Gleaner Honour Award Nominee: Keisha Hayles - Shaping the future
2015 Gleaner Honour Award recipient - Education (Special Award)
Keisha Hayles is no ordinary woman. A chance meeting with her will not immediately reveal her prowess as an educational trailblazer, so unassuming is her demeanour.
It was Hayles who almost single-handedly rescued Padmore Primary, a school that was deemed to be failing and scheduled for closure. Her journey to Padmore had been long in the making. Her first teaching assignment was at Red Hills Primary, where she had gone to do a four-month stint for a teacher who was on leave. So effective was Hayles at her job that the principal refused to let her go, and those four months turned into 10 years.
It was those 10 years at Red Hills Primary that prepared her for a new challenge and prompted her to apply to be principal at Padmore Primary.
Hayles went to Padmore with one aim: to rescue a school that was on the brink of closure.
School's success story
Playing the role of both principal and grade-six teacher, Hayles has led the school to a well-chronicled story of success. In the 2015 sitting of the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), 16 students secured top scores, with one girl gaining a 99 per cent average, which saw her securing a coveted space at Campion College.
Balancing the role of principal and grade-six teacher was no easy feat. Hayles managed the pressure of leadership and GSAT exam expectations by paying keen attention to time management and going the extra mile for her students.
The GSAT success of her students at Padmore was no doubt a high point of Hayles' teaching career.
Although she has taught grade six for many years, Padmore is Hayles' greatest GSAT success because she relishes the challenge of teaching children who are not expected to do well in the exams.
Padmore Primary is widely considered an under-resourced school, Hayles has continued her drive to mobilise resources so that the success of the students can be maintained.
She has made plans to build a new block, which will house a much-needed staffroom, a resource room, a sick bay, a library, and also some additional classroom space.
Teaching, her highest calling
Despite the difficulties faced in her dual roles, Hayles has no intention of leaving the classroom. For her, teaching is the highest calling in life. She describes teaching as a drug that she cannot get enough of, and she also espouses its therapeutic values.
Hayles' attraction to teaching has been nurtured since she was young. Her love for the profession comes from the fact that she is intrigued by the prospects of training young minds and from her upbringing. Hayles noted that she had some very good teachers who influenced her and helped her to develop a passion for the craft of teaching. Her passion and deep interest in the welfare of her students is reflected in the rapport she has with them. She keeps in contact with students she taught as far back as 10 years ago and maintains relationships with their families so that she can get updates on their academic progress.
Teaching is indeed a noble profession and it is the positive impact that she has on the lives of the children she teachers that gives Hayles unspeakable pleasure. Every opportunity she gets to attend to the needs of her students is utilised to the maximum. Her love for her students is selfless and goes to the extremes of her giving up her own resources to feed, clothe, and even shelter her students who face difficult social and economic situations at home.
Trained in psychology, politics
According to Hayles, one of the factors that contribute to her effectiveness in the classroom is her training in psychology and politics, areas for which she holds separate degrees from the University of the West Indies.
These may be unusual qualifications for a teacher, but Hayles is of the firm belief that her foray into the social sciences was divinely ordained. She had applied to the education programme, but that programme was full, so she had to register for courses in another area of study.
According to Hayles, her training in psychology and politics helps her to understand the social issues that her students face. Hayles makes a point of doing regular home visits and keeps in touch with parents.
She leverages her social work skills to intervene in the family life issues that affect her students. This is based on the philosophy she holds about the impact of social environments on students' ability to learn.
Keisha Hayles stands tall among her peers and her service to education will stand as an immortal witness to her strength of character and generosity of spirit.