Former Principal of the Charlie Smith High School and recent recipient of the Prime Minister’s Medal of Appreciation for Service to Education, Pauletta Chevannes, is calling for more structured mentorship programmes within the teaching fraternity.
“I am a believer in mentorship. I benefited from the mentorship of two principals – the late Sister Philamena of Holy Trinity High and Jeanette Grant-Woodham of Tivoli High,” Mrs. Chevannes recalls.
“They put me in positions of leadership – form teacher, grade supervisor, Acting Vice Principal – and gave me room to grow, allowed me to exercise my creativity. Mentorship was really helpful,” she explains during an interview with JIS News.
Former classroom teacher, school principal, education officer and advocate, Pauletta Chevannes, shows off her Prime Minister’s Medal of Appreciation for Service to Education during an interview with JIS News.
Additionally she points out that there were also “older teachers” whom she could go to and find out what was wrong with her lesson plan, why didn’t her lesson go well, why she was having a continuous problem with a child and what she could do differently.
According to Mrs. Chevannes, given the challenges facing today’s teachers, a mentorship programme that facilitates structured interaction between senior and younger teachers, as well as utilizes former principals and senior teachers who leave the system at the retirement age of 60, would redound to the benefit of the country.
“When my mother was 60, she was very old. Sixty now is not old. A person at 60 has a lot more to give and perhaps what is needed is to have a cadre of some of the very best teachers of that generation as mentors for some of the younger teachers,” she recommends.
“I am sure many of us would do it as a contribution to furthering nation building and, even if you have to give some stipend or something, in the long run it will be worth more than what you are extending,” she continues.
However Mrs. Chevannes, who has over 42 years of service to education as classroom teacher, school principal, education officer and advocate, cautions that mentorship is a two way street.
Younger teachers, she asserts, can also work with the older teachers and enrich the teaching process with their enthusiasm, creativity and innovation.
“When you enter into the classroom as a young teacher, you come fired up with all kinds of ideas and new methodologies and so on, you come across some, not all but some, of the older teachers who are set in their ways, a little reluctant to try anything different. As such you have these clashes of young and old,” she explains.
“It’s a question of balancing, being tolerant of and buying into each other’s views, ways, because both sides have their strengths and weaknesses,” she acknowledges.
Asked abouto the differences between teaching today and when she first started, Mrs. Chevannes responded that changes in society have brought about new challenges for the teaching profession.
“The challenges then that I met along the way, were mainly challenges in terms of coming to grips with what it is to be a teacher; learning to examine and criticize yourself, to look at your students’ failures as your failure and to, therefore, make the necessary changes,” she recalls.
The question of violence and aggression in schools, Mrs. Chevannes stresses, was not a topic of conversation, then.
“You had your one and two incidents, but teachers had control in the schools. They were respected in the society, and the concept of community and the extended family was integrally involved in parenting. Today, too many parents are abdicating their responsibilities,” she laments.
Mrs. Chevannes believes this has led to greater demands being placed on schools, with some being asked to work miracles in terms of changing the attitudes of children.
On the other hand, she contends that the teachers should also be held accountable.
“We have to take into consideration that many of the teachers in the system now, are people who grew up in a very different Jamaica from the one I grew up in, so their morals too are in question,” she argues.
The former principal concludes that this also serves to exacerbate the problem and reinforces her earlier call for more structured mentoring.
The likeable Mrs. Chevannes says that she is indebted to her peers for nominating her for the Prime Minister’s Medal of Appreciation for Service to Education.
Disarmingly modest, despite her impressive track record, she revealed that “it felt good” to receive the medal, but that the honour for her was not so much receiving the medal as being recognised and nominated by her peers.
“That to me is the real honour, that this would not have happened if someone or persons in the education system did not feel that I was worthy of being nominated. That for me was the greatest part of the reception of that medal,” she states.
This memory will be added to other moments of pride she has experienced over the years, while building the character and competencies of her students, she admits.
“I have a great sense of satisfaction, particularly when I see my students being successful, and when I say successful I do not judge their success just based on what they have achieved professionally. My main sense of satisfaction is seeing those young people exercise some sense of self, having strong values, building leadership among students in their communities. It gives me a great sense of pride that they have in fact continued the process of nation building,” she affirms.
Since 1967, Mrs. Chevannes has had successful stints at the Holy Trinity, Tivoli Gardens and Charlie Smith High Schools, as well as the Ministry of Education as an education officer. She has also served as Chairman of School Boards and has given public service to a number of institutions including JAMAL and the Teachers’ Services Commission.
While Principal at Charlie Smith, known mainly for its exploits in sports, she successfully integrated academics and sports. This saw criteria being developed for student-athletes to attend classes and be recommended for, or attain at least three Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) Subjects.
In 1995, Charlie Smith became triple football champions (Manning Cup, Walker Cup and Olivier Shield) and also won the award for most disciplined team, an accolade that Mrs. Chevannes describes as most satisfying.
“That for me was the success,” she says, however noting that she was publicly threatened for continuing the integration plan and, eventually, had to leave the school in 1998.
Despite this sour ending, Mrs. Chevannes has continued to give of her talents to education and has no plans to stop.
“I feel that each person is given a gift; each person has a contribution to make to a particular area of life. I feel that my contribution is in education, it is to help the younger ones to really become more productive, responsible. Therefore, as long as I am able to do that, then that is what I am going to continue to do,” she assures.
Mr. Chevannes is currently the Project Coordinator for the Change from Within Project, an outreach programme of the University of the West Indies (UWI), which operates in 40 schools across the island. It focuses on building leadership in schools, through creative and innovative interventions such as utilizing music and sports as a lever for change in attitudes and academics.
“We have what we call a circle of friends which comprises principals, guidance counselors and teachers, and we meet 2-3 times for the school year. We share best practices, look at challenges and design interventions for students at risk, parents, clerical and ancillary staff. When we speak of a school in the Change from Within Project we are talking about the whole school, every category of staff,” she emphasizes.
This approach ensures that the leadership within these schools is able to develop a comprehensive vision/plan of action and effectively share it with everybody.