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BAJAN TO DE BONE: Retired educator – I was born to teach

GERCINE CARTER, [email protected]

BAJAN TO DE BONE: Retired educator – I was born to teach

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CARL SPRINGER insists there are two fundamentals of school – learning and teaching. 

Engage the retired teacher on this strong theory he holds and the ensuing discourse will give deep insight into “the old time days of education” in Barbados.

With over 50 years’ experience in teaching, Springer tells you that in his day “when children got to school they got down to the business of learning and the teachers got down to the business of teaching”.

His St Philip home is dotted with evidence of his success as you cannot help but notice the certificates of academic accomplishment, awards and other accolades. He is revered in St Andrew and St Philip communities by families touched in some way either by his teaching or by his community outreach.

“I was born in Lakes, St Andrew, and the most beautiful part of the country. That Barbados was one with a lot of love in the community; everybody looked after everybody else,” Springer said last week.

He was showered with the love of family and also from the people of Lakes and Belleplaine, where he grew up. His mother, a bread seller at Haggatts Plantation, “made it in such a way that Millie’s son had all the protection that he wanted from the people of St Andrew,” according to Springer.

Six uncles, early mentors, “rallied around Millie’s son Carl”, taking him to school, escorting him back home after school and taking care of him “until Millie came home from her daily rounds”.

Neither at St Andrew’s Boys’ “elementary” School, the cradle of his education, nor at the Regal Private School, where he was later enrolled, did he see the kind of conflict between students, teachers and parents that these days alarm the society.

As he said: “I have never in my days as a schoolboy seen anybody go to a school to fight with a head teacher or hit a teacher.”

But that was a different Barbados and a time when the headmaster (school principal) was king in the eyes of the community.

“The head teacher in those days was well respected by everybody because he did everything. He taught the children; he kept the little lodge that you went to every Saturday night and paid your shilling in those days and then you got back 21 shillings at Christmas. He was the person who became godfather to every child and his word was like the law in the district,” Springer explained.

Names like “Daniel Best, principal of St Andrew’s Boys’ School, Mr Hope at St Simon’s and Mr Darlington at Bawdens” roll off his tongue, “key people in the area that caused children to do well”, stalwarts of the teaching profession in the rural parish in “the good old days”.

It was luminaries such as these who identified the country teenager as a budding star in the teaching profession from early.

Springer learnt Latin, French, Greek and English at the Regal Private School he attended after elementary school, owned by principal Alfred Wilkinson-Blackett. As a teacher at age 16 he went back to that school and taught “everything”, including those subjects.

Yet he does not downplay the importance and impact of the elementary school system of the day. “The people who ran this country some years ago are the kind of people who went to that kind of elementary school,” he observed.

Springer was one of the first male nurses in Barbados. Along with Colton Bennett (now the Reverend), Siebert Pollard and Bertie Yarde, he began training in nursing at the Barbados General Hospital when he was just past 18 years old because he was ineligible to join the Government service before age 21.

But on September 9, 1949, at age 19, following through on a suggestion, he joined the staff of St Simon’s Boys’ School, filling in for a teacher on leave. “I would not mind coming back to teach because I love to teach, I love children,” he told the Anglican priest who broached the idea.

Springer’s views on the education system in Barbados, teachers and teaching are informed by his vast experience. In his first acting appointment at St Simons he taught infants and was taken under the wing by legendary educator Lester Vaughn. His affable personality, which still endears him to people, won over his infant charges as it did with many other students throughout his entire career.

When Springer embraces his wife Talcie, the former St Philip public health nurse to whom he has been married for the past 60 years, and reflects on the daily motorbike ride up and down the hills of St John and St Andrew, travelling from their St Philip home to school in St Andrew and back in the early years of their marriage, he smiles.

That daily trek stopped the day he answered the call from education officer Goulborne Brathwaite to “come over into Macedonia and help me”. In the example of the disciple St Paul, Springer transferred from St Andrew’s Boys’ to St Catherine’s School in St Philip and rose to the position of principal of that school.

He is a prominent figure in the St Philip community he has called home for decades and residents constantly knock on his door either requesting his services as a Justice of the Peace or seeking advice or assistance from the former teacher.

His commitment to this island he loves is special. Springer once turned down an offer to teach at a British school at a salary four times more than he was earning in Barbados to come back home and teach.

In the hope that other teachers would derive the same satisfaction, he served for five years as president of the Barbados Union of Teachers and led the fight for that organisation’s independence from the Civil Service Association. He was in the vanguard of the struggle for improved conditions for teachers and last week the BUT honoured him by naming a road in their housing development after him.

Today, though removed from the active teaching scene, his views on education remain strong especially when it comes to the current style of management of education.

You realised he was not a happy camper when he said: “In those days we had real intelligence running the business of education.

 “The Chief Education Officer should be a person that can go and sit down and have a serious discussion with the principal of the UWI Cave Hill or the principal of Harrison College. You have to understand where the country is and where you hope as chief to see it go.

“As we have it now, there is no intelligence that goes into preparing children and dealing with people at the top. There is a lot of trial and error and then there is this aggressive approach that I don’t like from people.”

He believes efforts must be made by education authorities to get parents and teachers on the same page and talking to each other. He also thinks administrators of education need to meet teachers, exchange views and come to a common position.

At the same time Springer believes more teachers need to broaden their horizons by going overseas to see how things are done in other countries – “something we call comparative education”.

Just as stalwart educator the late Lawrence T. Gay told him, he tells teachers: “Plan your work and work your plan”, sound advice from the 86-year-old Springer, who concluded: “I believe I was sent down here from heaven to teach.”

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