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School lessons

Gercine Carter

School lessons

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Herbert Reifer is a teacher with a mission that reaches far beyond the classrooms of The St Michael School where he has taught for the past 17 years.
Yes, he wants to influence the young minds under his charge, but beyond this, he has a wider all-encompassing vision that sees education reaching parents, society’s deviants and those young peope who have fallen through the cracks.
“There are many challenges,” says this former prefect of West St Joseph [now Grantley Adams Memorial] School who chose the teaching profession immediately after leaving school.
He is mindful that he is operating in an environment far different from that he knew as a young teacher at Ellerton Primary School.
“You had the support of parents and you had the support of teachers in those days. Teachers were more strict and children were better behaved because they had fewer distractions.
“Discipline was certainly not a problem back then.”
Yesterday’s teacher battled the noise from several classrooms arranged back-to-back and side-by-side in a school’s overcrowded  physical plant, making for much distraction.
Today, there are individual classrooms offering privacy, and teachers are forced to handle distractions of a different nature  both inside and outside the classroom – cellphones, the Internet, video – all competing for students’ attention.
“Very often, you get parents coming to you telling you the children are not reading . . . . The computer, the games, Facebook, are taking up all their time,” this teacher complains.
“Some of them are at their wits’ end as to what they do to get their children back to reading and doing their school work.”
Reifer observes that “computer-savvy children fool parents who themselves are ignorant about the technology”.
Still, he advocates continuous monitoring of children’s activities on the computer.
In this teacher’s view, the challenges though different, are no less for the child from the poor working-class home, who might not have the luxury of computer.
Obscenities from the neighbourhood, people using illegal drugs, drinking and gambling are some of the different challenges for this “different class”.
One asks how does the teacher deal with children facing the various challenges across the social divide? 
“We cannot do it by ourselves. We try to talk to parents,” Reifer replies.
He cites the example of the parent taking the child to school in the morning in a car with blaring up-tempo music, and makes the point “the last song the child hears lingers for an important part of the day”.
“Play some calming music. Get the child in the frame of mind for work so that in its psyche it understands that school is not a place to lime. It is a place to work.
“For those who take the bus, I would like to see the parents reason with them, ‘look, you are going to school to work’.”
Reifer insists parents should ensure children prepare ahead for the next school day.
“Very often, you find children coming to school with very few books or no books at all. A simple thing like ‘get your timetable, check what books you have to take to school the next day, pack your school bag properly’ – that might seem simple but it goes a long way because when the child gets to school and every child has the books, the teacher can start to work.
“You must bring to school the books you were issued for a particular subject.”
Again, he chides parents for irresponsibility in monitoring children’s homework practices.
“A parent may not know homework, but set up a study regimen for the child.”
He believes these are areas in which parents can work with teachers and advises parents to find out what is going on with their children, call teachers and find out what homework assignments a child has been given.
Reifer is the author of two books, Unshackled and Joy Cometh In The Morning written “for ordinary people” because he wants to encourage reading.
This is yet another of his pet peeves, one of the challenges he says teachers and parents face.
And Reifer is especially concerned about boys’ lack of interest in reading.
To get this teacher started on the profession he has pursued for the past 35 years is to open can after can of worms.
As one who moved from the primary to the secondary school system, he holds strong views about the Common Entrance Examination.
“I believe that children going into Common Entrance should be carrying marks with them. It is the only examination I believe that children do not go in with marks. Two subjects, English and Maths, determine your fate for the rest of your life.”
He sees evidence of burn-out in children from primary schools in their first year at secondary school and argues too much emphasis is put on the children topping the Common Entrance results, while the majority falling at the bottom, who are sent to schools like his alma mater, are neglected.
With all these observations, and armed with his experiences as an educator, Reifer already has his retirement plans mapped out – forming an organisation aimed at stamping out some of the aggression and building character in young men.