Be what your students need you to be

Marcel T. Sherman describes teaching as a vocation

Teaching is not a profession but rather a gift … a vocation, and not everyone who calls themselves a teacher is an educator, according to Marcel T. Sherman. The pedagogue said teaching is more than getting in front of a group of students and saying “open your textbooks” – he said they have to be what their students need them to be.

“You got to be a father figure, confessor, daddy, uncle, big brother. In addition to that, you have to be counselor as well, because you do not know what is going through these kids’ heads. You have to be observant. You have to be able to listen to what’s happening,” said Sherman.

He said teachers should not only be concerned with getting through a syllabus and preparing students for exams.

While getting through the syllabus and exam preparation are important, he encourages educators to “look at the child first”.

“Once you get the child, remember that that is a person in front of you, then the lesson will come. And that is what has governed me over the years,” said Sherman, who retired after four decades in the educational system.

As for his legacy, Sherman said he wants to be remembered as a man who hopefully made a difference. This, from someone who said he did not factor going into teaching as a profession, and who owns up to not having been the best student during his formative years.

He gives credit to the late Patricia Coakley for piquing his interest in education when he had not given it a thought.

“After I graduated high school, I went to work in the original Prince George Hotel on Bay St. and she [Coakley] saw me. She said, ‘Marcel, remember the conversation you and I had?’ I said yes. She said ‘Are you still interested?’ I said why not.”

Marcel T. Sherman in class.

Sherman commenced his employment with the Catholic Board of Education (CBE) as a teacher’s aide at St. Francis School. He said it was the principal he served under at that time who encouraged him to pursue tertiary studies at the then-College of The Bahamas (now University of The Bahamas) where he obtained an associate’s degree before matriculating toward a bachelor’s degree at St. John’s University in New York. He completed post-secondary education with a CBE scholarship.

Sherman said he finds it interesting that he ended up as an educator because his original plan was to enter the priesthood. And that it was with careful, prayerful consideration and consultation with the late Monsignor Preston Moss that he pursued a degree in religious education.

Sherman commenced his employ with the CBE on September 1, 1981. He taught at St. Thomas More (STM) through 1987, before moving on to Aquinas College (AC) where he taught religion from 1987 to 1993. He served as dean of students at AC from 1993-2006; and vice principal from 2006 to his retirement in May.

He is a product of the CBE system – first, at the original St. Francis Primary School, West Hill St. – under the Sisters of Charity, then, transitioned to Aquinas College which he attended from 1969 to 1974.

Looking back, he described his early days at STM as an “excellent foundation” which he said allowed him to develop himself as a teacher.

“Even though I was trained in secondary education, I found that the experience at STM helped me tremendously, and prepared me adequately for my eventual transition to Aquinas in 1987. That is not to say I did not make some mistakes along the way, but I think one of the things I always did at the beginning of every school year was I always had a plan. How could I be a better teacher than I was the year previously? Even when I became an administrator.”

He looks back on the experiences he’s had and finds them to be tremendous – the nerves he felt stepping into the classroom for the first time, as well as the rookie mistakes, trying to assert himself and trying to find what made him comfortable. He said the support he had helped him through.

He then had to find himself again when he got to AC where he taught 10th grade and the students were bigger than him.

“I call them roughnecks, but I established myself with them. I became the authority in the class. Sometimes, I used to be scared … frightened, but I could not show them that. You had to be in control.”

Sherman recalls witnessing parents struggle to afford their children the benefit of a Catholic education and of him coming to the realization that he needed to start a program to help the students because he met many different attitudes.

He started taking his students to the prison once a year because he realized they needed to be exposed to what would be the result of poor choices. Through doing that he said he got to know inmates who would encourage him to keep on his students.

Not all of his students listened, and over the years as he visited the institution, he said he met former students who were incarcerated.

“When I became dean, I heard one student in particular landed in prison. I taught him at primary school. He came over to Aquinas and I saw the deterioration in his behavior. Eventually, after graduation, someone came to me and said XYZ ended up in prison. I was bothered by it.”

Upon the former student’s release from prison, Sherman, who was the dean of students at the time, recalled being in his office, and hearing a knock on his door – it was his former student who had come to apologize to him and who he said also told him that if he had listened that he would not have ended up incarcerated. Sherman said he and that former student now communicate every morning.

As he retires, Sherman said he would like to see more male teachers, and also said he would encourage educators to sometimes close the books and listen to their students.

“Hear the children, because they are carrying a lot of stuff around with them,” said Sherman. “Even now, the after effects of this pandemic, we do now know how these kids have been affected mentally, and we are not going to see the after effects until maybe five to 10 years down the road. We are beginning to see it manifest itself now but, more so, we will see it.”

With a passion for the arts, Sherman said his first love is theater, but said he loved being in the classroom, and loved his students, and used his creative side to bring out the best in his students.

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Shavaughn Moss

Shavaughn Moss joined The Nassau Guardian as 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.

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