JIS News

The classrooms are small and open to the elements, undecorated by the fans that dot many of the schools in more affluent neighbourhoods in Kingston.
The classes are noisy, and the wind whips up the dust from the nearby denuded playing field. Yet, in that same environment are smiles, eager faces, and willing warriors.
Primary School Teacher, Cordell Francis is one such warrior, girded to do battle daily in the inner-city community of Olympic Gardens, where she teaches at Seaward Primary and Junior High.
It is here that she accomplished the rare feat of leading every single member of her grade four class to full mastery in the Grade Four Literacy Test last year.
Speaking with JIS News, she explains that she used time-honed teaching practices, including spending one-on-one time with the students, and repeating lessons and ideas with them until they understood.
“I have helped to achieve mastery with 75 per cent or more of my class before,” she says, pointing to her huge success last year. There was also another year when only five persons out of a class of nearly 40 did not pass the National Assessment Programme (NAP) examination, and those were marginal, needing only one point each to pass.
“One of the advantages last year was that I had a smaller group. The students were teachable, and humble. I did a lot of comprehension skills with them, showing them how to understand what the paragraphs were saying. We read the questions together, searched for the answers to make it easier. I also taught them about things which were not in the paragraphs, letting them know that these are some of the things that may come in the exam,” she says.
These other ideas, she notes, were drawn from the children’s environment and experiences, and also from her own.
“I spent a lot of time doing extra work with them. I also did a lot of dramatizations, to help cement the ideas in their minds. I had to stand over some children and decide that they were going to do the work, whether they liked it or not. Children had to do the same work over and over until they got the idea. I would do the same test sometimes for one week until they got the ideas, the methods and the answers. I taught them to stick to a task until it was finished,” she explains.
Observing Miss Francis over a period of three days JIS News saw her hugging, cajoling, even counselling children, not only in her class, but outside on the corridors during breaks. There was no doubt that she loved her charges, and that they reciprocated. The level of respect was obvious, by the body language students displayed when they spoke to ‘Miss’.
“Teaching is rewarding. Seeing children understanding.they are something else, the way they respond,” she explains, her features taking on a look of intensity. “Everyday you see something to laugh about. The children teach you. Teaching for me is a divine pick, as far as I am concerned. I really want to mold the children’s characters,” she shares with JIS News.
When she prayed for a job that would allow her to have a holiday upon leaving school, and also give her time with her family, the Mico graduate, who also studied Hotel and Tourism Management at the College of Arts, Science and Technology (CAST), now University of Technology (UTech), had no idea that she would end up teaching. Nor did she know that she would remain in teaching for such a long time.
Miss Francis started teaching at Seaward in 1998, intending to stay for three years. That was 10 years ago. Now she has another goal to achieve; she wants to remain with her students, who are now in the fifth grade, until they do the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) next year. After that she will perhaps take that long overdue leave.
“I feel I have not done my best when the children are not getting it,” she says.
The Ministry of Education has embarked on a renewed focus on literacy with the aim of having 85 per cent of all primary school students achieving full mastery in literacy skills by 2015, and continues to place emphasis on the Grade 4 Literacy Test, as the means through which students will be certified ready to sit the GSAT.
There are many teachers who are engaged in providing the right classroom environment and instruction for the nation’s children. In spite of the many challenges, they have made a difference in the educational attainment of the children they teach.

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