Teacher Jenny: a striking example to her peers
By Nills Campbell
November 27, 1999
She walked up to the dais amidst thunderous applause to receive the President's trophy, the most coveted award offered at this year's graduation exercise at the University of Guyana (UG).
Notwithstanding her modest nature, she must have, understandably, sailed above cloud nine during that moment of celebration.
Jennifer Cumberbatch nee Browman, wife, mother of three, lover of humanity, singer and teacher meritorious, distinguished herself as the best graduating student of the UG Class of '99. To add to her feeling of pride on that day was the fact that seated not too far from her was her eldest son, who graduated on the same day.
Her Bachelor of Arts award which she copped with distinction was for Education, Administration and Teaching. During her third year of studies she also captured an award offered by an overseas-based Guyanese for her meritorious performance.
How did Teacher Jenny (as she is fondly called) manage to perform with such distinction after some 25 years in the teaching profession? As she puts it: "...we have fought a good fight. We have finished our course. We have kept the faith. We have worked hard and have overcome our frustrations and difficulties. It was worth it all."
The question that continues to puzzle friends, admirers and students is the reason for her persistence in the field of education, ignoring the lure of higher paid jobs in other fields. Teacher Jenny's tenacity dates back to when as a teenager just graduated from St Joseph's High School, she respectfully sidestepped her dad's desire for her to enter the area of banking with comparatively readily available dollars, and with instant recognition by a class conscious society.
"Since I was a little girl, I developed a desire for teaching," she said, pointing out that this desire grew with time as her love for humanity and particularly for children increased with the passing of time. "Because of what I saw I always said to myself, that if ever I became a teacher, I would be the best school teacher... children will love me, and they will love what I would do with them."
However, Teacher Jenny is a realist. She recognises the need for teachers to be paid adequately, and she contends that failure to do so could mean losing more trained professional teachers, and through that process, undermine the country's education system.
Clearly, the hard work she has put into her studies as well as her day-to-day work are strong indicators that indeed Jennifer Cumberbatch deeply enjoys her job.
She has pledged to herself that she would never whip her children. That pledge was born out of an experience she suffered while herself a school girl. Teacher Jenny was a pleasant and disciplined child who did not normally attract the wrath of her teachers. However, she had returned to her classroom after a two- or three-week absence following an accident she had suffered. "Something went wrong in school," prior to her return, and the teacher "generously" whipped the entire class, including the innocent Jenny.
"At that age I didn't see the need for this beating, and so I always planned in my heart that teaching will be fun for little children. I love teaching and I think that at this critical point of our nation's history, we really need dedicated teachers, and we really need teachers to make a great difference in a child's life."
Has she been able to keep her no-whipping pledge? The answer was a positive "yes". However, she added, she was not opposed to a teacher giving a student a lash or two, if it becomes absolutely necessary. But that teacher should have to go and look for that whip, it must not be nearby.
It has become a way of life for her to effectively communicate with children, and in that process winning their love and confidence. She always invited any new set of children to hold her hands and for them to respond by describing what they felt.
Often, the petite Teacher Jenny said, the initial answer would be, "Bones! Miss." Eventually she said, they would work up to answers that would say skin, and then flesh and bones. The children, in turn, are encouraged to touch themselves and to compare themselves with their teacher. She would show them her teeth, to give them the assurance that she was neither a tiger nor a lion. Her expectation, she would explain to them was that in turn they would behave themselves, and behave responsibly. However, she has never actually promised them that she would never beat them, hence the fulfilment of the theory that the threat of the whip is more effective than its usage. This confidence-building process has never let Teacher Jenny down.
Touched by an angel
Her love for humanity as is exemplified by her demonstration of love for her charges in school, has won for her many memorable precious jewels, stored away in her memory bank. One such memory centres around a boy who showed evidence of withdrawal syndrome. She subsequently spoke with the father who advised that the child's mother was dying. Already, the ailing mother had called the children around her bed, and had bade them, "farewell".
The child's relatives had tried numerous doctors, none of whom appeared able to cure the dying mother. Teacher Jenny, touched by the plight of a child about to lose his mother, pleaded with them to try her doctor as a last bid to save the mother's life. They did. The mother recovered and is alive today. The little boy readjusted his life as well as his approach to school work. And, all became well again. Indeed that family was touched by an angel. One girl, as school was about to get started, sought the attention of Teacher Jenny, and could not agree with her teacher's suggestion that she should await until classes got settled. She hugged her teacher, burst into tears to complain that her home was being shattered. She loved both mummy and daddy. Already, her mummy had moved out, and she did not know what to do.
Often, she ran into children who were abused at home. One particular case that readily came to her mind was the little boy whose work was poor, no margins, and generally sloppy work prevailed. She approached the child firmly, and started to address him before actually reaching where he was. As she was about to raise her hand to make a point, the child held up his hand to block what he feared was a blow. On another occasion she attempted to give the child a hug. He again put up his hand in defence, the result, she said, of constant abuse at home. What was her reaction from then? Simple, to hug him more often, to let him realise that he was loveable, and that all was not lost.
A voice to praise God
Teacher Jenny had taught for about two years prior to entering Training College, after which she joined the staff at St Margaret's where some 17 years of her teaching life were spent. Following marriage and the birth of her children, she delayed her studies for her university degree deliberately. "I wanted to enjoy my children," she recalled.
As in her approach at school, she established friendly lines of communication with her children at home. She recalled the moments when they would romp and play together, the games they shared. The recreation room was a virtual school room. Teaching aids and other pictures were always in evidence.
Singing is another talent that features in her life. She recalls the days when she sang as a young girl. She also remembers the days and moments when she feared singing since she had a "low" voice.
With encouragement from relatives and friends, she learnt about the contralto, practised in this key and ever since her golden voice has thrilled thousands, maintaining the reputation of the singing Browman family. Early in her teaching career, she applied this skill to encourage her students to learn.
Teacher Jenny belongs to a Christian family. She delights in serving the Almighty, and is active in her church.
Her valedictory address summed up beautifully, the link to humanity and the God she believes in and delights in serving: "I would like to thank the headteachers with whom I have worked over the years, the Ministry of Education for granting me periods of time to pursue my studies, the hard-working lecturers for providing timely motivation, the Georgetown Reading and Research Centre, my friends and relatives, my long-suffering and caring husband and children, and certainly most of all, my Heavenly Father who, as He promised, has been with me all the way. All praise be to God!"
A © page from: Guyana: Land of Six Peoples