Stephine Barrett-Brown: Educator extraordinaire
Overcoming obstacles is hard but wonderfully gratifying. History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed and they won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats.
Stephine Barrett-Brown’s journey has underscored the importance of pushing past one’s impediments. Growing up in the Homestead community in Spanish Town, St Catherine, Brown’s early years were difficult as she tried to adapt to an environment so many had grown accustomed to. However, she knew that concealed within every obstacle were opportunities that many were unwilling to explore.
The cloud behind the sliver lining came for her, when her family relocated to Portmore, St Catherine. Before high school, Brown had cemented in her mind that she wanted to become a teacher, but she changed course thereafter as she experienced a different culture.
“I used to teach everything, including the trees in the yard. However, when I attended St Catherine High School, accounting became my love, and I really thought that I would have become an accountant,” Brown said.
Her accounting dreams were further fuelled by her first job as a clerical officer at the former Inland Revenue Department, now Tax Administration Jamaica. “I was very organised and efficient, and I completed my daily tasks early in the day. My supervisor at the time allowed me to become a relief cashier, until I became full-time in the post,” Brown said.
With her vivacious personality, Brown helped to lift the spirits of the customers, and lightened their day by giving them jokes. “When persons came into the office to do business, everybody wanted to come to cashier number eight,’ she said.
However, Barrett-Brown soon realised that with her personality, the job was not best suited for her, and it was at this juncture that she began pursuing her passion for teaching. “I said to myself, ‘This is not what I wanted to do, and I am going to teachers’ college. I was clueless about what I was getting into, but I knew that I was going to attend,” Brown said.
Brown chose to attend the College of Agriculture, Science and Education in Portland.
“I wanted to attend a school outside of the city. I fell in love with Portland, and the rest, as they say, is history,” she said.
Following her graduation in 2001, Brown joined the teaching staff at the Ascot Primary School in St Catherine. There, she took her quick wit and organised and efficient personality that worked well with her students. She started teaching at grade two, and then moved up to the grade-four level.
“I received my love for the culture and the arts from my mother. I love to give jokes, and I have taken it into the classroom. I don’t like teachers that bore me. It’s difficult to recover when this happens. So I try to make the classroom fun, and this ensures that the students are engaged,” Brown said.
She believes that as a teacher, the holistic development of the student is important. “We are preparing them not only for examinations but for life. The onus is on us to get the child to learn,” she said.
With literacy being her passion, following her successful pursuit of further studies at the University College of the Caribbean, when the position became vacant, she was appointed as the school’s grade-four coordinator.
With her emphatic styles, Brown has guided her students to numerous medals in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s speech and drama competitions. “The pieces we enter are all original. I am always inspired to write, and depending on how I feel, I can write within five minutes the words as they flow. I don’t write without research, either, especially when I am doing tributes or eulogies,” Brown said.
“I love the performances – dance, speech and drama, plays, and comedies. I don’t like the stage, but I always prepare the children for the stage. I try to re-enact them in my own way, and I also add them to the expressions in the class. I always pray before everything, and I pray for insight and foresight,” Brown added.
She is working towards documenting her experiences in an autobiography to motivate others to succeed despite their challenges. “Appreciate that obstacles serve a role other than causing emotional distress. To contest reality will not earn you support since life always prevails. Leaning in to your challenges, however, helps you to move through the obstacle rather than allowing it to dominate your life,” she said.