PRIMARY SCHOOL TEACHER Margaret Thompson has the remedy for achieving success in the 11-Plus examination.
She exposes her students to problem solving strategies in mathematics and engages them in critical reading in English.
Her approach, though not novel, has brought her tremendous success over the years with her common entrance classes.
This year, the St Stephen’s Primary School teacher boasts of tutoring three of the Top 10 students as well as several others who excelled in the examination. And, 28 of the 29 students she taught at St Stephen’s are now moving on to older grammar schools.
“I had two children in my accelerated lesson class who got 100 in mathematics – Kaliala Pais of St Angela’s and Daveed Gittens of Luther Thorne, who received the second highest marks in the exam. Overall 15 of my children got more than 90 per cent in mathematics,” said Thompson, who with her trademark smile, readily admitted that she was even more excited than her students when the results were announced last week.
She also brought honour to St Stephen’s Primary, making it the only school to have more than one student in the Top 10 – Terri Williams-Niles, who is heading to Queen’s College, and Edwin Adams, who will be going to Harrison College.
That is why Thompson does not agree with the ministry’s assessment that the maths syllabus was too demanding.
“The ministry has expressed concern about the mathematics, but I believe that some teachers are not really exposing children to problem solving strategies. More emphasis needs to be placed on this if we are to get better results in mathematics,” she said.
She also believes strongly that children should be encouraged into divergent thinking.
“A good teacher is one who provokes divergent thinking – they should show the child different ways of approach so that that child can choose the way he or she feels comfortable with.
To conquer English, she believes that it is not enough for a child to be able to read well but to be able to interpret what they read.
“Section B is the most challenging part. We need to have activities which would teach children to read and apply critical thinking skills. I find that in too many cases children who come to me are not exposed to skills in comprehension. When a teacher goes into a class room and tells children the answers to questions they have taught nothing.
“I believe that at every level a child reaches in primary school their reading has to go up a notch, as well. That is why I expose my students to everything including newspaper articles so that they can analyse factual information. As a teacher you have to go outside the box and be all that and more to the children you are teaching,” she said.
The veteran teacher, who has been teaching 11-Plus classes since 1992, also promotes the view that parents too have a more significant role to play in their child’s education.
“Parents need to expose their children to a variety of experiences so that they are better able to express themselves, especially when it comes to writing compositions,” she said.
Her strategy for learning also includes motivating children, even at that tender age, to set goals for themselves.
“From the time my students get into Class 4 I let them write down what their goals are and I have them look at these goals every day so that they are reminded of what they want to achieve.”
This intimate knowledge of the students also serves to consolidate her relationship with them, since she sees herself as a substitute parent.
“I am here not only as their teacher but as their friend. I have to show these students that I care about them and that I love them. I teach them values in life that they can take beyond their primary school level.
Perhaps, that is why she is highly sought after by parents who continue to spread the word about her nurturing personality and her excellent teaching skills.
But Thompson remains firm that despite the many calls she receives she only takes a limited number of students for her lessons.
She feels that some of her success this year has come about because she had her Class 4 from the time they were in Class 1. This she said allowed her not only to know their strengths and weaknesses but to fully prepare them for the 11-Plus examination.
“By Class 2 I had built the foundation and when they came back for September in Class 3 we started a rigid preparation, so that by October in term 1 of Class 4, we had completed the syllabus and we spent the rest of the time consolidating their skills, mastering the concepts and really practising,” she said.
A product of St Lucy Secondary, Thompson said she is passionate about teaching and she is driven by the need to see each one succeed and excel.
“I look into their faces and see myself, a very ordinary girl running around in St Lucy. I had big dreams and I went after my dreams. I feel proud about where I come from and I don’t want my children to ever feel disadvantaged or to ever doubt that they could get into an older secondary school.”
But at the same time she believes that there should be a better spread of students at every secondary school.
“The system has created this notion about good schools and bad schools. I teach my children that at the end of the day, wherever they go, they should be committed to excellence because CXC does not have a school written on it.”
Come September, this teacher will be widening her strategy to include parents of children who are sitting the 11-Plus examination. She will be conducting a three-month course to expose these parents to the 11-Plus syllabus so that they can feel comfortable working with their children.