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Teaching selected me

Donna Sealy

Teaching selected me

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THERE’S a line in reggae/dancehall singer Buju Banton’s song Circumstances that goes “circumstances made me what I am”. The more I spoke with Dennis Browne, the principal of Grantley Adams Memorial School, the more this line played in my head.

It was about 4:50 p.m. or so when he finally got the chance to talk to me about his career and himself. Most of the students had left the Blackman’s, St Joseph campus for the day and he too was getting ready to call it quits. He wasn’t tired, as his intention was to hit the gym for a workout.

“It is a stress reliever. It is the only place apart from home where I don’t think about work, because I have to concentrate on what I am doing so I don’t get injured,” he said with a smile.

“I just love my job. I love anything that has to do with education which can impact on the lives of the children, the teachers. I really appreciate them,” he said.

Browne didn’t grow up with a father. His mother died when he was young, and it is his grandmother Eugenia Browne who raised him. That had the greatest impact on him. “Go to school and learn. Education is the key to success”, was the message she drilled home repeatedly.

The 46-year-old educator said his family was poor and even though he and his brother went to school barefooted, they were happy and he never ever forgot what his “mom” said.

Life skills from Boy Scouts

“I started at the Holy Innocents’ Primary School in St Thomas at the age of five. After sitting the Common Entrance Examination, I was awarded a place at The Lodge School. However, my grandmother could not afford to send me to a school so far away, so she got me into Princess Margaret Secondary School.

“While there, I was involved in cricket, athletics, and I was a boy scout. I take great pride in being a scout; it has taught me life skills and to be prepared and organised for every task I am to perform. To this day, the values I attained in the scout movement are still cemented in every aspect of my life.”

He did well at the Six Roads, St Philip school, graduating with certificates in technical and vocational subjects and moved into teaching almost immediately.

“Actually, I did not select teaching as a career; teaching selected me. Being a teacher was very far from my mind. I wanted to be a policeman working in the traffic division. I had a fascination with the motorcycles being ridden by policemen. However, when I was sought by Dr George Callender, a family friend working within the Ministry of Education, who offered an opportunity for me to become an industrial arts teacher at the Christ Church High School, I was very hesitant as I was only 17 years old.

“I was encouraged to take on the task and his confidence in me convinced me to accept the post. I have never looked back since. Educating the young minds of my country is an esteemed privilege, and I have been blessed with that privilege,” he said.

He added: “Out of an intrinsic desire to advance my education and to empower myself to be very knowledgeable and effective as a teacher, I enrolled at Erdiston Teachers’ Training College and completed my professional training. I then returned to my alma mater as an industrial arts teacher.

“My thirst for more knowledge then allowed me to journey to New York City Technical College where I majored in technology teacher education and graduated with a bachelor of science degree in education. While there, I wrote and successfully passed the New York State Teacher Certification Exam, allowing me to be certified to teach in the public schools in the State of New York.

“I returned home immediately afterwards to Princess Margaret, but shortly after, I was appointed acting Head of Department of Industrial Arts at the Grantley Adams Memorial School, and later appointed as Head of the Industrial Arts Department at the St George Secondary School. It was while there that I developed a desire to be an educational leader,” he said.

Shares story with students

So, he returned to Erdiston Teachers’ College and completed the certificate in educational management and administration and then enrolled in the UWI’s masters programme where he also majored in educational management and administration. Having completed this degree he is contemplating pursuing a doctoral degree in educational leadership.

With the introduction of the Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ) by the Ministry of Education, Browne completed the Level 4 national vocational qualification (Jamaica), because he wanted to be “knowledgeable and competent to effectively implement the CVQ to the curriculum” at Grantley Adams which is celebrating its 60th anniversary.

He shares the story of his childhood with his students as his intention is to show them that they do not have to let their present circumstances dictate their future and having most, if not all, of them graduate from school with at least one CVQ, is one of his aims.

“No longer can we continue to prepare them for the world that previously existed, where we are preparing them to just be employable. We need to now look at preparing students to be employers. If they are going to be effectively prepared for the real world, they must be able to create their own jobs. Our students must be able to stand on their own by applying their skills, unique abilities, talents, interests and creative ideas to meet the various demands of the local and global market.

“My vision for [Grantley Adams] is to provide through the school and its staff – both teaching and non-teaching – an environment conducive for optimal learning. We will deliver quality education, through curriculum integration of academics and vocational subjects.

“All disciplines and teachers will come together to provide each child with the knowledge and skills required to effect change in our society and on our economy. However, students who are unable to graduate with the external certification mentioned must leave Grantley Adams with the basic communication and numerical skills required to function in society.

“I have great visions for this school and my mission is to attain these visions.”

Browne also spoke about some of the highlights of his career which include being recognised by his peers at St George Secondary, being saluted by his community of Beulah at a church service when he was appointed principal and “being taken under the wings of a very efficient and effective principal, Miss Catherine Jordan”.

“She saw potential in me, and chose to invest her time and energy into mentoring me for principalship. The best part for me is when I was granted the privilege of acting in her stead when she went on a term’s leave, after just two terms in the position as deputy principal of the St George Secondary School.

“Also, being appreciated by my students, the young lives I come in contact with on a daily basis, has been, and is still a highlight for me. When a student gives me a letter of gratitude, making me a puzzle jewellery box using his skills in carpentry learned at Grantley Adams or says ‘I am happy to see my school positively represented on TV’, those are important to me,” Browne said. (Green Bananas Media)