OCHO RIOS, St Ann — Sonia Dean Black knows no other profession but teaching.
She toyed with enlisting in the Jamaica Constabulary Force, but instead entered the classroom at age 17 and has spent the last 41 years moulding young minds in this parish.
"I have no regrets," she told the Jamaica Observer North East. "I love teaching, I love the classroom, I love the children; they are so precious and nice and I just enjoy teaching them."
For her troubles Black was last week presented with the prestigious Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) Golden Torch Award for long service. She was among over 500 teachers from across the country who the JTA recognised for serving the profession for over 35 years, at a glitzy ceremony at Sunset Jamaica Grande Resort here.
"I'm really elated and I feel honoured to have been recognised by the JTA for my years of service. At least I have something to show, and even if I'm not around, my daughter can look at it years from now and say 'That was mom's'," Black said.
Black joined the staff of Murray Mount All-Age School as a pre-trained teacher shortly after graduating from the rural St Ann institution. She spent five years there, then, after getting married and moving to St Ann's Bay, she got a post at Lime Hall Primary where she remains until today.
"I know nothing else but teaching. I enjoy it so much that I look forward to seeing my children every day. They bring so much joy and laughter to my life. To teach those little children is really a blessing," Black beamed as she spoke about her years in the classroom as a teacher of grades two and three.
The 59-year-old educator, who is preparing to go on pre-retirement leave in September, said though her career is nearing an official end, her relationship with the profession will not cease.
"I told my school that anything at all they need, any help they need in any area, they are to just call me; I can never stop teaching. I wish I was getting younger so I could put in more years, but I have to go off," she said with a smile.
"It has been some challenging years," she acknowleged. "But most rewarding when you see your children succeed and go on to become professionals in whatever field; it gives you that sense of fulfilment, that joy. It's just wonderful."
She added: "I've had some of the best children; they understand me very well and I understand them. The children are just so kind and loving, sometimes they just run and hug me. It's a very good feeling to be a teacher."
Black holds the teaching profession in very high esteem and she sees teachers as the country's most important human resource since they are responsible for educating every other profession.
A past student of Moneague Teachers' College and Northern Caribbean University, Black said she is extremely delighted that as a teacher, she has contributed significantly to the development of the country.
"Being a teacher has been very rewarding for me. I have enjoyed my years in the classroom and I have absolutely no regrets."
Black said the passion and commitment she has for the job might have influenced her daughter, Dania Smallwood, who is also a teacher and works with the Ministry of Education's Alternative Secondary Transition Education Programme (ASTEP) in neighbouring Trelawny.
"Teaching is a noble profession and I would encourage anyone to become a teacher today. For me, it wasn't for the monetary gains, it was because of the passion and commitment I have for the job," she explained.
Black has no immediate plans for her retirement, but she is clear that she has an interest in continuing to help children attain the best education.