Julia’s joyful journey
She was “teaching lessons” from as early as age six. All she needed was a “class” – whether toys, animals, shoes or even stones.
Wherever there was a gathering, the chalkboard was erected and she was the one in charge.
Julia Beckles knew exactly which career path she wanted to take.
Every decision she made and everything she did was geared towards attaining the goal of one day becoming a teacher.
So clear was she, that she made sure she was fully academically equipped to get the job done.
The former Springer Memorial student graduated with eight CXCs, earning the Student Of The Year honour as well.
She completed A levels at the Barbados Community College. She gained a Bachelor of Arts with honours in English and French at University of the West Indies (UWI).
She also holds a Diploma in Education and a certificate in management and administration. In 2012, she graduated from UWI with a master’s in human resources.
In 1990, on concluding studies for her bachelor’s, she secured an assignment for a term at the then St Lucy Secondary School (now Darryl Jordan Secondary) and was set to start there. However, after an interview at the Alleyne School, she was offered a teaching post for one year.
So in September that year, at age 23, she started her “real” teaching journey at Alleyne. She credits her stint as head girl of Springer for partially preparing her.
“I was an introvert until I started to teach . . . . But when I came to Alleyne I had to teach students in the fifth year, some of whom were just a few years younger than I was so I was forced to project this fearless persona.
“I learnt from early if you did not go in the classroom and show students you were in control, then they would not respect you,” the former head of the English Department said.
The 47-year-old now sits on the review committee for English for the Barbados Secondary Schools’ Entrance Examinations (BSSEE) and on the syllabus review committee for Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) English.
She is also an item writer for both BSSEE and CSEC exams. She has co-authored a book – English Book 2 Modules 1 and 2, 4 and 5 (Nelson Thornes 2011) – for the Caribbean Certification of Secondary Level Competence.
She became an assistant examiner for the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) in 1992 and an examiner in 2000.
In September 2013, Beckles was appointed deputy principal at Darryl Jordan Secondary.
However, her crowning moment was in March when she was appointed principal of Alleyne, making her the youngest female principal in Barbados’ 22 public secondary schools. She is also the first appointed female principal of Alleyne.
The granddaughter of the late Eldon Deane, former headmaster of the then St Bernard’s Boys School and niece of Beryl Deane, former principal of Chalky Mount Primary School said: “All along I had the idea of becoming a principal. Then I said I need to become principal. What pushed me was that I don’t like the way teachers are treated sometimes. That’s one of the reasons.
“I always said as a principal I would never treat teachers like that. You don’t have to mistreat people to get the best out of them. I believe that people matter. I felt strongly that I needed to be there to show that there is another side.”
She continued: “Alleyne School would have been responsible for my development as a woman and as a professional. I see this as me giving back to the place that made me who I am. The only other school that would have pleased me this much to lead would be my alma mater Springer Memorial.”
When asked how she transitioned from teaching classes of 31 students to being accountable for the school’s student body of 798, she said: “My watchword is professionalism. If someone comes in here angry I cannot be angry. I have to disarm them.
“Managing people is important. I’ve had individuals come to my office; both parents and colleagues and I’ve locked the door and allowed them to cry when they are having a bad day.
“Everybody needs to be heard. Students are allowed to speak even if they are in the wrong. My thing is to keep people happy. Happy students, happy teachers and happy workers will produce.”
The former Pine Primary student notes that people engagement is at the heart of everything she does.
“There are 45 teachers on staff and 15 support staff. The sum total of them in terms of experience and knowledge has to be greater than one lone principal. I would have to be crazy to believe that I am the only one with ideas. I may be the one to facilitate and make it happen but all staff have ideas.”
Julia does not allow her spacious, well furnished office to stifle her from being an effective principal either.
“Movement is the key to her success. I cannot fully run the school from behind this desk. I have to move. I walk the grounds of this school.
“I go to the bathrooms. I go to problems. Sometimes I meet the problem on the corridor. I go everywhere in the school, especially when class is in session.”
She is acutely aware of changes in attitudes.
“When I started, students were very interested in whatever you had to say. It was as though you had nuggets of gold coming out of your mouth and they wanted them . . . . Parents seemed to have greater control over their children. They also seemed to have greater respect for school and teaching. You had the support of students, parents and principals. You were working in an environment where there was fear and respect.”
However, she lamented that the current times are a contrast.
“Our students have become bolder. They ask more questions. Parents seem to have less control over their children. They are more exacting. There is more accountability. Everybody knows a lawyer. Everybody knows the rules.
“You have to do a better job at selling education. [Students] are seeing the person who did not do well at school who perhaps decided to sell marijuana with the big house, the car, the money. So the packaging of education has to be different. Then there is this loss of respect in the society for teachers and teaching. Our job is a lot more difficult.”
Amidst all the trying times on the job, Julia is thankful for her strong family support base and faith in God, things that keep her grounded.
She is the first of her mother Marguerite Philias’ three daughters. Both her parents instilled certain values in her at an early age.
“Mummy was firm and a stickler for discipline. She never spared the rod,” Julia said with a huge smile.
Her father, Kenrick Deane, quietly encouraged her by buying scores of books as birthday presents; a practice which nurtured her love of reading.
Her sisters Mitchelle and Sandra have stood by her side through thick and thin.
She is grateful that Mitchelle is also a teacher, since they discuss issues in education.
Sunday is a very special day on her weekly calendar.
“We have lunch as a family every Sunday and that’s a big deal. Family is a huge deal for me and so are my very close friends.”
On evenings, when she gets home from work she turns to her garden for inspiration. She has four different gardens at her Haggatt Hall, St Michael home.
“I love gardening. I cut my lawn. I even cut my mum’s lawn. I cut hedges. I am just in love with landscaping.”
What’s a relaxing day like for the principal?
“I have a dog. I love animals. I love cooking. I love to bed down with a good James Patterson book. I love to exercise and I love to listen to all genres of music. I also enjoy dining and trying new restaurants.”
But, of course, education is the dominant strand in her life.
Julia, who has thoughts of pursuing a PhD, continues to do other things to keep herself relevant and her brain constantly functioning.
She edits other people’s theses. She gives free lessons to students who have challenges in English and French. She helps those who study English or French to write papers.
The principal shared her vision for the island’s first co-educational secondary school, a school that has been in existence for 229 years.
“I want Alleyne to be the most disciplined school in Barbados with a high performance culture. I want students to be socially developed. Each student should graduate with a minimum of five CXCs or CVQs [Caribbean Vocational Qualifications].
“I also want all staff engaged in lifelong learning; teaching and non-teaching. Essentially, I want to leave Alleyne School better than I found it.”