By: Alva Solomon
For Dennis John, being an educator is not only a passion which inspires him to assist the younger generation, it is also a field which he is determined to utilise to qualify himself. And even after retiring in 2015, he ensured he went back to write several CSEC subjects to satisfy that passion, with years of experience to his advantage.
John, a father of four, was a school teacher for some 35 years, and although it was difficult and challenging to teach in the remote villages of the Barama and Waini Rivers of Region One, he believed it was his duty to ensure that the children of those areas receive an education that would benefit them in the long term.
John was an untrained teacher whose services made a difference in the remote village of Kariako, one of the far-flung mining communities in the Barama River in the North West District.
John went down memory lane and gave an insight into how he started out in the teaching profession. He said it all started back in 1976, when he completed an agriculture programme at the village of Arakaka near Matthew’s Ridge, another area of the North West District.
He travelled back to his home in the village of Waikarebe in the Barama River, where he felt inspired to become a teacher. After applying for the post, he said, he was placed at the village of Warapoka, which sits on the Waini River.
“I started there on June 21, 1980, and was there for two and a half years,” he said.
After that period, John moved to live with his wife and children in the nearby village of Santa Cruz. He spent some four years teaching at the primary school there, and then Regional Education Officer Mr Lloyd Baharally asked him to head a new school which was touted to be opened at the village of Kariako.
“I was really anxious to go to Kariako, because I never went there prior to that, and it was an experience to remember,” he said.
Accompanied by another young teacher at the time, one Learmond Abrams, the two created history as being the first teachers to teach at the village. That was in 1986, and John remembers paddling to the area as if it were yesterday.
“It took us almost a week to get there,” he said. “It was there I gained much of my experience paddling.”
He recalled spending the nights on mudbanks and under mora trees as the sun set in the distance during the week-long trip. On arrival at the village, the duo received a warm welcome from the residents.
At the time, the Smith family provided much support to the young teachers, and John noted that he and Abrams lived at the same building where school was kept.
He said some 60 students registered to attend the school, and they were placed at various levels.
“We had to adjust and teach all the levels,” John recalled.
He said that, during this time, the Smith family would supply the two teachers with rations needed for their upkeep. In addition, he noted that there was no need for them to travel to their home dozens of miles away, except on occasions to uplift their monthly salaries.
John noted that he also had to put systems in place for his wife and children to ensure their well-being was in order back at Santa Cruz where they resided.
“I didn’t know where I was going, because Kariako is a far place, so I couldn’t take them,” he said, noting that he made arrangements with shops for them to obtain rations.
Given the remoteness of Kariako, John said, at times of sickness, he faced many challenges. “It was not easy at all, because there was no health centre and so nearby,” he added. He said he contracted malaria countless times, and he remembers the days of paddling to get treatment dozens of miles away.
“I remember paddling down to get to the nearest health centre, at Santa Cruz where my family was living, it was far,” he added.
John said that for a short period, he relocated to be with his family at Santa Cruz while a new building was being constructed to house the school at Kariako. He said he went back to the latter location in 1991 after construction of the school building and a teacher’s quarters had been completed. He stayed at the village until 2012, three years prior to retirement.
“During that time, I gained a lot more experience in working with the children at various levels,” he said. “We worked hard with those children, because we wanted them to become educated,” he said.
He said that, while at the village, he managed to set aside time to upgrade his own qualifications. As such, in the year 2000, he studied for and wrote Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) mathematics and English examinations. When the results came, he was happy to learn he had obtained Grade One passes in both subjects.
John then asked to be transferred to Santa Rosa at Moruca, and while there, he concretised plans to build his home to permanently settle with his family. He said a senior Education official then informed him that he was needed to be in charge of the primary school at the village of Father’s Beach, located along the Atlantic Coast near the mouth of the Moruca River. There he spent the remaining years of his lengthy career until 2015. He said although the area was different from where he had previously worked, he received full cooperation from the parents, students and villagers.
“I retired with a 100% pass at the Grade Six level there,” he added.
John said that in 2015, some months after retirement, he prepared to write additional CSEC subjects. He said he wrote Social Studies and Integrated Science, and according to him, he worked tirelessly as he prepared to sit the examinations. John said his wife was especially supportive during that time, and that he studied 45 modules for both subjects during his preparations and would be up as late as 3am some mornings with his books.
“There are times when I overheard young people say that it is too late. But for me, it is not too late; it is up to you,” he said of writing the secondary school exams. “You are never too old to learn,” John said.
He said he contemplated his next move post-retirement, and he applied for and was offered a job as the ‘dormitory father’ at Bartica in Region Seven. He oversaw the dormitory which housed students of the Three Miles and Bartica Secondary schools, and he stayed there for some four years, until 2019. John said that although he had to adjust to a new environment and a new role, his main aim was to assist the students at the facility.
“The key thing I had in mind was to ensure the students study. Every day I would sit with them and try to encourage them, so they could be motivated and build their minds,” he added.
John said being a ‘dorm father’ is not only about sitting and being an administrator at the facility, “but you have to work with the students.”
He said that when he took up the role, the students were preparing to write the CSEC examinations, and he noted that he ensured he provided support to them. “They did well at the exams. It takes a lot of encouragement to show these students that they can do well,” he elaborated.
At the moment, John is in charge of the dormitory at the Santa Rosa Secondary School, and although he is in his mid-60s, he said he still has a lot of educational knowledge and advice to share with the students. At the male dormitory, there are posters and words of advice plastered on the walls, which John said he prepared and placed there to ensure the boys are always motivated.
“My thing is that they should never give up,” he said, adding that once they set their goals, they should work towards them persistently.
As regards when he is “really retiring,” John said he feels satisfied that he is able to understand students at all levels of primary and secondary education, and he noted that he plans to be around the learning environment even when he moves on from his current role.
He said he would make it his duty to offer valuable knowledge and advice to his predecessor at the dormitory, and noted that he is always ready to share his experience. “I don’t like to keep this knowledge to myself,” he noted. “This is my word of advice to students: ‘Never give up on what you are doing’,” he said in an upbeat tone.