38 years of dedication to teaching

by Latoya Burnham

Maxine Husbands with one of the boys in the infants school.
Maxine Husbands with one of the boys in the infants school.

Thirty-eight years in one profession is pretty much a lifetime. But Maxine Husbands takes it in stride, with an ever present smile.

She entered the teaching service at 16 years old, when after a short training stint, she was assigned to Deacons Primary, then the Christ Church Boys’ School, now called Milton Lynch Primary, before ending up at Selah Primary in St. Lucy.

Back when Husbands was leaving school, she said there were only about four main professions women were expected to opt for – nursing, banking, secretarial work or teaching. However unintentional a choice, she chose the latter.

“I don’t think I was led as such. During the 70s, I would have left school in 1975, and there weren’t many options for girls… I think someone came to the school when I was in fifth form and shared out some forms for the induction course and I filled it out and sent it in. During the vacation I went and did the course and realised I quite liked it. We did a lot of practical work and I said, maybe I can do this. I went back to school and then one day I said let me go to the Ministry and see if they have any vacancies and they did. So I left school on the Friday, started work on the Monday and I’ve been working ever since, and I was 16.”

And it was not a big deal, she said, that she was only 16, when even then most young teachers would have been about 18. Back then, most girls would have been thinking about how to help their mothers support the family or do their part to help raise their siblings.

So this was just part of the process into adulthood for young girls.

“I left Deacons and went to Milton Lynch for five years and then here. It didn’t seem exceptional to start at 16 for me. Since then I’ve realised that I was quite young because most people would have started at 18. I think in my case I would have started secondary school quite young because then you could sit the exam at 10. So I passed at 10, went to secondary school and by 14 or 15 I would have done O’Levels and that second year when I went back to school, I was going into Upper Fifth at 16.

“I wasn’t really doing a lot more subjects. I already had the qualifications for teaching and I wasn’t that busy at school and back in those days we were not as fortunate as you young people are now. All on your mind was leaving school and getting a job because you had to help with the household.”

Gesticulating from behind her desk, even as the voices of young children floated on the air with lessons going on in nearby classrooms, Husbands reminisced that times had changed much from her early days.

Teaching itself, she noted, was a lot more technologically based now than before, when teachers would have had to prepare lesson and teaching aides by hand, often pulling their own pockets for materials. Additionally, the typewriter and duplicator were the main form of “technology” they had at their fingertips.

It’s calm and peaceful up here, said the principal.
It’s calm and peaceful up here, said the principal.

“There weren’t a lot of ready made or commercially produced things. That is one of the main things. Of course, a lot of different teaching methods have been tried over the years. Like now you have constructivism and that kind of thing, where the children are supposed to be the centre of it all,” she said. With a slight frown in her brow, she clarified though, “I’ve always thought that children were at the centre, it’s just that you did it in a different way because everything that we did was for the good of the children. So I always felt that they were the centre. Of course they wanted to get away from the teacher standing in front of the class, just talking to the children, which I don’t mind. It is good when de children are interacting, but at some point you need to be in charge and be seen to be in charge, otherwise things can get a little chaotic. So back then it was a lot of chalk and talk. Now you have all the technology to help you. I would say teaching wise it is easier now but not class management wise.”

Where before the teacher always seemed to have the full backing of the parents, now things were quickly changing to the point where parents are quick to cry down the teachers rather than help them help their children.

It also meant approaches to teaching were rapidly changing to keep up with changing classrooms and environments.

“Parents weren’t so quick to criticise what you were doing. Nowadays parents pay more attention, which isn’t a bad thing in itself, because it keeps you on your toes, but the children themselves are more difficult to handle because there are so many distractions. You have to work a lot harder to get them focused in the first place.

“Back then the parents were more involved in impressing on children the importance of education because the emphasis was on being educated enough to get a good job and whatnot. Nowadays, children have all the things we were working for already, so they don’t think they need education as much, but they still need it and probably even more.”

The key, she emphasised, was to keep demonstrating and reiterating the importance of education to children at this young stage. Her motto, she said was ‘You are here to learn’.

With the changes in education, Husbands said, came changes in the psychological approaches needed as well.

“You have to employ more psychological tactics than before. It means teachers have to know a lot more about how children learn, especially how modern day children learn, which may be different from how they were before.

“Teachers have to be a lot more educated now because you have to know a lot more what is going on in the children’s head. It is not do as I say because that is not going to work. Sometimes no matter what you say, so you have to say you know what, maybe if I do it this way they are going to understand. So a lot of psychology is involved, which is why now a lot of people who want to teach are majoring in psychology at the university and things like that. We also do a lot of professional development programmes, both school based and at the ministry level because we are looking a lot more on what makes children tick.”

For Husbands, just like teaching was something she did and found she liked, administration came just as much by chance as did her first posting. A position opened for senior teacher and she was told she should apply. Similarly, when a position for acting principal opened at Milton Lynch, she was asked if she would be interested and thus went the story.

“I wasn’t that I decided I would climb the ladder and so on, but certain things come naturally to you. So throughout the years whatever school I was at, if I saw certain things needed doing, it wasn’t that I would say I am not an administrator and not get involved. I figure that once you are working at a school you should get involved at whatever level. So if the principal needed help I would get involved. If the senior teacher needed help, she would call on me. I guess after a while people took notice…

“There isn’t much that I don’t like [about teaching]. You will always find difficulties in whatever you do, but when I come across a problem I just find a way to solve it. I like to see children doing well and I believe all children have the potential to do well in something. So I pride myself on being able to discover what potential a child has. So I like to see children reach whatever potential they have,” she said.

Reaching potential is something she knows about not just in education, but as the wife of politician, Senator Harry Husbands, she noted that she enjoyed working behind the scenes, watching plans come to fruition. And while she has no political aspirations of her own and continues to support her husband as much as he continues to support her growth and development in education, Husbands said that education could perhaps be where it is for her until retirement. She looks forward to the challenge associated with a new project and will not refuse if any are thrown her way either at the school or ministry level, because she absolutely loves learning new things, but for now she loves driving into the gates of Selah Primary, listening as the children call out “Mrs. Husbands” or walking into a classroom to associate with both staff and students.

It might not have been a dream to start with, but teaching has certainly turned into Maxine Husbands’ passion these past 38 years. latoyaburnham@barbadostoday.bb

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