I don’t remember much of 1998. It was after all, so long ago. What I can vividly recall is that my fourth grade teacher changed my life. I can say with certainty that her charisma, and enthusiasm for teaching changed how I viewed myself, the world, and my place in it. Even now, I treasure in my heart the fact that she saw something in me. My fourth grade teacher taught me that, average wasn’t anything to be proud of.
Ms. Jones was an exceptional example of vibrant creativity, tempered by humility. She embodied all that she required, and unassumingly desired in her students. I shamelessly admired her authentic love of Jamaica, its culture and its place in the world. To be fair, Ms. Jones was merely building upon the foundations built by my previous elementary school teachers. She did however offer me an unique opportunity to understand and interpret the world around me. Ms. Jones gave life to my curiosity and encouraged my questions. You are perhaps wondering how she afforded me that luxury amidst teaching us social studies and mathematics. You see, Ms. Jones was the first teacher to give me a journal assignment. All that she required at the time was that I write a book report. Which may appear innocuous to most, but with that first assignment Ms. Jones helped unlock a gift that to this day drives my love for literature, stories and the English language. I struggled at first to overcome my shyness, and the belief that my opinion was valueless. Once that was brushed aside, I began to read voraciously, and wrote about the books I read, the things I learned and the world around me and beyond me.
Since then I have lived and traveled abroad, learnt two languages, lived and worked alongside people from across the globe and shared in the culture of various towns and cities. Always being mindful of cultural norms, with an eagerness to understand the history and features of different social groups. Intentionally making an effort to work with youth and adults of all ages and backgrounds, as a student and youth educator.
Fourteen years later, and I am continually reminded of my primary school motto, that says, “Ad Aspera Per Aspera” which means “Through Difficulties to Excellence.” I have struggled to be purposeful in my own education, and considered quitting many times. Yet in the same breath, I am constantly reminded of all the lessons I have learned from the students and young people I have taught, worked with and counselled. I am honoured to think that I have had even a minor role in building and nurturing so many. It has not been easy, but it has been more than worth it.
The fact is, that earlier in my primary education I was required to stay behind for a year to improve my reading skills. This measure was taken, because I was not reading at my age level. That decision was crucial to ensuring my success, as a whole person. I mention this because I know and understand many of the challenges that students face, because I have experienced them. I have had to make tough decisions, and pivotal choices both as a student, and a teacher. Some with uncomfortable consequences. Yet it is comforting to hold on to the reality that, both disappointment and failure are temporary. As the adage says, “If at first you don’t succeed try, try and try again.” I live by this and encourage others not to be afraid of failure. Instead be fearless in learning, improving, exploring and understanding. Whether that applies to new skills, a language, yourself, your community, or the world.
Ultimately I consider how far I have come, and acknowledge that each of my English teachers since then, are now the cornerstones that helped to build this house. As I set my sights on the possibility of teaching abroad in Japan, I hope to bring a unique and global perspective to the classroom. Bringing alongside a willingness to learn and share with my students, stories of their homes, their culture, their country’s history, and furthermore stories of their passions, and their future dreams.