine. One minute he is standing underneath a diagram of a synapse, the next he will be weaving between the students’ desks, his hands a whirl of action.
“Who can tell us the meaning of the word ‘metal’?” he asks the students.
The class hesitates, but Mr Polepole smiles inviting one of his students to stand and respond.
“Metal can conduct heat and electricity,” says a student named Sule.
As a teacher, Mr Polepole’s approach is to be friendly believing this will encourage his pupils to open up.
“We are not the enemies of the students,” laughs Mr Polepole. “Here at St Jude’s we are their friend.”
“We give the students a task to do,” he says. “But instead of using force we give them the confidence to speak, and to ask questions – to be free.”
When Mr Polepole was a 13-year-old student his teacher caned his arm for not answering a question – the experience left him with scars.
“At St Jude’s we teach students without giving them corporal punishment,” says Mr Polepole. “We also learn how to help students coming from a poor environment.”
Since arriving at St Jude’s in 2015, Mr Polepole has quickly gained a reputation as one of the school’s finest teachers.
“He’s the best Chemistry teacher in our school,” says Form 3 student, Abbas. “He knows how to prepare us for the national exams.”
In 2017, Mr Polepole’s Form 4 class climbed into the top ten in the country for Chemistry. In recognition of this achievement, School Founder Gemma Sisia presented him with a goat at school assembly, a tradition in Tanzania.
He keeps photos from this day on his laptop and considers it the proudest day of his teaching career.
As Mr Polepole continues to ping around the classroom, the students remain hunched over their books, elbows out, taking notes relentlessly.
Mr Polepole is delighted to discover that one of his students has the surname “Aluminate” – which is a chemical compound.
He rushes to the whiteboard, pointing to a list of compounds.
“Would you name your children after any of these?” he asks the students jokingly, with a toothy grin.
The students debate which compound they would choose; Mr Polepole, on the other hand, has already made up his mind.
“If I have a son or daughter,” he says. “I think I will name them after Zincate.”
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