May 28, 2010

Tribute to Prunella Chandler, the exceptional teacher

Fri, May 28, 2010

by Orde Ballantyne,
Headteacher of the Questelles Gov’t School

A giant has fallen; a teacher of excellence, worth, dignity; one who exuded professionalism in all of the academic sense of the term; an exceptional teacher – a role model to all teachers, one whose legacy is way beyond measure and social impact.{{more}}

How you start a long race is not a salient feature of distance running, but it matters how one finishes. Chandler never displayed any type of sprinting ability; she entered teaching for the long haul.

About 25 years ago Prunella Chandler entered the classroom at the Buccament Primary School as a PAT. After a few years she was transferred to the Dubois Primary. It was at that institution that she grew and blossomed into who she became. About four years ago, we at Questelles were bestowed with the honour of her presence.

Mrs. Chandler was not happy with this transfer; she did not understand why someone in an air conditioned office in the Ministry of Education would have her transferred not via promotion, but to a lateral position when neither she nor her headteacher had requested it. This confusion kept her in her class most of the time, but it did not deter her professionalism.

Her first set of students remembers her as a disciplinarian, a no nonsense woman who loved her students and prepared for their progress. Her impact was so great that the mother of Cody Simmons related that she was amongst Chandler’s first batch of students and the impact left on her life was worthy of being repeated in her son’s life. Cody would take two vans all the way from Sharpes so that this gem could shine on his life.

This tribute is not about the start of the race but how Prunella Chandler developed into a great teacher.

Whenever Chandler encountered situations like Stanley, Julian, Enzio, Cedric or Dwayne; students who other teachers would socially promote without adding value to their lives; students whose inadequacies would overwhelm ordinary teachers; students whom teachers would wish they had the option to say go to the next class, she embraced them not because she was confident in her ability to work miracles, but because it was her job to change lives. Yes, she was frustrated that parents did not show responsibility and transfer these ones to institutions more suitable to their needs, but she did her task diligently.

If for some reason Chandler had to attend a workshop or was absent otherwise, I would labor repetitiously on the same concept for the above mentioned students, but would impact very little, and when I returned to the fact ten minutes later, I would have to do it all over again. If I had to do this every day I would certainly have to transfer residency to the Red Roof Inn. Chandler did this routinely and not incidentally but prescriptively. She exemplified patience. She was one of those who was willing to keep explaining, knowing that eventually it would make sense. She was willing to wait until a distraction calmed students down, or abandon a lesson entirely if it was clear material needed to be revisited. Chandler just stuck with it, willing to do what it took, no matter how long it took.

Chandler exemplified understanding – not only a sixth sense, but true understanding of how to teach. She didn’t stick to a rigid technique if it didn’t help the students learn. She was flexible in her teaching style, adapting daily if necessary. She had to, or cases like Stanley would throw a fit. She understood the little things that affected the students’ ability to learn; the weather, the temperature in the classroom, the time of day. Recently she began complaining about the heat in the classroom from a female mid-forties perspective. She demonstrated an understanding of human nature and the maturity (or lack thereof) of children.

Chandler had the uncanny ability to look at life in a different way and to explain a topic in a different way. There are many different learning styles. Not everyone gets a subject as taught by every teacher. Bad teachers only look at a subject matter one way. They teach based on how they learn. This works for some people, but fails for others. Chandler was able to teach to different learning styles. If her students didn’t understand a subject, she taught it a different way. Instead of looking at abstract concepts, she explained with images what the concepts represent. This requires a thorough understand of the subject, as well as the ability to consider that subject in different ways, which not all teachers are able to do. Chandler was a model for differentiated teaching; she never had an assistant and did not want one when it was offered. She listened attentively to advice, and if she deemed it suitable to meet her children’s needs she adapted and adopted it; that is she had the facility for engaging with students at their level of understanding

If you were to consider a teacher who wanted the best from her students and who gave 110% of herself to ensure this then you called Chandler’s name. She set aside weekly time for the sharing of ideas to get students to think outside the box. She would not tolerate laziness and ineptitude, like not doing homework and incomplete assignments, and she did not have a reward system as expounded by Roberts at a previous Staff development session. Still, she was a dedicated teacher who encouraged students to be good people, not just good memorizers of text, but to learn and be able to apply what they learned, not just be able to pass tests. Clearly obvious to any observer, she genuinely wanted students to learn, understand and develop critical thinking abilities, as well as master content or learn skills. Her years of experience allowed her to demonstrate an empathy with student thinking, anticipating misconceptions and allowing students to develop understanding in a variety of ways.

Before the bell rang, she ordered her students into the class for extra sessions and during the lunch hour they were again there to listen to the news report… She knew that some the slower ones needed extra attention or assistance, and attempted frustratingly sometimes to get them to comply to the extra help. Evidently, she had a willingness to help students achieve. She took her job that seriously. She was always of the realization that achievement isn’t just a good grade on a test, but a feeling of accomplishment with mastering a subject; she demonstrated an ability to make the material being taught stimulating and interesting.

Prunella had excellent time management skills and always valued the importance of time. In fact, her wise utilization of time was her hallmark. I cannot recall at any time asking Chandler to go to her class after the bell, and if I were ten minutes late for a teaching evaluation I missed that section.

She was very committed to the job and her classroom, so much so, that she was her own janitor; this for two basic reasons: she remained there long after school hours and she did not want anyone “messing with her stuff”. Neither Artis Robinson nor any of her past headteachers held any other view than she was very respectful to authority, if she had a grievance you knew about it. She participated willingly in all school events: literacy numeracy, sports, fund raising; attended PTA meetings and made her contributions. This willingness was conditional, though; it was contingent upon her never traversing Station Hill.

Her classroom was an open laboratory that was visited by the teachers who were interested in making aids or gaining ideas about a particular concept or who just wanted to borrow some resource. When CCETT was introduced in 2004 with all of its heavy demands on teachers’ time, Chandler readily accepted it and became an avid communicator of the CCETT classroom.

I regret not knowing the lighter side of Mrs. Chandler, her humor, her laughter, her satire. I met her son once and she was quite proud of him, but I never got the opportunity for her to talk to me about how it was for her, as a mother, a wife, a homemaker, church member, a community activist etc.

As may be clear from the above, Mrs. Prunella Chandler was the best teacher on my staff and I would add that she was the best practitioner of differentiation that I have ever seen in SVG. She has left a pair of giant shoes that our puny feet cannot fill. May her soul rejoice in the Lord but may her work ethic live on in our efforts and her role model echo through the academic halls of all the institutions she touched.