Sep 20, 2015 News Comments Off on Learning new things everyday… Educator Vasta Dematos is a ‘Special Person’
By Desilon Daniels
“We all need to excel in what we do; if you’re in something, do your best at it. I felt that once I was in teaching, I needed to be the best teacher I could be…whatever you do, you should do it to the best of your ability.”
Born in the sleepy village of Charity, Pomeroon-Supenaam, Vasta Dematos had big dreams for herself. Though, admittedly, those dreams did not include teaching, Dematos would go on to impact hundreds of children through her role as an educator across Guyana.
However, despite her experience, the St. Gabriel’s Primary School headmistress shared that she is learning new things everyday and it is this determination to learn more after so many years that makes her a special person.
Dematos was born on November 20, 1966 in Region Two. The fourth of six children, she was born into a home of love and religion. This home was also one where the importance of education was drilled into the children.
“From a very early age, I knew right away that education was important to my parents so we were not allowed to miss school, even on the days we were not feeling so well or pretended to not feel so well,” Dematos explained with a laugh.
She shared that her parents were primarily farmers while her father would also do carpentry work. According to Dematos, the entire family, including the children, played a part in the farming lifestyle.
“We helped on the farm as children, especially after school; we did our little cleaning, weeding between the peas, and chasing away the birds with sticks,” she said.
Nonetheless, she said, the children were required to find time to dedicate to their studies.
She explained, “In those days we didn’t have electricity; we used to use the lamps with the wicks. Sometimes in the morning when you clean your nostril it’s all black with the soot.” They were aided along by their father, who she said would study with them in the nights despite having to work hard all day. Reflecting, she opined that having her father play such a role in her life went on a long way.
“He would study with us in the nights; he made sure he took on that responsibility. I think more fathers should take on that type of responsibility because what I find now is that more persons leave that for the mothers. My Dad was the person who helped us along,” she said.
With such a solid foundation at home, Dematos easily excelled in her studies and was awarded a place at the Anna Regina Multilateral School after writing Common Entrance Examinations. There, she also naturally excelled, leaving the school behind her with her CXC subjects under her belt.
Foray into education
Fresh out of high school and the world before her, Dematos admitted that teaching was not the path she wanted to take, though it was an option open to her.
“I didn’t start teaching right away because I really didn’t like it that much,” she admitted. She elaborated, “Maybe my primary school years were not very enjoyable; I got a lot of lashes in school because I was deemed to be smart so if I got one wrong I got several lashes.”
She stressed, “I didn’t want to take that course of life and when I grew older I realised I did not have to. And I told myself from a very early age that I don’t want to do that because I don’t want to be whipping anybody.”
She instead began a business of taking produce from her Region and selling it in Georgetown. This she did for several years before she began teaching at the age of 20. At the time, she was pregnant with her second son, Jeremy. Her first son, David, was born two years before.
She shared that teaching was only meant to be a temporary job before she moved on to greener pastures. It certainly seemed a more logical and less strenuous job compared to previous trade.
However, that was in April 1987 – 28 years ago.
“It was only meant to be a temporary thing; I thought that I would teach for a little while and after I had my second son I would go back to what I used to do. But then I really started to like it,” she said before continuing with a smile, “I found that it was what was meant for me so I stuck with it and I’m still here, after 28 years.”
Ironically, she began teaching at the very school that made her hesitant to get into the field. Her first teaching experience was gained at her old school, Jack Low Primary. However, she was determined to take a much different approach than her old teachers.
“The first thing I told myself when I began teaching is that I would never, ever use corporal punishment as a means of disciplining children. I have never used it on my own children and I rarely use it on children in the schools that I’ve taught at,” she said.
With this goal in mind, she began her foray into education. Her love quickly grew and she spent a year at Jack Low Primary. However, she knew there was more she could do to improve her performance so, ready for the next chapter, she signed up for the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE).
A price to pay
“I never taught that I would go to college actually,” Dematos admitted. “But after realising that this is what I wanted to do, I had to go.”
From 1989 to 1991, Dematos attended CPCE. Her family was not surprised whatsoever. Rather, she said, they wholeheartedly encouraged her. In fact, her eldest sister was already a teacher.
However, the decision proved to be a big sacrifice for her to make but a price she was willing to pay.
“I had my kids and then I became a single parent – not because of death of the father or anything but because he just went his way. So I basically looked after the kids with the help of my mom and my other siblings,” she said.
Having such a close knit family, she said, proved a huge help in bringing up her children. She said that while she missed her sons while studying, she was placated that they were with family who loved them dearly.
“I was raised in a very loving home so I wasn’t worried at all that they wouldn’t be well taken care of; that was my mother and I knew how she took care of me,” she said. “Every opportunity I got though I would go to see my sons; every holiday I was at home with them. It was kind of hard leaving my small children but sometimes we make sacrifices in life and they pay off. Studying was definitely one that paid off.”
However, though studying paid her, she said her two years at CPCE was mixed. “It was good and not so good. In those days life was not very easy. I used to walk from Ogle Road to Cyril Potter College everyday because I could not afford to pay a bus or catch a car. So, I would walk along the line-top every single day to CPCE and back to Ogle,” she recounted. “But maybe it was a good thing because it kept me slim and thin,” she added with a laugh.
She further said that she was supported by her family who would send produce from the farm back home. She also received a $400 stipend from CPCE that she “tried to make stretch”.
She eventually finished her studies and returned to Jack Low Primary for two years before moving on to Anna Regina Primary. She quickly rose through the levels and subsequently became the headmistress of the Abram’s Creek Primary in Region Two in 1999.
Since then, Dematos has held many positions in the education system, working as a teacher, headmistress, and even an officer in the Department of Education. She said that some of the jobs, such as the Education Department officer, were not for her since she preferred more “hands on” experience with children. However, she later learned that she was able to impact a wider cross-section of children from both the nursery and primary levels and she held this position for seven years.
However, after all of these achievements, Dematos wanted more and later attended the University of Guyana where she attained a Bachelor’s Degree in Education Administration. She shared that she never had plans of attending UG because she was never impressed by anyone who would have graduated from the institution. By that time, she had another son, Ricardo. Her children were all grown up, making her decision that much easier. She added that her own children have been very supportive of her even though they share her with so many others. She said she had a wonderful relationship with her sons – David, who is now 30, Jeremy, 28, and Ricardo, 22.
“They are adults now but they would still come and kiss me like they’re little children,” she said, smiling.
Dematos graduated from UG in 2010 at the top of her class as she neared her 44th birthday.
learning new things
Some might find it strange that a woman who has been teaching for nearly 30 years could be learning new things every day. However, Dematos said that this is the reality for her and one she embraces completely.
She explained that each day she learns from her pupils as well as her co-workers. She has currently settled down at St. Gabriel’s Primary where she has been since 2011.
“Every single day I learn new things; a couple years ago when I found myself in certain situations I would just go off the top and I would do some crazy things but now I’ve learnt to think through things before I make any decision. I’ve also learnt to not simply make decisions by myself. I have a great staff and we work towards making a decision that’s truly right. I learn from the teachers and I learn from the children every day and it’s definitely made me a better person,” she stressed.
So, what keeps ‘Teacher’ Dematos going after so many years? Well, she explained that it is her love for the job as well as her love for the children.
“Even on the days when I’m not feeling so well I know that I can’t miss a day because the kids would come looking for me,” she said. “These children come with so many problems and they have burdens that they’re not even supposed to have. Adults all aren’t supposed to have some of the burdens that these children come with. Sometimes school is the only place where they get some love and they get somebody to take care of them and so on.”
She emphasised the importance of teachers and stressed that educators must understand that they must love their jobs and the children in their care. “We try to shy away from this whipping and quarrelling and we look at positive reinforcement. When you tell a child positive things, they’ll return with positive things. It’s definitely catching on,” she said.
She went on, “Teachers need to be role models…teachers need to realise that they are important and that the kids are depending on them. We need to change some of our teaching methods as well; we need to move away from this ‘chalk and talk’ – because a lot of that is still happening – and do more hands on activities. We need to stimulate the children; give them things that they can manipulate and understand themselves. Fortunately, the change is already taking place.”
She stressed too that teachers must try to better themselves and not only their pupils. “We all need to excel in what we do; if you’re in something, do your best at it. I felt that once I was in teaching, I needed to be the best teacher I could be…whatever you do, you should do it to the best of your ability.”
Now at the age of 49, Miss Dematos is set to retire in six years. Her family has grown over the years and other educators have cropped up, including her younger sister, two nieces and even her son, Jeremy.
She is already prepared to settle into a life of comfort, taking care of and spoiling her only grandchild, Daviana.
“I’m hoping I’ll have lots of grandchildren by then! I only have one now. But when I retire, it’s not rehiring for me. I think I’ve worked enough; I know I gave it my all and I think I’m satisfied with that.”
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