JAMAICA Dyslexia Association goodwill ambassadors and global award teacher Tracy-Ann Hall is a force to be reckoned with. Having just completed a Master of Arts in Education at Northern Caribbean University, Hall is a gifted educator who has overcome significant obstacles on her rise to success due to undiagnosed dyslexia.
She was one of 10 finalists in the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2017 that awards US$1 million to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession. She was selected from 20,000 people who applied or were nominated from 179 countries. Although she did not win the cash, she was awarded a gold medal and a certificate. In 2020, in a virtual gala ceremony, she received the most prestigious Global Teacher Award with awardees from 110 countries.
In addition to her Varkey Foundation Global Teacher awards, Hall was given awards for outstanding performance in education from the Jamaica Teachers' Association and The University of the West Indies. She was honoured as an exceptional educator and alumna by the St Catherine High School Alumni, New York Chapter. She placed third in the Lasco/Ministry of Education Teacher of the Year Award for 2017-2018. In September 2018, she was appointed as a Master Teacher by the Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC). In 2018 she assisted two schools in St Catherine with the development of their automotive programme. And in March 2020 when Jamaica's education sector had to shift the way teachers deliver lessons, as a JTC master teacher she was called upon as a trainer on how to use different platforms to provide lessons to students.
Before completing her master's, Hall was the proud recipient of a teaching diploma in automotive technology, which she earned from Vocational Training Development Institute, and a bachelor's in human resources management from The University of the Commonwealth Caribbean. She currently teaches automotive technology at Jonathan Grant High School in St Catherine.
She is a strong advocate of hands-on, inquiry-based learning. She involves her students in various community service, problem-solving, and technology-infused activities that provide them with opportunities to use their automotive and human resource skills to help others and make themselves into productive members of society.
Despite her success as an educator, Hall did not enjoy her early school years because of dyslexia. This learning disorder affects one's ability to read, spell, write, and speak despite average or above-average intelligence. Many successful people, such as Albert Einstein, widely acknowledged as one of the greatest physicists of all time, have dyslexia. It is neurobiological in origin and often runs in families. It occurs in at least one in 10 people globally of all races, cultures and societies. Each year, the month of October is recognised worldwide as Dyslexia Awareness Month.
Hall did not immediately move on to higher education because she struggled with dyslexia. Instead, she was trained as an automotive technician and worked in a garage. This experience gave her a lifelong love of teaching. With more qualifications from attending evening school, she entered the vocational teachers' college in Jamaica and, after three years, graduated top of her class.
Of her experience with being a student with a learning challenge, she says, “I am so happy to meet, teach and interact with students who are facing similar challenges as I did. I go beyond the call of duty to assist these children. I ensure that they are not left behind, and if it is specialised help they need I ensure that they get it. I would love for more to be done to identify and assist these children, so they do not get left behind or worse, get lost in the system”.
Her positive approach transformed her first teaching class from a group of students who had previously been written off as 'poor' into a great success. She motivated a class of 30 boys, setting up a class library, encouraging them to read and deliver a book review on completing each volume. They began to excel in grade 10 and by grade 11 were so motivated that eight of them joined the school choir, and one became head boy at the school. Hers was also the first automotive exam class to score a 95 per cent pass in the school's history. In addition, she served on the school magazine committee, started and oversaw a junior automotive club and a programme for her students to feed street people.
Over the years, her students have gone on to a wide range of occupations — police officers, scuba divers, firefighters, hotel managers, chefs, and, of course, automotive technicians — and she also encourages all her students to move on to higher education. Hall sees her classroom as her workshop. Therefore, to help her students to learn better, she plasters the walls with charts showcasing the outstanding achievements of students and each of their goals for the year ahead. She encourages friendly competition between the students and rewards those who achieve high grades and significant improvements.
Hall has taught at various schools, all with the same success. She has convinced business leaders in the automotive sector to sponsor scholarships for exceptional students, ensuring they start with a firm foothold in the industry. With resources scarce, she has been ingenious in finding materials and components for her automotive classes, which are challenging to attract funding for, forming partnerships with those in the automotive sector to use their facilities and spare parts. Since the pandemic, she has gotten tablets, computers, desks and chairs for over 30 students to assist with online learning.
“Teaching gives me the opportunity to help shape a dream of my students as well contribute towards their personal growth. I teach because I believe that it is my calling to help my students become excited about learning, engaged in the learning process, and to excel in all that they do,” she said.
However, she credits her success in positively impacting students to the partnership she forms with their parents. She believes that parents are critical stakeholders in the education of their children. Therefore, she ensures that she has contact with all her students' parents.
Dyslexia is lifelong and can't be cured. However, with the right support, a dyslexic person can become highly successful and find success in a range of skilled professions.