Never settling for mediocrity
Juanita Murray-Henry
Juanita Murray-Henry

Local teacher follows the sage advice of her mother

IT didn’t matter to young Juanita Murray-Henry that she was poor and hadn’t any financial support to pursue a better life for herself. Nothing could’ve convinced her that an educated life was out of her reach. So, even when she had to leave Onderneeming on the Essequibo Coast to work as a domestic on the Corentyne, she knew that this would just be for a time.

Growing up in a single-parent home, things were rough. Her mom had all of the family responsibilities to shoulder, and Juanita, now 55, and her four siblings would have to wake up early in the mornings to help sell the bread that Mrs Murray baked.

Eighteen-year-old Juanita fell in nicely with the Corentyne family she worked for. However, with the desire to elevate herself still burning within, she told them that she had to leave after about two years of work so that she could perhaps begin pursuing some classes.

“I was 18 when I started domestic work. I had no other choice. I knew to myself I had the brains, but I hadn’t the opportunity. I hadn’t the financial support, so I just had to do what I had to do,” she told Pepperpot Magazine a few days ago.

Moving in with an aunt on the East Coast, at Beterverwagting (BV), Juanita again picked up some domestic work in Bel Air, but this time things were going to be different; she would be able to do some evening classes.

The woman with whom she worked, a Mrs George, was very helpful and encouraging to Juanita. She even helped her to find suitable evening classes. To begin with, Juanita thought that she’d pursue courses in Maths and English. And even though feeling a bit awkward going back to school a bit older than usual, the thing that motivated her most was her performance– how well she was doing in the courses.

Juanita, with her two subjects in hand, then began what was known as the ‘foundation classes’ at the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE) and also did well with these before moving on to the regular training programme that went on for two years at that time. Kicking off her teaching profession in October 1990, she started as an acting teacher at Quamina Primary in BV. Until she retired lately, she served at Peter’s Hall Primary on the East Bank of Demerara. Also, she spent some of her years at Paradise Primary, Graham’s Hall Primary and Clonbrook Primary.

She couldn’t tell if being a teacher was what she had always wanted, but she remembers her childhood days when she’d ‘play teacher’ with some mango leaves and would discipline each of them that couldn’t answer her questions. So perhaps, she now feels, her life was moving her toward becoming a teacher from way back when.

Still unsatisfied with her additional training at CPCE, Juanita pressed on to the University of Guyana where she would spend the next four years of her life. Returning to the teaching profession afterwards, she continued until she retired recently, securing some 33 years in the profession!

Looking back over the course of her life so far, Juanita, a Grade Six teacher for the most part, couldn’t be prouder of herself and the diligent effort she made to improve her lot in life. “I’m extremely proud of myself because my upbringing, my economic status…hadn’t I have a mother who was extremely strict and god-fearing, I could have been on another track; I could have been doing things differently. Despite our poverty, my mother (Olive Murray, now 81) never allowed us to settle for mediocrity. She was always pushing us.”

Having retired, Juanita is taking a well-deserved break, but she doesn’t plan to give up the profession entirely. She wants to be able to spend some time helping children learn to read. “What I have in mind is to do a little reading class at home to assist those weak children, and even make some contributions to my school.”

Helping the weaker ones has always been a top priority for her. “The highlight of my teaching is being able to see a child move from nothing to something. When you can move a child who is very weak — that’s a teacher! Any teacher can teach a brilliant child, but when you can see the weak ones move….that’s one of my greatest joys as a teacher.”

Something that she never fails to impress on her teachers is that it’s necessary for them to love the children they teach as if they were their own. “I say this all this time. Treat each child that sits before you as your own child. Everything that you do to a child, ask yourself if you would want a teacher to do that to your child. If you treat each child as your own, you are going to give that child your best; you want the best for your child, so give it to somebody else’s child,” she advised.


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