Charlesha Baker, a former Miss St. Elizabeth Festival Queen, almost gave up on her childhood dream of giving yeoman service to her country as a teacher.
She fell in love with the profession while she was growing up with her grandparents in the rural community of Pepper, St. Elizabeth.
Her grandmother, Mavis Richards, was an early childhood educator.
Baker recalled accompanying her grandmother to workshops, and helping her with lesson planning and the creation of teaching aids.
“All I ever wanted, was to be like my grandmother,” Baker told The Beacon.
She further recalled that, during childhood, she taught summer classes and Bible classes, adding that people usually shower her with compliments about her teaching skills.
To properly ground herself in teaching, Baker, in 2010, commenced a three-year course to obtain a diploma at a college in Manchester.
While she was doing teaching practice at a prominent high school in Mandeville in 2013, she had what she described as a verbal incident with a student. Baker said the student’s parents became involved and the college punished her arbitrarily.
That incident left her feeling shattered.
It caused Baker to lose interest in her dream of becoming a teacher, and to stop attending the college where she had only one course outstanding.
The following year, Baker started to volunteer as a teacher at Park Mountain Primary School. She subsequently became secretary to the principal, Carlene Williams Heath, through the government’s HEART programme.
“That chapter taught me a lot,” Baker said, adding that the Park Mountain principal became a role model, who taught her to never doubt herself.
Notwithstanding her stint at the school, Baker continued to reel from the 2013 incident. She also continued to avoid a full dive into teaching.
She left Park Mountain Primary in December 2015 and, the following month, started working at a call centre.
Baker also started her career as a motivational speaker, especially at schools.
In 2018, she went to Park Mountain Primary to host an awards ceremony. While there, she met the principal of Maggotty High, Sean Graham, who was guest speaker at the event.
The Maggotty principal opened a door for Baker, offering her a six-month teaching position.
“Right there, I was re-directed to the classroom,” Baker told The Beacon. “I thought I had given up on teaching, but, each time, I was re-directed to the classroom. It was my calling.”
Baker’s stint as a part-time teacher ended at Maggotty High in July 2018. By that time, she had become pregnant with her son, Kevondre McCloud. She also was unemployed.
Another teaching opportunity popped up in 2019, and Baker was back at Maggotty High; this time in a permanent position as a Social Studies teacher.
She still teaches at Maggotty.
Baker, now more than ever, is convinced that she was born to be a teacher.
“I have impacted many students,” she said.
“I listen to their concerns – whether it is happening at home or at school, and I encourage them. I motivate them because I know what motivation did for me.”
Motivated to improve her credentials, Baker returned to the same college in Manchester that she thought treated her unfairly in 2013.
She completed the course that was outstanding, and was awarded her teaching diploma last year – seven years after she ordinarily would have received it.
Baker, last year, also started to pursue her Bachelor’s degree in Education (Social Studies).
“To many, a diploma is nothing,” she reasoned. “My diploma means the world to me, more than the degree I am currently reading for.”
Baker, who is a graduate of Pepper Primary School and St. Elizabeth Technical High School, does not only take a keen interest in teaching students.
She has been serving her community as a Justice of the Peace since November 2019.
“I love to serve as a Justice of the Peace,” Baker declared. “I even walk to deliver letters requested in the community. Before being blessed with a printer, I would go to Santa Cruz – the closest town, just to print one letter. I was born to serve! I love to serve the people of my community and I do so with pride!”
Baker, a former member of the Kiwanis Club of Santa Cruz, is also a former President of the highly influential Pepper Community Development Committee.
Since 2017, she has been a member of the St. Elizabeth Festival Queen Committee, which falls under the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC).
Baker was also crowned Miss St. Elizabeth Festival Queen 2015 in a competition hosted by the JCDC.
She implores young people to trust in God, work hard, and be intrinsically motivated.
“Never give up on your dream,” Baker advised. “You may be delayed, but you are not denied.”
By Horace Mills, Journalist
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