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Born to teach

FREDDIE KISSON Saturday, September 8 2007

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WINNING WITH NEWSDAY: Bernice Browne, who swears she gets the best and latest news by reading The People's Newspaper, is all smiles as she collects he...
WINNING WITH NEWSDAY: Bernice Browne, who swears she gets the best and latest news by reading The People's Newspaper, is all smiles as she collects he...

“This little lady in three years’ time has created a phoenix which has risen out of the educational ashes of east St George.” Thus spoke our first Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams, in 1964 when he addressed graduates at St Aug-ustine Girls’ High School (SAGHS). “This little lady” referred to the principal. He pinpointed the fact that the school was truly being moved in a nationalist direction.

Dr Williams returned to the school two years later to open the science block consisting of six new labs making SAGHS the first girls’ high school to achieve that number. Once again he had high praise for the little lady for making the school a microcosm of the country.

“St Augustine Girls’ High School is the best secondary school in the nation,” said Dr Cuthbert Joseph, then Minister of Education. Again the little lady stood tall.

By now, every reader should know that the lady principal so highly praised by three esteemed gentlemen, was the one and only, the youngest ever principal (aged 28, appointed in 1961) of a secondary school in the Caribbean – Dr Anna Mahase CMT (Gold), MOM (Gold), BSc, BEd, LLD (UWI), and LLD (Mt Allison).

The first time I saw her, she was like a refreshing beautiful breeze moving through the corridor. Here was every man’s Dulcinea. In conversation with this cute charming lady, I found her to be sharp-witted, articulate without affectation and in complete command of the English language. I got the impression that her entire life was dedicated to the school. It was her everything. She had found her purpose in life. It would appear, that if the occasion arose, she would lay down her life for the children.

As the years went by, The Strolling Players staged several productions at SAGHS, including four of my plays – three of the 16 “Beulah” plays and We Crucify Him, plus Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. One of her teachers, Christine Pantin, presented Zingay by yours truly, as part of a grand school concert. The girls did an excellent job, especially the one who played the obeah man – “Man-Man”.

Under Dr Mahase’s innovative leadership, the school was the first to introduce a steelband orchestra. The head of the music department, her sister – Lenore, a concert pianist, created history when she wrote musical scores from which she taught the girls to read and play the pans for the first time.

The principal introduced Carnival in schools in 1962. On the Friday morning before Dimanche Gras, there was the calypso competition and in the afternoon each class participated in the parade of the bands. She insisted that costumes should not cost more than $2 each.

Calypsonians such as Sparrow, Kitchener, Carl and Carol Jacobs, Superior, Rose, Crazy and Drupatee were invited to entertain the students. The Tacarigua Orphanage Band played at their Carnival as well as on sports day.

Her dictum was “Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano” (Your prayer must be that you have a sound mind in a sound body). For six years, before being appointed to the principalship, she was head of the science department and sports mistress. During her tenure as principal music, art, drama and PE were compulsory subjects. Small wonder now, Dr Mahase is a member of the Teaching Service Commission to ensure high standards in the profession.

When I was at the Government Teachers’ Training College for two years, we studied the lives of such educators as John Dewey, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Froebel, Maria Montessori and others but we knew nothing about the lives of our own educators.

Dr Mahase’s parents were both teachers from their teenage years until their retirement. Her mother – also Anna Mahase – wrote an autobiography entitled My Mother’s Daughter which should be on the list of educators to be studied. There is so much to be learnt from this informative excellent book.

Talking about teachers, reminds me of our lecturer, Mr Harry Joseph (Harry Joe) who held an interesting class discussion on the famous statement of Jean-Jacques Rousseau – “Man is born free, and is everywhere in chains.”

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