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BUT president speaks of being driven by a love for children and making learning fun

by Donna Sealy

pedroshepherdgsturesThe first time you meet Pedro Shepherd you might think that he is a quiet, easy going guy.

Not saying that he is not, but in Bajan parlance he is no sweet bread either.

Anyone who heard him at the Barbados Union of Teachers’ Annual General Meeting in April would have been surprised as he stated the case for his members during the first feature address.

Any notions they had of him “not hurting a fly” went through the door after that and many of them realised he was not a man to be trifled with.

But for the St. Philip resident, he was simply stating his case as he asked for outstanding issues to be addressed so that his members and certainly all teachers get what they deserve.

That is all he wants.

It was on Wednesday afternoon at the union’s Merryhill, Welches, St. Michael headquarters that he chatted about his road to the presidency, his time in the classroom and his plans.

The afternoon was warm, and as he settled into the chair behind a desk in one of the rooms, he took off the tie he was wearing earlier when he conducted a press conference to speak about their concerns about Alma Parris Secondary School, among other issues.

It was on May 27, 1987 that he had his first assignment starting out at St. Bartholomew’s Boys’ where he stayed until September before moving on to Wilkie Cumberbatch Primary.

“Technically, I’ve been there since then, I had a short stint of three weeks at Christ Church Boy’s in ’91 and then I got transferred to St. Margaret’s in ’96 for two terms, Pine Primary for one term and then ’97 September I went into Erdiston College until ’99 and then I returned to Wilkie,” he recalled while looking through one of the windows.

For the record, he was not one of those people who had a burning desire to teach.

In fact, when he left Coleridge & Parry School he had no idea what he wanted to do.

“Teaching was the farthest thing from my mind. I would want to credit my involvement to a former parliamentary representative, a former government minister Warwick Franklin. I would have gone to him asking about work I believe, I don’t remember how it unfolded. He asked if I ever thought about teaching. I told him no.”

The then former minister of agriculture suggested he head to the Ashton Hall institution for testimonials, which he did. He then went on to have the interview at the Ministry of Education in Jemmotts Lane and got the job.

“It is not something I always had my eyes set on as a child. I grew up in an area that was sort of remote, my vision might have been blurred. I believe I wanted to be a bus driver because on my way to school I had to walk 500 metres down a cart road so I would drive. When I get close to the bus stop I would park the bus, stand by the bus stop and when I came home on evenings I would go by the bus stop, pick up the bus and drive home — so maybe I wanted to be a bus driver.

“I never thought about teaching or being a policeman. My mother used to work at a plantation and on evenings and in the Summer I would go help her pick cotton and that was fun. I never thought work was anything you had to go to 8 to 4 p.m,” he said then broke into laughing.

pedroshepherdstandsToday, the 45-year-old IT Coordinator and Agricultural Science teacher would not leave the profession and certainly not Wilkie Cumberbatch Primary.

“Wilkie has one of the best staffs you can find in the island. There are some who might not share my view but you have to come to Wilkie and experience it. You have to be able to stick it out. There are some people who will come for a term and say they can’t stay any longer. They don’t like it the culture, but if you remain there for two or three years, or not even so many, you will see that it is not really a bad place.

“It has always had good leadership, it has always had good senior people who mentor younger teachers and there are some who would have left for whatever reason and when you see them they say I could’ve stayed there,” he stated.

He described Wilkie is his school and he said has no qualms doing what needs to be done at the Pine, St. Michael school. He said if his principal wanted something done in St. Lucy he would go without hesitation and during some breaks away from the classroom, he would do some things there such as paint chalkboards for other teachers.

“I thoroughly enjoy teaching. It provides the opportunity for me to give back what little I got because I don’t think I got a lot out of the system. I wasn’t a bad behaved child but anybody who knows me or who knows my family would tell you that the Shepherds were intelligent but they never liked school. We always used to hide away from school [St. Mark’s Primary].

“I can only remember Infants A, Infants B where Ms. Browne was my teacher, Class 3 and 4. I used to never really go to school. But for some reason I still got 215 B in the Common Entrance [Exam] and went to CP. I would walk through the back, walk through cane and bush and hide in there many days, many months,” he recalled with laughter.

“I really think I’ve achieved a lot not having been in school for a long time. We never had watches but we always knew when it was 3 o’clock and whether we hide in the cane or the bush, wherever. I don’t know if we heard children coming home but we would always go home like if we went to school. Of course our mother would know we didn’t go to school. Some days we would hide under the cellar … we would get some licks but we would do the same thing the next day,” he said laughing.

These days his work load in the classroom has been reduced because of his union duties and he teaches some Infants A and B information technology but Shepherd said he misses the classroom where he could shape the young minds in his charge.

“I prefer children who are slow, the C or B classes. I don’t like the high flyers cause to me you really don’t achieve a lot because those children are naturally bright. They have all of the reading resources, parental support so you don’t see where they move but if you have the slow class and those children who cannot read at the beginning of the year and you get them to be able to read, then you can see.

“I always tell people about Dwayne Greenidge. I taught him and he was one of those students who nobody wanted to teach, nobody wanted to associate with. I was like a father figure and if I was at school until 6 — he would stay there until 6. When I was ready to go he would walk and go home. He went to Alma Parris because he was not at the top of the stream, he was also in my 4H for some time too and he has been Alma Parris’ success story. At 14 or 15 he made some move, and he has a first degree and he’s moving ahead. He’s also on the executive now,” he said.

His philosophy with the slower students is simple: you cannot be slow and bad behaved. He gave them choices.

“If you’re slow sit in the class and learn something, at least some manners, I would have sent children to Garrison, St. George wherever. I believe I would have sent some of the most mannerly children. All my children like me… I enjoy teaching so therefore I want my children to enjoy it. I try to be funny in the class. Other teachers might not think it’s funny when I crack a joke,” he said.

When he isn’t in the classroom or conducting union business, he’s farming — tending to his chickens and vegetables.

He said the area where he grew up cultivated his love for the land and his family always had sheep and goats and he said most people remember him from being in the garden at CP.

So what was his impetus for joining the BUT?

He joined in 1998 after now Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Senator Harry Husband, and other union members visited Wilkie Cumberbatch, but he was not active until 1996 after he said he spoke out at a zone meeting and got transferred.

“In 1996, I got elected, because of my mouth I guess, to the executive and I was on from them till now. In 2003 I resigned as Executive Member, when Undine [Whittaker] resigned and Karen [Best] moved up and ran for vice president. I held onto that for nine years and when Karen demitted office to take up the post of Deputy Chief Education Officer, I acted as president and the members reposed the confidence in me then to continue at least for another year,” said Shepherd who is also CTUSAB’s recently appointed first vice president.

For him, his outspoken manner comes with the position.

“There are people who have never heard my voice. As head of the union, there are certain expectations of you and I think that you have sometimes to bend a little…,” he said.

He also has aspirations of being a politician so he can give back to the society that helped him at a higher level.

“I have until 60 and in 2018 I’ll be there,” he said.

To relax, the proud father of a 21-year-old son and an 11 year-old daughter, both Harrisonians, goes driving.

“I enjoy driving, I like to look around and see what is happening. If I’m not in teaching I would like to be in politics so I tend to observe things that are happening and make certain judgements. From time to time I might express my views at a political branch meeting but I don’t have a lot of activity in my life.

“I’m not into sports. I burn about $250 in gas a week, always up and down. There was a time when people thought I lived in the Ivy because I was always at Wilkie every day in the garden, relax for a while,” said the school’s former PTA president.

At this juncture in his life, he’s comfortable — living by the credo that “what’s for a man he will get”.

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