St Mary's Andre Livingston — a gem in the classroom
Andre Livingston interacts with one of his students, DanteGutzmore. (Photos: Ingrid Henry)

WITH many teachers exiting Jamaica's classrooms for greener pastures Andre Livingston is committed to staying for a long time to come.

Teaching was the last profession Livingston thought he would have ended up in but now he has no regrets, after entering the classroom 15 years ago.

Growing up in the farming community of Islington, St Mary, to parents who did farming and market vending Livingston had limited resources but still he says his childhood was fun and enjoyable.

"These children don't know about fun. Cart wheels made out of old tires, mango bush, making one's own toys out of boxes," reminisced Livingston as he argued that today's children rely too much on technology, thereby limiting the joy of their childhood.

Andre Livingston and his grade six students takes a break from lessons to share with our camera.

At what was then Islington High School, now Horace Clarke High, Livingston was an 'A' student and was recommended to sit 10 subjects in external examinations.

He told the Jamaica Observer that when he related to his parents about the number of subjects he was cleared to sit they were initially overjoyed, before the reality set in that they would not be able to find the money for the exam fees.

Disappointment later changed to joy when he went to school the following day and was called to the principal's office where he was told that he was being sponsored by the Port Maria branch of the Bank of Nova Scotia, which would pay his exam fees.

This was just the beginning for a remarkable young man. After high school, knowing that money wasn't around to help to further his education, going to college was far from his mind so he signed up for the National Youth Service programme. He was placed at Baccasswood Basic School, after Principal Cynthia "Miss Peggy" Smith saw the teacher in him and encouraged him to enter the profession. Motivated by that he applied for a student loan and entered the College of Agriculture Science and Education (CASE). The rest is history.

Livingston is known as the teacher who wears many hats, which has become a part of his signature style of dressing. "When I was a boy I got into an accident where I received third-degree burns to my head so I used my hats to hide those scars."

This look only enhanced his holistic personality.

Not only is he known to get good results from his students but he has a unique way of getting the most out of them. "I use music as one way because students will remember and focus when music is used," he said.

He also pointed out that he uses experiential teaching and learning styles that are said to encourage students' creativity and learning from their mistakes while fostering reflective thinking and preparing them for future experiences.

Like many classroom teachers who have been disrespected by students, Livingston has felt it, recalling at one time a student disrespected him so badly that he broke down. With intervention he found that the student was coming from an abusive situation and that was the only way she could have expressed herself. The end results were favourable for both parties as, according to Livingston, "She has blossomed into one of the most respectful persons."

In dealing with discipline Livingston takes a firm and consistent stance. "I deal with this kind of behaviour one-on-one with the children so they can feel free to talk and adjust, " he stated.

Being the only male teacher at Water Valley Primary School for over five years, Livingston said he feels like a thorn among roses. His position has led him to become a father figure and disciplinarian for the students.

"The students at times call me 'Miss' instead of 'Sir', as they are more used to the female figures," he said.

His only drawback in being the sole male figure is that the boys look to him for guidance in football and cricket, which he admitted he is not good at.

However, he has made an impact in the school with cultural events, especially those which are music-based. The school has always done well in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) competitions, and with him at the forefront the school has received medals while advancing twice to the national music festival finals in Kingston. Recently the school emerged parish winners of the St Mary Math Fashion Show.

Having a passion for cultural events Livingston has performed on many cultural stages in the parish and has also been a participant in JCDC activities. He was also reading champion for St Mary in the 2008 event.

Although he has not yet fulfilled his dream of becoming an author he has utilised Facebook with a blog called Teachabwoi in which he puts a spin on some of his daily activities while travelling.

BY INGRID HENRY Sunday Observer writer

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