It's always 'Lit' with Sasha Schaaffe-McFarlaneSunday, August 29, 2021
BY BRITTNY HUTCHINSON
AFTER many of Sasha Schaaffe-McFarlane's relatives — including her mother, aunt and grandaunt — became teachers, she had her mind set on breaking the tradition by pursuing a different career path.
But after teaching at summer school voluntarily with a group of educators from Boston University who came to Jamaica for Vacation Bible school and Sunday school as a youngster, Schaaffe-McFarlane said the calling to become a trained teacher was almost hard to ignore.
“To be honest, initially I didn't want to teach because a lot of teachers were in my family. It sounds cliché in a way, but when people say teaching chose them, I think that's what happened. I have been teaching from ever since, so I guess it was always a part of me,” she told Career & Education.
In fact, the 37-year-old, who grew up in Enfield, St Mary, is no ordinary teacher.
Pointing out that she would read voraciously as soon as she laid her eyes on a book, it came as no surprise that she decided to teach literature, which she describes as the best subject that captures all the 21st-century skills, namely creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication.
“I love literature and reading is a passion for me. I would eat and read, hide and read — I would do everything and read. When I was younger, my mommy would come into the room and I would pretend as if I fell asleep with the light on, but actually, I was reading and heard her coming, so I'd push the book under the pillow. Now it's not as easy for me to find the time [to read] but I still love it, so that's why I think literature was definitely for me,” said Schaaffe-McFarlane.
She did a Bachelor of Education in Language Education at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus in 2005 and is now pursuing a master's degree in social work at the Jamaica Theological Seminary, which she will complete in 2022.
During the same year of completing her bachelor's degree, Schaaffe-McFarlane taught literature to students at St Mary High School up until 2012, then moved on to St Andrew High School for Girls (SAHS), where she currently educates students in grades 11, 12 and 13.
She described her joys of teaching in an extraordinary way.
“It is weird, but when I am teaching and I start to explain the lesson clearly and I see that my students are understanding, I get goosebumps. That's because I know that I am reaching them,” she said.
Schaaffe-McFarlane continued: “Another joy is when the students reach out to me after they leave to say, 'Miss, thank you for all that you've done, I really appreciate your effort.”
Once such past student is Britney-Lee Johnson who attended SAHS and is now a lawyer. Schaaffe-McFarlane said building a good relationship with Johnson, like she does with most of her students, inspired her to pursue her own career path.
“I remember after she graduated law school, she gave me a photograph and on the back of it she wrote, 'Your passion gave me the courage to pursue my own'. She would always say to me, 'Ms Schaaffe, I just love the fact that you did not beat me down for being talkative, you provided an avenue for me to express myself and I believe that helped me on my journey to becoming a lawyer,” she said.
“My passion for teaching gave her the inspiration to go after her own passion and I think for every teacher, that's what you want. You want your passion to feed your students' passion so that they can go out to achieve their goals,” she added.
Even though Schaaffe-McFarlane is unable to bond with her current students physically due to challenges caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic, she has managed to find other ways of interacting in her classes.
“It has been rough, but I also believe that it has pushed me to be more and do more. For every class it's a question of whether or not you will have to find some kind of technology to engage the students, so it has pushed me to create more material, to be more creative in my approach to use technological tools and online platforms — anything that will get the girls interested and sustain their attention,” she said.
Pointing out one example she said, “I have a grade 11 class with 28 girls. On average I'd have 21 students in an online class, because I try to make it interesting for them by having live classes and I know that just leaving them on their own is going to be challenging.”
Of the three genres of literature, namely poetry, prose and drama, Schaaffe-McFarlane said throughout her teaching journey, she has realised that students mostly struggle with poetry.
However, she said she stresses a lot of historical context and provides students with a systematic structure of analysing poems, which has helped to enhance their learning abilities.
As she continues to mould the minds and positively transform the lives of students, Schaaffe-McFarlane wishes more of them will have a better appreciation for literature.
“Just a little more enthusiasm at the beginning, because I think a lot of them are good at it, but they set themselves at a disadvantage by coming in with a negative perception of the subject. I would definitely want students to come in with an open mind because most times, at the end of the day, you'll hear them saying that they hated literature and then realise it's a beautiful subject from which they can transfer the knowledge and skills they learnt in other subject areas,” she said.
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