By Lakhram Bhagirat
Teaching is more than just imparting academic knowledge; it is about the holistic development of those in your charge and with the advent of the technological era, teachers are now tasked with evolving their methods.
Ambika Singh has been in the teaching profession for over 18 years now and she has witnessed a complete evolution of the profession. She is the current Head of the Sciences Department at the Mahaicony Secondary School.
Her journey though, has not been on a perfectly paved road, rather it has been on one lined with potholes.
She grew up in a household with eight siblings and being the 8th of 9 children was not the ideal or best situation to grow under. She explained that the sheer amount of siblings placed her at a disadvantage when it came to obtaining an education.
“Especially when you live with an alcoholic father and brothers and the rest of the family who never saw the importance of education. But at that time looking at my family I knew exactly what I didn’t want to be. I made school compulsory for myself, even though many times I turned up to school late because of the struggle to get passage (transportation money), I still made it to school,” she recounted.
Learning was challenging for her as well because she had no one to assist or advise her since none of her siblings ever finished secondary school. Nevertheless, she persevered, intending to lift herself up and out of the situation she was in.
“I wrote CXC and I obtained 7 of 9 subjects. Yes, failed Math and English but it didn’t stop me. I rewrote them the following year. Then I started to work as an account clerk at a rice milling company after which they became bankrupt,” Singh said.
After the company became bankrupt and she was out of a job, Singh had no other option than to seek employment elsewhere. With very little opportunities for employment available in Region Five (Demerara-Mahaica), she applied for a teaching post. She was appointed to teach at the Belladrum Secondary School in October of 2002.
Singh was employed to teach English – the subject she failed initially. However, she approached the challenge head-on and was even promoted to temporarily head the department for over a year.
After spending three years in the system, she applied to become trained in the field. At the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE), she decided she wanted to specialise in the sciences but at the interview, she was advised to opt for Social Studies because her qualifications best situated her for it.
She did not have a good grade in chemistry and biology and did not sit physics which disqualified her from specialising in sciences. Dejected, she decided to follow the advice and registered to specialise in social studies.
“At the orientation, there was this humble, approachable and polite woman who spoke as the HOD (Head of Department) for science, Ms Noella London-Joseph. After listening to her, I approached her and indicated my interest to do science and not social studies and she said welcome to science. I never showed up to the social studies class. I was approached by the Student Welfare Officer and told I was going to fail science because science is perceived to be hard for normal people. But I let them know I will take full responsibility for my actions,” Singh recounted.
She successfully completed her training at CPCE and was transferred to Bush Lot Secondary School. After two years of teaching there, she went on to the University of Guyana where she read for her Bachelor’s Degree in Education. She was also on the path to completing her Master’s Degree in Education but had some complications.
“Teaching for over 18 years has given me the opportunity to grow as a person. I will not trade being in the classroom with any other job if I have a choice. There are challenges but it’s the challenges that motivate you to want to do better the next day. Being a teacher is not just about teaching academics, its about inculcating positive thinking and proper values into students’ lives. Its often said that if a child hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught. To some extent, this is true but not in all cases because a child sometimes cannot learn because of many outside factors that teachers cannot control, and our system does not cater for those factors.
“Teaching has changed in many aspects over the years, even though ‘chalk and talk’ are widely used in many schools still. The introduction of technology has become very interesting for the students since they can visualise the actual concepts. No longer students have to write long pages of notes since textbooks are available for their use. On, the other hand, teachers are burdened with completing records which sometimes takes away the focus on planning the best lesson,” the teacher said.
She advised that persons entering the profession have to be open to learning as well as teaching, noting that there is so much to learn as one becomes comfortable in the profession. As a teacher, she relishes the feeling when her students perform well at their examination but she is also equally proud when they excel in areas other than academics.