May 24, 2015 News
“As a true educator you become a parent; more than the light guiding the way to a successful academic career… It is the essence of this noble profession.”
By Kiana Wilburg
At some point in our secondary school education, we encounter the ‘exceptional’ teacher, the one whose
influence goes beyond that five or six-year period. It stays with us for an eternity.
The ‘exceptional teacher’ is the one who transforms the classroom from a dull, ordinary place into a virtual fun-park for learning, confidence building, and imparting important life lessons.
They possess a fire for transforming children, inspiring them, motivating them to never be afraid of questioning anything, and like actress Lily Tomlin said, they gave you something to think about besides homework.
This week’s ‘Special Person’, retired headmistress, Gail Roxanne Primo of St. Joseph High School, is one such person. She has the perfect balance between the discipline of an iron lady and the warmth and comfort of a mother. For her, the “slow learner” did not make her job harder, but more profound and satisfying.
Reflecting on her satisfying career, Miss Primo sums it up in one short sentence—”Teaching is just part of my DNA.”
With years of teaching and being a headmistress under her belt, the good-natured mother of one expressed that perhaps it is her humble beginnings and her mother’s insistence on the inculcation of certain critical qualities, that is responsible for how far she has come.
Born March 6, 1960 to Mavis Primo and Robert Moore, this highly respected educator related that her fondest childhood memories were conceived in Berbice and later in Linden.
She grew up with her grandmother in Rosignol, Berbice, while her mother worked in Richmond Hill, Linden, as a domestic and a seamstress, to ensure that her every need was met. But she would soon move to live with her aunt who was relocating to the mining town as well.
Primo recalled fond memories of her youth where she flew kites, climbed fruit trees and even ventured to her mother’s abode, on the Linden Highway, and almost being devoured by quicksand. Of course, she recalls receiving “a good old cut-tail” for going on such a dangerous trek but it was nevertheless, full of excitement for her.
“I had an very adventurous childhood and I had my cousins who were good role models for me. But more importantly, the sacrifices of my mother taught me that life was not a joke. You have to work for what you want.”
Primo attended her cousin’s kindergarten and then Rosignol Primary, but after being transferred to Linden she continued at Regma Primary. After successfully passing her common entrance exams, she moved on to Kara Kara High School which was soon after remodeled into a multilateral. It became even more exciting for her. There she was, a senior student, and quite early her capacity to be a leader rose to the fore. Primo was soon chosen to be a Prefect.
After graduating, she was eager to enter the world of work and did her first teaching stint at
Mackenzie Primary School. This didn’t last long. She then applied at a Bank for a job, considering her love for mathematics and economics. But this only lasted for one day.
“When I went to the job on the first day and I returned home, I greeted my mom with a very serious look on her face. She said that she didn’t think the banking work was for me because I am very forgetful and I would leave the people’s canister open and end up having to pay back a whole set of money. Believe it or not, that was the end of my attempts at a banking career. So I returned to teaching.”
“This (teaching) was always my first love. It was evident even when I was a child. I remember as a young girl I would cut out the ladies in the bathing suits from the fashion books my mom used, because I knew she wouldn’t want those and I had them lined up on the steps and taught them and all my other dolls. They would get terrible licks for not answering my questions,” she said with a smile.
The educator’s next teaching venture was at Linden Foundation Secondary where she learned
the value of criticizing in private and praising in public. That experience stayed with her as she recalled that at no point as a headmistress did she ever embarrass her teachers at St. Joseph High.
She worked there until 1979 and left for college where she did three years training at Lillian Dewar. After graduating, she returned to Linden in 1982 and resumed work at the Foundation until she left for the University of Guyana. There, she successfully graduated with a Degree in Economics.
“Before I graduated from UG there was a vacancy for senior teachers and I was transferred to North Ruimveldt Multilateral and worked there from 1988 to 2001. And I really did enjoy ‘multi’. It was home for me. I had my daughter, Jowanza, while being there too, but it did not affect my performance.
In 2001, I was promoted to Deputy at Ascension High and that was a revelation for me. I was never exposed to teenagers who could not read and I found that very strange and depressing to see those children – a school of 200-plus, and you could only find 10 being able to read. In 2004, I applied for a transfer to Brickdam or Christ Church Secondary. St. Joseph was nowhere in the picture.”
But as faith would have it, she was appointed Deputy of St. Joseph High School in 2004 when another of our featured personalities, Mrs. Ingrid Fung, served as Headmistress. But when Mrs. Fung retired, Primo acted for one year and was appointed Principal in 2007 until her retirement in March 2015.
Miss Primo noted that her mission at St. Joseph High was to maintain a certain level of discipline and surpass what was already achieved.
“When I came to this school, the academic performance was of a high level and my intention was to keep and surpass it. We also changed the timing for teaching periods and it moved from being 35 periods per week to 40 periods.
“Children are writing more subjects and at the end of my tenure I was pretty satisfied. In 2013, we were awarded for being the most improved secondary school and in 2014 we were named the number three performing school in the country.”
Miss Primo said that she has learnt a lot from teenagers, with the most important lesson being that educators have to learn to stay current.
And there were other noteworthy experiences in this regard.
“One of the things I didn’t realize was that they carry so much burden and responsibility. As a teenager, I recall my place was to get the good grades, but in the last four to five years, I found teens tended to be more burdened with adult matters, like where their next meal is coming from. That is their parent’s responsibility. In other cases, there is this get-rich-quick syndrome among them. A lot of teens didn’t have childhood experiences. They grew too quickly. Not their fault, but that is what happened.”
She said, too, that as a principal, one must know the art of delegating responsibilities. The educator said that at that level, there are more administrative and disciplinary matters than you would encounter as a class teacher.
“Teaching is my first love. I love to impart knowledge. It is a wonderful feeling to see the development of children from 11 to 16 years old. It gives you a sense of pride. If I was given the principal’s salary as a teacher I would have remained a teacher, simply because it provides more opportunities for helping to shape their lives.”
Though it has been a topic of much debate, Miss Primo still maintains that the “whip” really works. “It has worked before and it will always work. Everything has its place and degree, but it does work.”
Her advice to teachers is that they must love what they do, because the job of the teacher is quite challenging. She emphasized that discipline, knowing when to compromise, self-respect and confidence are key elements of the “exceptional teacher”.
Her guiding principle remains being plainspoken and fair. She now serves as the administrator of St. Joseph High.
With all that she has accomplished in her field as an educator, Miss Primo says that she has discovered that teaching from the heart changes one’s perspective and ultimately that individual’s image.
“As a true educator you become a parent; more than the light guiding the way to a successful academic career. It is the most gratifying feeling of my entire life to be a mother to hundreds. It is the essence of this noble profession.”
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