Wed | Aug 4, 2021

Answering the call to teach

Published:Saturday | May 12, 2012 | 12:00 AM
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Claudia Nugent, vice-principal dressed in children's uniform, gives Zaniel-Patrick Knight a hug after he presented her with a gift on Teachers' Day at Sts Peter and Paul Prep School, 120 Old Hope Road, on Wednesday.-Rudolph Brown/Photographer
Teachers Veronica Williamson (right) and Joan Bailey-Smith assist students at the Evelyn Mitchell Infant School/Centre of Excellence in Top Hill, Clarendon.- Rudolph Brown/Photographer
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Maurice D. Smith, Guest Columnist

I have been travelling internationally for the last 15 years and have, on several occasions, received invitations to live and work in a number of countries to which I have sojourned. It is not that I lack ambition (as my friends often quip); it is simply that I am fully aware of my purpose and the place to which I am called. I am a proud Jamaican, and every morning after praying and meditating, I rush to my laptop in order to watch 'Smile Jamaica ... It's Morning Time' on TVJ and read The Gleaner. Those on campus with whom I interact will tell you that they often hear me alluding to boarding the next flight home to Jamaica the minute my programme is completed!

I do not know where my services will be rendered but I do know it will be somewhere in education; after all, I am a teacher. During my second year of teaching, I recall being told by a former teacher of mine how disappointed she was with me as she had seen me as a doctor or lawyer. I smiled but chose not to offer any explanation as she had meant no harm, but deep in my heart I knew that teaching was what God had created me to do.

I am a proud Jamaican teacher who is the product of an unrelenting single mother who raised my brothers and I; great teachers who saw some potential and did their best to hone it; a church family that prayed me through difficult times; and awesome friends who loved and supported me. I am unable to guide anyone to discern his purpose in life but I can share my own experience and then hope it provides some inspiration to a wavering mind.

Aspiration

In the 1980s, we had this small quasar television that only showed in black and white. Many a day we would watch 'Sunday Football' hosted by Lindy Delapenha, and then out of nowhere would come these lines across the screen and the only way to restore the full picture was to whack the TV on both sides. I, however, found another use for it as during the week when I would get home from primary school, it became the lectern from which I preached and taught. I'd be there explaining to my imaginary students some concept that I myself had only learnt that very day.

One day when Ms Brown, my grade two teacher, was absent, I took it upon myself to mark the register. I am not quite sure what possessed me so to do but it was an opportunity for me to demonstrate my disposition to teach. Aspiration is that intense and burgeoning desire that makes you want to become.

Ability

Aspirations require actions, and so I went to teachers' college in an effort to develop my aptitude. The ability to teach requires subject mastery and effective communication skills. To this day, I do not how or why it is I was enrolled at Mico as a student of geography and social studies, but when I became aware, I quickly opted to change my major, as that discipline did not align with my abilities or ambitions.

Talent plays a crucial role in the careers we choose. In my sojourn, I have often come across many students who desire a particular vocation despite their performance in school indicating abilities that would be better developed and utilised elsewhere. It is my belief that one's abilities ought to be refined in tandem with his purpose and that the career choices we make should have more to do with the latter and less with remuneration and or prestige. Our job is to provide accurate information coupled with appropriate guidance, but we should also be mindful of the competences our students possess.

Affirmation

These competences, however, need to be formally verified through standardised assessment. I gained eight CSEC subjects and a credit diploma in teaching; neither was my best showing as I did not challenge myself to do any better. Teaching practice, for me, was an obligatory activity that I also dragged myself through. Excelling academically only became a goal of mine as I walked back to the yellow chair the Saturday I graduated from the citadel on Marescaux Road; since then I have managed to complete all my courses with honours.

Prior to then I was satisfied with passing, but that night I had an epiphany. Whereas passing exams is absolutely necessary, the real test is when we challenge ourselves to perform at our very best; it is when we sharpen our skills so as to realise our full potential; it is when we affirm our place in the wider scheme of things. Our students also affirm us. It is always interesting to converse with students and hear their views about which teachers really care, give of their best and help to turn their lives around.

Appointment

Our teaching diploma and registration certificates are our instruments of appointment as agents of the State entrusted with the responsibility of positively impacting a generation. No leader is called without a group of followers, and I regard the designation of 'teacher' as a God-given assignment and one not to be treated lightly. My being faithful to the task that has been assigned to me is far more essential than my receiving a letter to say I am permanently appointed. Let me hasten to say that I do not suggest that such a document is inconsequential; the point is going above and beyond the call of duty enjoys greater pride of place.

Ardour

That is why I would strategise at nights how to make school better for my students. That is why I would be excited about going to school in the mornings. That is why I was never late for school. That is why I was never absent when I served as a teacher, principal and education officer. The day we lose our zeal and enthusiasm about effecting change and improving the lives of others is the day we must resign.

I am excited about returning home as I want to help my colleagues in doing the very best they can. I want to remind them that I am who I am because they are who they are. I want to stir the gifts that lie within them and ignite a fire of excellence.

It is my sincere wish that this article will motivate those of its readers who are unsure of their purpose in life so much so that it will lead them to a place of reflection and decision. May they discover their purpose.

Maurice D. Smith is a doctoral student at Howard University. Feedback to this article can be sent to columns@gleanerjm.com and maurice.d.smith@bison.howard.edu.