Educating and sharpening the minds of the nation’s youth for 29 years, Marilyn “Helena” Thompson is being recognized as a ‘Pillar of Prestige’ by The Freeport News, for contributing to the country’s educational system.
Thompson continues to grace the education system with her wit, intelligence and hope, in an effort of making a difference in the lives of Generation Y.
A soft and humble speaker, the precious gem discussed, with this daily, her journey which was inspired through teaching Sunday School as a little girl.
Thompson, who regards family as the foundation for students excelling in school, nurtured her three children who are now a successful politician and two doctors.
“In any given class, unless it is an exceptional class, you always have students who are self-motivated and push themselves. Then you have some who need a little pushing and some who are just there. I think parents play a big role in what those students do, because when you look at the ones who really have somebody at home pushing them, they excel. There are those who may have the ability, but if nobody is pushing them, encouraging them or motivating them, they tend to just be there doing the bare minimum when they could do so much more,” said Thompson.
“I think now-a-days children have too much freedom. You want them to be independent yes, but I think that parents still need to keep a better check on them.
“I think we give them too much freedom without guidance. When my kids were in school, there were times when I went through their bags. Sometimes when they would get phone calls and they would be listening to the person on the other end, but I am asking them who is it they are talking to, although they may have not liked it,” she recalled.
“In today’s society children are exposed to a whole lot more than any other generation and that exposure, for the most part, has not all been good.
“We also like to imitate, so a lot of things that children watch goes back to parental guidance. Granted that some parents have to make sure the food is on the table, more so than saying let me see what you are watching or listen to what you are listening to. They may not have the time so to speak, and they haven’t worked out a way to mesh the two and some kids are left on their own to govern themselves. Parents may ask,‘have you finished your homework?’ The child would reply, ‘yes ma’am’ and they (parents) don’t check and a lot of kids get by like that.”
Speaking on her development in the 1970s, Thompson shared teaching was the only job she has ever had.
“When I went to college, I majored in English and I had a minor in Psychology; but when I came back home, which was Nassau at the time, teaching seemed like the best option at the time.
“I would help teach Sunday School as a teenager and I think that might’ve steered me into the direction of teaching.
“At our church, we were given the opportunity to speak on some Wednesday nights; the pastor had a heart for people so he kind of pushed the younger ones to do things that they probably wouldn’t normally volunteer to do.
“Teaching was my first and only job,” she reiterated.
Recalling how she got started, Thompson said, “I sent in my application at the Ministry of Education and they sent me to T. G. Glover Primary School where they hired me.
“I spent a year in Nassau, and it was okay, the kids were normal children. I can’t say anyone was outstandingly rude or disrespectful, but back then pretty much they did as they were told.
“But when I got married, I got transferred to Freeport and during my first year, what was called at the time Pinedale Primary, I started teaching there.”
Thompson began her years in Primary School Division, working her way up to High school.
“I wasn’t interested in teaching Grade One; I was interested in teaching Junior High School. But it worked out okay, they wore you out but it was a good experience and when I see some of them now, they still remember me.”
Speaking of her experience at Eight Mile Rock High, Thompson said, “It was good. You had the good and bad, but from my experience, looking back now the bad wasn’t all that bad. My experience at Eight Mile Rock was great with the teachers and students.”
Thompson noted she would spend quality time with each of her students and made it a personal priority to be there for them.
When asked how she transitioned with the generation shift, she said, “I think for me, I try to look at students individually rather than as a bunch so to speak; because you don’t know the story behind that child and sometimes you have to ask ‘what’s going on or why aren’t you doing your work?’
“Sometimes they would tell you or they would give you a story, then you would realize that is why they are performing the way they are … Also observing students too.”
She added, “Most of the time during lunch breaks, I would spend hours in my room just watching them. Sometimes some of the students would come and talk, sometimes they just watch and you can pick up a lot of stuff. You could tell the ones who have freedom to go wherever and the ones who may not have that kind of freedom.”
Thompson, who currently teaches Language and Literature at Sunland Baptist Academy shared her hopes for a more progressive Ministry of Education.
“I think we could do better,” she stated. “It is not all that bad, but there are areas where we can do better.”
Questioned about some of the areas where progress is needed, Thompson answered, “Making sure teachers have whatever it is that they need to do for an excellent job.
“For example, the age that we are living in now is called the ‘Age of Technology.’ For me, I think, every teacher should be provided with those things like a computer, for students to be able to use. I know the government announced that and that is what they plan to do, and I think they have started doing it in some schools, maybe in Primary schools; but all the schools need it,” she voiced.
“All the teachers need it and just making sure that we as a country don’t get left behind. Granted I don’t know the exact percentage, but I feel it’s a high percentage of our students who go abroad to school and they do exceptionally well.
“We have to also look at the ones who may not be capable academically, but they may be good with their hands. Even from Primary School, we need to provide them with the things they need to succeed,” she suggested.
“I know at St. George’s or Jack Hayward they have vocational courses, which is good to prepare them for the workplace. I think it was designed to give those students an edge when they leave school, if they don’t want to go to college, at least they have an edge job wise.
“Providing for enough teachers and that is kind of hard I think, but even in specialized areas in high school particularly, I think they need to give an extra incentive for those kinds of teachers to encourage young people to go into those areas, because it doesn’t seem like many of them opt to go there.”
Thompson said that teaching is touching lives, setting good examples and guiding someone in the right direction.
She stressed that the accomplishments of students are more paramount than recognition.
“Whenever I see a former student and they are doing well, to me, that is more than anything. It makes me feel good to know that I had a little something to do with that person.
“Sometimes the student would come out of the blue and tell someone, ‘this was my Language teacher or this is the best Language teacher.’ But you just never know what impression you make or you leave with that child; so, for me, it was enjoyable.
“I enjoy what I do and I still enjoy what I do,” said the passionate educator.
However, Thompson does have a “dislike, and that is seeing students waste time. “What I don’t like to see is students wasting time, especially the ones who show you that they are probably above average.
“I don’t know if I have ever felt like I have failed, I guess to a certain extent, and also to a certain extent I am not doing enough or maybe I can do more.
“At the end of the term, you may have a child who didn’t make a grade. But we have cut off dates at the end of a term; however, after that term, when I should be marking exams, I am still marking homework or class work for the late comers who realize now it’s almost time for school to close.”
A lover of Christ and President of the Women’s Ministry at her church, Thompson expressed, teaching was a part of her life and not just a mission.
She concluded with preparation tips for parents and students as school begins in the next two months.
“Read every day,” she shared.
“Challenge yourself and see how many books you can read between now and when school reopens. Whichever subjects you fell down in, take those notes out and just go over them.
“As you prepare yourself for the new school year, come up with some goals. If you don’t have any plans or if you don’t know what you want to accomplish, then it is like going in the dark,” said Thompson.
Expressing that she was humbled by the opportunity and being recognized by this daily as a ‘Pillar of Prestige,’ she said, “I am not sure if I really qualify, but teaching is something that I am grateful to God for over the years, teaching the students who came my way.
“While I may have had an impact on them, a lot of them have impacted my life also.
“You realize not everyone is alike, and everyone is an individual all by themselves and I try not to clamp all my children to the same oath.
“I like to give everybody a chance and I think, sometimes, they may go overboard in waiting to bring their work in, but at the end of the day if it turns out that something is still missing, I like to feel within myself that I gave them more than sufficient time,” shared Thompson.