Friday, May 29th

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To teach or to direct, that is the question Part 1

1._Laticia_Brown_math_and_Dutch_teacher_at_the_Sundial_School_and_the_Milton_Peter_CollegeSt. Maarten teachers and school principals reflecting on their jobs

By Rik Haverman

Without a doubt, the majority of people will recognize the importance of education for the St. Maarten society, but who exactly are these people providing the education? What drives them to teach the youth and what are the problems they experience in this branch? These types of questions will be answered at an organizational and operational level, by two St. Maarten teachers and two school principals.

Laticia Brown

To start off, let's introduce Laticia Brown: Just 26 years young and she already teaches two different courses – math and Dutch – at two different schools. The young enthusiastic teaches math at Sundial School and Dutch at Milton Peters College (MPC). At Sundial, Brown teaches at a practical level, while she has to educate in a more theoretical way at her HAVO classes at MPC. At both schools, the all-round teacher educates children between the ages of 12 and 15.

The way in which Brown became a teacher is worthy of admiration. After getting her high school diploma at MPC, where she now teaches, she moved to the Netherlands to obtain a Bachelor of Education. This was not always easy as she encountered some difficulties during her studies because she found it hard to express herself in Dutch. However, she never quit her studies but instead decided to brush up her Dutch in the evening hours and she eventually got her bachelor's degree.

Ambitious as Brown was as a student, she decided to continue studying in Amsterdam and obtained a master's degree as well, graduating with a Master in Special Educational Needs. During this study, she specialized in Dutch, math, behavioural problems, learning disabilities and more, which made her broadly employable.

Teacher Brown tries to educate the children in her class as complete individuals: "In addition to focusing on the cognitive development (being able to record, process, and re-use knowledge and information) of my students, I pay attention to the social side. I also try to teach proper values to my students. A student might be very smart, but how does he or she function in society if they have no social skills?"

Brown additionally explained the importance of teaching the students practical skills, which is done at Sundial, seeing that the island also needs people who, for example, practice trades, cook, clean or wait tables.

Brown has experienced problems with a few parents of her pupils who don't pay enough attention to their kids. This has happened in St. Maarten but also in the Netherlands.

"Some parents expect the school to do too much of parenting, while they should keep track of their kids' homework and wellbeing as well. This sometimes leads to kids looking for advice from the wrong people or getting bad grades because they don't study at home. I understand that some parents have to work a lot and I respect that to a certain degree. That's why I try to reach out to these busy parents; but they also have to be willing themselves. Besides that, I'm always open to provide my students with advice myself."

Brown always wanted to be a teacher and she loves her job. She gets a lot of satisfaction out of educating her students through various methods and showing them how much potential they have. For example, in addition to verbal education, she tries to use computers or cooperative games to teach. She is also very fond of her students and doesn't encounter any noteworthy problems with them. This goes for both Sundial and MPC. Brown did point out that some students can be naughty, but she emphasized that this isn't any different from her former pupils in Holland. The latter were even cheekier from time to time.

Michelle Minthorn

Michelle Minthorn (30) of Caribbean International Academy (CIA) in Simpson Bay is also a young but experienced teacher. She has been in front of classrooms for nine years now and, just like Brown, always wanted to be a teacher. A final similarity with Brown is that Minthorn also went to primary and secondary school on St. Maarten and thereafter studied abroad (in Canada) to become a teacher. The school in which Minthorn is teaching, however, is quite different from Sundial and MPC.

CIA is a private school that teaches a Canadian (more precise of the Canadian province of Ontario) curriculum. Therefore, students who graduate from CIA get the same degree as students in Ontario, which ensures enrolling easily at universities and colleges abroad. The curriculum is Canadian but the school teaches as much as possible about the St. Maarten society, culture and politics. Students' age range is from six until 18 and although CIA is a private school, Minthorn assured that her pupils are from all walks of life. Lastly, the school offers theoretical but also more vocational education to their students.

In Minthorn's class, which comprises a remarkable number of nine students, half of the students are born and raised St. Maarteners. The other half consists of kids from foreigners; mostly European-Dutch expats who moved to the island. Besides teaching, Minthorn coordinates all the afterschool activities and ECAs (Extra Curricular Activities) at the academy.

Minthorn stressed the importance of education for The Friendly Island: "Education is crucial for St. Maarten. Perhaps the older generation could achieve things without a degree but that's not the case anymore. You can't do anything without a degree; and since a lot of our students have their roots here, they want to do something good for this island."

CIA students also seem to understand this importance of education because, according to Minthorn, nobody has dropped out of school in the nine years that she has been there. She actually stated that around eighty percent ends up going to university. Although classes of 20 students do exist at CIA, Minthorn does acknowledge the role of small classes in this: "There are of course always kids who need some help with the course material and since my classes are so small, I'm able to help them extra myself. That wasn't possible with a class of 30 students; I simple wouldn't have time for it."

The small classes at CIA also seem to tackle other typical school problems. Bullying, for example, isn't that bad because of the size of the school. Minthorn admits that not all of her students are angels but because of the class size, she notices everything and can intervene quickly. Really big problems simply don't occur at CIA. For Minthorn, personally, the biggest problem was the large influx of French-speaking students who needed to learn English while she doesn't speak French. She encountered the same problem with Dutch- and Spanish-speaking children. However, all these kids eventually left the school being fluent in English.

The same as Brown, Minthorn expressed her devotion to be being a teacher. She even labelled it a calling. Minthorn tried another job, a more organizational function at CIA, but ended up being miserable: "I was in office for three years and I was really unhappy. I missed being with the students and in the classroom. Now that I'm back in front of the class, I'm the happiest that I've been in years. Being a teacher is just so rewarding."

Next week read more on this topic in part two of this article from Dr. Martin Luther King Junior Primary School director Stuart Johnson and Asha Stevens Hillside Christian School manager Clara Curiel-Nicholas on this topic.