I never wanted to be a teacher

I remember when I was growing up I really wanted to be a flight attendant mainly because I loved traveling. After researching, I found out that I didn’t meet the height requirements, at least for the local airlines. Fine, I got the throught out of my head. I then said, “Well I’ll just have to make enough to be able to afford to travel on my own.”

At the age of eleven I got my first computer system. I was completely fascinated with The Sims game for quite a few weeks. This game was not adding any educational value to me except consuming all my time. I explored my computer, using trying programs such as Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing and began to ask questions. I gained many insights from talking with students older than myself. I then decided I wanted to work with computers.

I then began doing internet searches (I think yahoo or ask back then) on how I can create a web page whenever I had access to the internet. I didn’t have an internet connection at home a few years later when I was in high school. I remember finding that information. This was early 2000’s. And I made my first web page. It had tables, lists and lots of colors. That was the first thing I learned to do before learning how to add images. I thought, Yes, this is what I’m going to do, “I’m going to be a web designer.”

As I progressed in high school that was my main focus. Sadly, the only class was information technology, which taught us how to use the Microsoft office suite. We also learned how to add, multiply, convert numbers in binary and program with visual basic. I thought, sure but how is this helping me to build web pages? That was the main subject area I was interested in. I graduated high school, applied and got accepted into the only post-secondary institution that could teach me these skills.

While going to college, I needed to get a job to help for college. I first got a temporary job being data entry clerk/receptionist. In my time there, a job I had applied for months before with the Ministry of Information reached out. I was so happy, thinking yes I’ll finally be closer to doing what I wanted.

During the interview, I realized this is not what I was expecting. They wanted me to teach information technology (IT) to students around the island. And when I say IT I mean from the basics up, what is a computer, what are input, output and storage devices, how to turn on and off the computer. And after they got the basics covered, I then had to teach students how to use the Internet and the Microsoft office suite. It was a cycle. Only they were starting at a younger age. You didn’t have to wait to be in high school to learn to use a computer anymore. I didn’t think I would like teaching but once I started teaching adults and seniors it started growing on me.

Headshot in my uniform

The appreciation I got from these adults made me look forward to going to work. It wasn’t a drag but what was most difficult were my supervisors. They gave me an impossible schedule and at the time I didn’t own a car so I had to get around on public transportation. I lived on the southern side of the island and I would have to teach on the south eastern side. Sounds close right, no! You had to go to the city center then get another bus to the other end. I would be commuting for around two hours to get to my destination. There were days that I cried. Why would they take me go across the island when they had instructors living in the area they’re sending that can work there. Put me to work in my area. They would take whoever they didn’t like or was new to the most inconvenient locations. It was unfair. They don’t make the schedule livable for anyone but themselves. What was most difficult was teaching a night class that ended at 9:30 to do that same commute to get home. Buses where I lived stopped running by 6 or 7. Only a select few would run any later. I would most times have to get a bus that stopped a few villages before mine and had my mom collect me where the bus line ended. It was rough.

They then placed me in a notoriously bad neighborhood. I complained and fussed but I had to do it. To my surprise, the people of that community were really sweet. I think off all the centers I taught that must have been my best class. And they made me feel so proud at the end by their progress. Some even registered to do the class again because they loved that I had so much patience with them and explained thoroughly. What killed my drive was the cancellation of the adult classes. They were not registering individuals for the classes or giving them an incentive to want to register. These people wanted something to show they have now acquired computer skills and could move on to something more advanced and possibly a certification. It took a while before they got to that stage and they could only choose to do it in select centers. The attendance fell drastically and so did my interest. Having to teach just the students in schools who seem so disinterested no matter how hard you tried to make the learning experience enjoyable was a killer.

In the time, I must have taught at almost every public primary and post-primary school on the island. I knew the teachers, the principles and I learned the areas. I didn’t mind going to various centers because they moved me to the mobile IT units for some areas. Luckily by then, I was also sharing a car with my mom so my commute wasn’t as strenuous.

The ministry also started teaching in some of the private school that wanted to benefit from the program. I was lucky enough to be selected to teach at my alma mater. It was so scary to see almost all my past teachers were still there teaching and I thought they were old when I left primary school. They praised seeing a past student coming back to teach in this capacity.

Photo with a Student ‘09

I did this for two more years now equaling four years before I asked to be transferred to a new department. They didn’t approve my request but gave me access during own down time to learn from the new media and web development departments. Before they gave me the ‘okay’ I would get to know and hang out in the web dev department since it was on the same floor as my office to see what I could learn from them. I had already graduated but since I could get my job to pay for more courses I continued but this time taking graphic design classes. I wish I could tell you the amount of things I was doing just to get ahead. I was using the knowledge I learned from college to build websites for locals and the new classes to learn to make them aesthetically pleasing to the eye. I purchased a large laser printer so I could print work for my clients without having to go to the printers. I made business cards, brochures, bookmarks, wedding and funeral programs. I was doing my little hustle all while teaching and taking night classes.

I had to find effective ways to handle my class material. Therefore, being the only tech savvy instructor, I installed the moodle CMS on my web server. Uploaded all the data, set homework and administered tests. Never again was I going to be spending hours marking papers. I had to be on top of my game. What was sad, is that I tried to encourage the other technology teachers to do the same. I adding them as instructors and creating their class but they were not interested. Or was it just too much for them, I don’t know. But what do know it has an interesting experience.

After I lost every bit of patience I had left in me, I applied to one college when I came to NYC for vacation to visit family. I visited the campus I researched that catered to my diverse interests. I thought the program was quite comprehensive while being artsy and what do you know, I got accepted. I was not going to spend hundreds applying to dozens of colleges. The U.S. to E.C conversion was and still is $2.7 — $1. I remember telling myself it’s where you do your masters, and what you take away from your bachelors that counts. But now I feel like I wish I applied to others especially higher ranked universities since it appears as if where you went to college is a thing. I know I had the ability to excel but I had to think about how am I going to pay for it. I had no help paying for college. I had just moved to the U.S. I was charged at an out-of-state tuition rate since I went to a state university. Talk about sucking all my savings and going into debt with student loans. I also wish that I had more guidance and help when navigation the system of applying for university.

After moving to New York in 2012 by the summer of my first year my late professor referred me to a summer teaching position with the Science Technology Entry Program (STEP). That was in 2013, I embraced the opportunity because I became fond of teaching and this is a program for academically excelling students. I have been teaching with STEP every summer for the past four years. To this day I will retain my stance that I never wanted to be a teacher but there was a teacher in me. You don’t always get to choose what you will be good at and with practice you can perfect a skill.

To be continued…

Like what you read? Give Leah Henry a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.