Wed | Oct 20, 2021

Educator standing on the shoulders of her mentors

Published:Sunday | May 17, 2020 | 8:33 AMVanessa James/Gleaner Writer

Teaching is considered to be the most noble of professions, as it is from a teacher’s guidance that all other professions come. This is a sentiment that Nicolette McDonnough-Foster would agree with as she described the profession as a calling, one she takes pride in answering as she follows in the footsteps of her aunts, who were also teachers.

Now with over 20 years of experience in the classroom, with a speciality in early childhood education, McDonnough-Foster explained that this is where her passion lies.

“Early childhood is the formative years when you can build confidence [within a child]; you can literally turn them into little advocates – self-driven and self-motivated. By the time they get to primary school they are ready,” she said.

McDonnough-Foster’s journey as an educator started at St Aloysius Primary School in Kingston, where she taught the first grade. There she said she initially encountered some difficulties, but soon found a way to get through to the students.

“When I started at St Aloysius, I could not understand the diversity of cultures; the inner city and what we call ghetto, and I found that it was a state of mind really,” she explained. “But I had a structure that I thought ‘every child can learn; every child must learn’, so I started writing in order to get through to them, using speech and drama.”

McDonnough-Foster spent 14 years at the institution, where she made her mark, before matriculating in 2012 to Alpha Infant School as its principal. She explained that the journey to where she is now is filled with mentors – her grandparents, teachers from high school, church and Red Cross family – who impressed upon her important lessons that she now applies in her capacity as principal.

“When I started at Alpha, one mentor, Sister Shirley Chung, impacted me so much that I emulate her even now. She was just a vast reservoir of knowledge. When she corrected you, it was out of love and I got that same firm message ... love. I try to emulate that with my staff, though sometimes I am a bit too firm,” she said with a laugh.

PASSION FOR TEACHING

McDonnough-Foster’s passion for teaching and creating a firm foundation for students knows no bounds, as she explained that forging a partnership with the other schools in the community was the best way to share ideas and help students matriculate from infant to primary school.

“It is a partnership and we learn from each other,” she stated. “Sometimes to improve the students, I go beyond, and I will engage other schools to say, ‘Let my teachers meet with yours and we can see where the challenge lies’.”

The partnership, she said, has gone well and involves a number of schools which have benefited from shared ideas.

On a level that is closer to home, one thing that McDonnough-Foster prides herself on is encouraging her teachers to expand their knowledge and learn more, the same way they are expanding the minds of their students.

“We create a culture where my teachers must upgrade ... it doesn’t matter if it’s a cookery course or learning how to make a compost heap – anything that benefits them,” she stated.

“Every year they go and upgrade in something, but we don’t want to do anything to disrupt the school system, so we try and merge it with workshops.”

McDonnough-Foster explained further that before school closed due to the pandemic, they had a workshop on epilepsy and were surprised at all they learnt and can now do in their first-aid training.

With today being celebrated as Teachers’ Day, McDonnough-Foster is an inspiration not only to her peers and staff, but also to her students as she is someone who does not allow her weaknesses to define what she does.

“Not many people know that I am dyslexic. I don’t do directions well and I don’t spell very well either, but I don’t allow those to stop me. I take my weaknesses and find ways around them,” she said.

Her experience in service also includes being a member of the Jamaica Red Cross, where she was honoured for 25 years of service, and as an advocate for Global Leaders, which is an international organisation where advocates from over 150 countries meet to build early childhood education in their countries and chart a way forward.

vanessa.james@gleanerjm.com