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Driven, committed & passionate

It was just last week, that a former student of Gayle Barrow’s approached her and spoke to her about how well she’s doing, and that she had made the honor roll. The youngster had been one of those children Barrow worked with one-on-one in afternoon classes, in an effort to encourage and help build her self-esteem and confidence. It’s this approach that Barrow believes contributed to the student’s success.

“While we saw success, and of course, success is relative and so is [progression], it took time, and she would have been implementing the strategies – studying, staying focused and getting the assistance needed elsewhere to help her with the concepts she was struggling with, and now she’s striving,” said Barrow, who is teacher of the year 2019-2021 at Sadie Curtis Primary School and a finalist for the 13th National Teacher of the Year award.

“To me it [student accomplishment] speaks volumes in terms of my growth and allows me to know that the strategies that I’m using as a teacher are being effective,” she said.

Moving from the sporting field into the classroom, she took with her the fun concept of physical education in a generalist teaching setting, just as she had incorporated a generalist approach into her physical education lessons, with subject areas like mathematics and language arts. It was that approach that caught the attention of her then administration, Principal Olivia Daxon and Vice Principal Patrice Bodie, who would observe Barrow’s classes unannounced and tell her she would make a great generalist teacher.

The administrators penned letters of recommendation for Barrow to transition into the classroom, to the district superintendent; it was supported, and Barrow has been in the classroom ever since.

It was also a transition she was ready for.

“There is nothing wrong with physical education. It (their comments) kind of played in my psyche, and I came to a point where I felt I plateaued in physical education and wanted more of a challenge, and wanted to make more of a contribution in the educational system,” said Barrow.

She didn’t see the need to get another bachelor’s degree in general education, as she was already a trained teacher.

“Transitioning into the classroom is a different experience, as opposed to teaching one sport and one concept. I’m now teaching several different subjects and daily teaching different topics, so making that connection seems to be a bit more meaningful to me as well – teaching the core subjects and helping students academically, especially where they struggle – doing different programs to help them succeed and to make strides in their success.”

With a background in fine arts, having performed with the Bahamas National Youth Choir as well as Shakespeare in Paradise and James Catalyn and Friends, Barrows incorporates those experiences into her teaching strategies. This means if she’s teaching a reading comprehension concept, her students, on any given day, may find themselves role playing, as Barrow dramatizes certain concepts to get the lesson across.

She sometimes pre-records lessons or activities to keep her students engaged and interested. She’s even written jingles with different content which the students learn and then record, giving them the opportunity to learn as well as tap into their gifts and talents, cultivating their singing abilities and acting skills.

With this in mind, if Barrow were to be named National Teacher of the Year on Saturday, March 30, at the Atlantis Theatre, she said she would view it as a professional accomplishment, especially as she transitioned from physical education to a generalist educator.

The outgoing National Teacher of the Year is Antonique Josey.

Forty-eight nominees from 13 districts from New Providence, Abaco, Grand Bahama, Berry Islands, Andros, Eleuthera, Exuma and Inagua began the journey.

Barrow says she would like to bring the honor home to Sadie Curtis, where she has taught since 2005.

And the prize purse isn’t bad either. The National Teacher of the Year is awarded $5,000. The first runner-up receives $3,000, the second runner-up $2,000, with the third runner-up taking home $1,000.

Prize money for special awards includes $500 each for professional development, teaching proficiency, contributions to education, extracurricular activities, community development and best video.

A $1,000 professional development grant is awarded to each district winner for attendance to an international conference or workshop.

Criteria for selection includes qualifying as a district finalist; providing a video and portfolio documentary of achievements, successful teaching strategies and goals; an assessment by the national team on teaching proficiency; and an interview by the national evaluation team.

Winners are chosen from performance in designated categories which are weighted: teaching proficiency (50 percent), extracurricular activities (10 percent), professional development activities (10 percent), outstanding contributions to education (10 percent), personal philosophy of education (five percent), portfolio (five percent) and a documentary video (10 percent).

In this digital era, Barrow makes use of technology as often as she can to the advantage of her students. She combines technology use with strategies that include cooperative learning, collaborative learning, peer instruction, inquiry base instruction and differentiated instruction and technology.

Cooperative learning is student-centered and allows students to develop autonomy to discover themselves and discuss their findings; the collaborative strategy gives students an opportunity to improve their critical thinking skills, communication skills, self-confidence, and allows for self-expression.

With peer instruction, they have opportunities to re-teach certain concepts, so students can present lessons themselves, in front of the class, which shows mastery and helps them to develop their social skills as well.

According to Barrow, peer assistance is one-on-one peer teaching, and peer coaching as well.

Inquiry-based instruction allows her to probe the students to help trigger their critical thinking skills, which, she said, helps them improve problem-solving skills as well as gain a deeper understanding of academic concepts.

The differentiated instruction, Barrow said, caters to different learning styles and multiple intelligences.

With the mandate from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to improve reading comprehension skills, which have an impact on all the other subject areas, Barrow said their goal is to improve the grade point average (GPA) and reading comprehension scores, so that everyone is geared toward maintaining a 2.00 GPA from 50 percent to 85 percent by the year 2030.

“My overall approach to fulfilling my philosophy as an educator can be summed up in the profound words of Abraham Lincoln: ‘I do the very best I know how – the very best I can; and I mean to keep on doing so until the end.’

“While my degree is not as a generalist teacher, I’m a teacher who is driven, committed and passionate about the pursuit of excellence, and I use every opportunity to encourage my students to do the same.”

Barrow has a bachelor’s degree in physical education and a master’s degree in human resources management, which she opted to do as an avenue for future career development.

The Bahamas Union of Teachers introduced the National Teacher of the Year award during the 1987-1988 academic year, under the presidency of Donald Symonette, to recognize excellent teachers in the public school system. Awards were presented in four categories which were named after past union executives – Mabel Walker, founder and first president; A. Leonard Archer, former president; Carlton E. Francis, former president; and Florence Mursay Poitier, a founding member.

Ten years after the introduction of the awards the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, supported by the union, became the lead sponsor, and the result was the National Teacher of the Year Award exercise. The celebration of teaching excellence has since evolved into a biennial event that is organized in school districts and includes primary, all-age, secondary and special schools.

Shavaughn Moss

Lifestyles Editor at The Nassau Guardian
Shavaughn Mossjoined The Nassau Guardianas a sports reporter in 1989. She was later promoted to sports editor.Shavaughn covered every major athletic championship from the CARIFTA to Central American and Caribbean Championships through to World Championships and Olympics.
Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.
Education: Saint Augustine’s College, BA in Mass Communication

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