At a time when there appears to be a dearth in positive male role models in the classroom, one St. James-based teacher is doing his part to make a difference in the lives of his students.
Richardo Smith, who teaches Chemistry at the all-boys Cornwall College, has not only been imparting scientific knowledge to students, but also the skills, values, and attitudes needed for them to become worthwhile citizens and contribute to society.
(Related Story: Cornwall College Wins 'My Favourite Teacher' Award)
The 30-year Hanover native, who returned to his alma mater in 2005 to “give of his best”, tells JIS News that he inspired by a line in the school song, that of “converting boys into men of might”.
He says his role is to not only to guide them academically, but to also help them become the real men that society so desperately needs.
Speaking to JIS News in an interview recently, Mr. Smith laments the fact that many young Jamaican boys are in need of positive influences, particularly from the male adults around them. “We can see where many of them lack proper guidance and they need (a figure) like a ‘fairy god-father’, somebody who looks out for them,” he explains.
“I see myself as that person at Cornwall College because while I was going to Cornwall, I never had that person looking out for me,” confesses Mr. Smith, who was also deputy head boy. “So, I’m just trying to give to the boys, what I think was lacking in my time,” he says.
His hard work and dedication has certainly paid off in more ways than one, as not only can he boast a 100 per cent pass rate for Chemistry at the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) level, but he was recently honoured with the ‘My Favourite Teacher’ trophy, during an awards ceremony held at the Wyndham Kingston hotel on May 25.
He was nominated by one of his students, sixth-former Brandon Ten-Fah, who entered the essay competition to write about the wonderful qualities of his favourite teacher.
The duo were among 50 teacher/student teams that entered the inaugural essay competition, organised by the Institute of Protocol and Etiquette in association with Moasis Lighthouse, and was open to high school students across the island, who were asked to write essays about their favourite teacher.
Mr. Smith tells JIS News that there are not enough words to truly express how he feels about being recognised by his students. “I’ve always worked hard, but I don’t do it out of any need to see (awards) being given to me. I do it because there is a void, especially where young boys are concerned in Jamaica,” he says.
He says he does not wait until the boys come into his classroom to be a positive influence in their lives. “Once they come into my (purview) I believe it is my task to really assist them,” he says.
Mr. Smith, who is a graduate of the University of the West Indies (UWI), admits that he initially had no plans of becoming a teacher, but actually wanted to practise medicine. “I attempted medical school, but never had the money…so I was privileged to do a degree in Chemistry and Biochemistry. After which I decided to come back to Cornwall College to add my contribution,” he says.
He explains that when he started teaching at the school seven years ago, the institution’s once thriving science programme was not doing as well as it did in the past. “So, I took it as my job to bring it back to what it was like in my time. I believe I have done that to the extent where we can now celebrate that we have annually a 100 per cent pass rate at the CAPE level. And we also boast a 96 to 98 per cent pass rate at the CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate),” he says.
Mr. Smith’s advice to teachers is to adapt to meet the needs of students, noting that “teaching is not a formula you read from a textbook”. He notes that teachers must recognise that as the world changes, so too must they.
“We have to change our methodology, our modus operandi. You have to think outside of the box. I view teaching as a way of empowering the boys,” he says.
Mr. Smith says that for him, teaching is no different from being a salesman, and education the product. “When I go to my Chemistry class, I sell research. I sell the importance of having researchers in Jamaica, I sell the importance of having men, who are scientific, in terms of building Jamaica and building the economy,” Mr. Smith says.
He adds, “I even sell the English Language, because I explain to them the importance of speaking and writing well.”
He tells JIS News that in the future he sees himself molding and guiding more young minds to excellence. He however admits that research is one of his many passions and hopes that one day he will be able to focus on that area. “I also see myself lecturing, because I believe this would be a greater spread. I also want to create teaching programmes that I think boys will be more interested in,” he says.
In the meantime, sixth form student, Brandon, who wrote the winning essay about Mr. Smith, says he believes his teacher has brought the subject of Chemistry to life for him and his fellow classmates.
“He is a very dynamic teacher. He has opened our minds and really allowed us to see a spectrum, to see education in a very three-dimensional way,” he says.
Reading from his winning essay, Brandon, who is also Head Boy at his school, explains that he nominated Mr. Smith because “he is everything a good teacher is; a master of his discipline, and a man of his word”.
“I can accredit to Mr. Smith, not only my fundamental knowledge of the science of Chemistry, but also to my increasing developing skill of critical thinking and application of my knowledge of science for researching and experimenting beyond the context of what is required in a syllabus,” his essay reads.
The aspiring doctor also wrote: “At a time when Jamaica faces the challenge of a lacking in powerful and involved male leaders, in not only homes, but also in schools. I have seen it fit to stamp the fact that the work of Richardo Smith, as a teacher, is not limited to the classroom, but is instead, simply unparalleled in his holistic approach to his discipline."
He notes that under Mr. Smith’s instructions, some of the many lessons he and his fellow classmates have learned include, synthesizing pesticides, creating a usable bio-fuel and have considering using the process of fermentation for the production of their own wines.
“I say with utmost pride, that the quality of my work in this field is a reflection of the vibrancy that resonates from Mr. Smith’s persona as a teacher,” the Head Boy says.
By Athaliah Reynolds-Baker, JIS Reporter