Shattered Dreams of Teaching In Jamaica: Part I
Today, while drinking my morning coffee and wondering what next to share at my blogsite, a story in the local Observer newspaper jumped at me. Since I am usually on the prowl for expat related stories, my interest was peaked.
I found the story interesting as it described how the writer fell in love with Jamaica’s culture after making several trips here over a span of years. The piece is a clear example of what I often tell people thinking about moving to Jamaica. I always encourage people to ask several questions to different people when trying to figure out how to manage and maneuver any bureaucratic red tape for living in Jamaica. Correct information is power and can save you the new comer, time, money and energy when performing a task as simple as obtaining Internet access.
My shattered dreams
Thursday, October 09, 2008
Part I of a two-part feature:
My love for Jamaica begun in 1984 when I taught English, Mathematics, and Spanish at the Mount Alvernia High School. During that time I walked all over the town and talked with Jamaicans of all ages, from every walk of life. The friendliness, the manners, the playfulness impressed me. As a teacher, however, I was most enthusiastic about the intelligence.
That’s right! As soon as I heard Jamaicans speak, I thought to myself, “They talk so fast, they must be thinking fast!” As the young hagglers selling necklaces approached me to buy something, I began quizzing them. The education wasn’t there, but the smarts sure was. I enjoyed giving them math riddles, brain busters and such, and they enjoyed figuring them out.
From then on, they begged me, “Teacher, please teach us something”. It was always with respect as they put their wares away and we explored the math around us. In the classroom, the good students actually ended up helping me teach the slower ones. Being conditioned by Americans students who are so spoiled with schooling that they are resistant to it, I was thrilled to meet people who valued learning. For them, it wasn’t just memorizing and regurgitating, these students worked hard at mastering the material.
Conversations with adults led my idealism and nature as a teacher to take over. They all wanted to learn. And they learned so well, all I could think was “Wow! If these people received the education we get in the US, they wouldn’t build bombs. I was firm in believing that these amazing Jamaican people could change the world by example. With education, there would be solar power, wind power, clean water, housing and food for all. My vision truly was Heaven on earth. Yes, I believe, “on Earth as it is in Heaven.’ And it was to start somewhere. I still believe education is the key. Give them something to do with their minds and bodies and they won’t need to turn to crime.
All right, that was the mid eighties. I had to leave after two years stay but I vowed to come back. My dream was to return to Jamaica to start a Maths Clinic where anyone could come to learn. I mapped it out, I envisioned it. I worked toward it. For twenty years I worked at schools in the US, saving money and collecting materials for the Maths Clinic, while visiting Jamaica at least twice a year. I was determined to make this dream come true. I felt it God’s purpose for my life.
I returned to Jamaica in 2004, bringing with me crates full of teaching materials, paid US$10 000 to ship them here and then started paying the government for the privilege of teaching. It took a year and a half before I got a self-employment work permit valid for a two year period. Until the government granted me the permit, I frequented the Library helping students who needed it and did volunteer work at several schools nearby.
Once I got the permit, I needed to have a location, I found a house on 1/3 acre in the center of Montego Bay. This would be it. It had room to grow, a perfect location, a beautiful learning environment. I was certain that my vision, my dream for Jamaica, would finally come true.
So, what happened?
Too many things!
I did have students coming to my home, but soon realised that I couldn’t open my doors to everyone. I stopped going to the library when I was charged $500 for a library card that I never received and was told that I could not bring my own books there. I searched for a location downtown and followed every lead no matter where it took me.
People were very interested.
Some people offered to help, but no one did.
Nevertheless, I persevered.
I built up a meagre business, often teaching students for free or for whatever they could afford.
I still interacted with the street kids whenever I could. When they would beg money, I would pay them to do a math problem. My joy was in seeing their faces light up when they earned $10 for figuring out 3×4=12. One boy actually insisted on giving me change!
Then the time approached to renew my work permit. That meant a stack of paperwork, finger printing, police records, visits to the Ministry of Labour and ultimately Immigration.That meant five trips to Kingston. It was on the bus to Kingston that I met an attorney who said he would do the traveling for me. That’s what he did for a living…. (to be continued)