In an atmosphere of merriment and solemnity, relatives and friends sent educator Eudeen Williams-Harris into retirement in fine style.
Williams-Harris, who served the profession for some 35 years, was caught off guard by some guests at the surprise luncheon, hosted on July 5 by Rosemount Primary and Junior High School in Linstead, St Catherine.
In a plethora of glowing tributes, speakers lauded the veteran educator for the patience and dedication she exhibited over the years, especially towards students considered slow learners.
One former student, Noel Johnson, who brought a special gift for Williams-Harris, made a gutsy declaration.
“I recall, as a student here at Rosemount Primary and Junior High School, everyone gave up on me except for Mrs Harris,” he declared, adding that Williams-Harris used creative techniques to eventually change his outlook.
Chairman of the school board, Reverend Courtney Golding, in his tribute, said he too admires the love that Williams-Harris exudes in relating to problematic students.
“She teaches a class of children down there; I don’t think you can go a full day with them. And, if you do a full day, I don’t think yuh coming back tomorrow,” he told the gathering amid laughter.
Meanwhile, former principal Derrick James noted that, during his tenure at Rosemount, Williams-Harris ended up with a highly challenging batch of students after the Grade Four class was split.
“We gave her those children who were very very challenging. The patience that she exhibited in dealing with those students, it is one of the hallmarks of a good teacher – to be patient with the children in your charge,” the former principal further said.
The current principal, Malaika Bailey, told guests that Williams-Harris’ generosity especially towards struggling students has not gone unnoticed.
She added: “Mrs Harris, your career demonstrates that, despite the many crucibles, you have managed to survive these years while maintaining your optimism. The faithfulness of who a teacher should be is exemplified in your life.”
Vice Principal at Rosemount, Suzette Dunn, in a declamatory toast couched with style and fluency, recounted being a witness to Williams-Harris’ creativity in getting students involved and motivated.
“When you would pass her classroom and looked and listened, you often would overhear her imparting life lessons to her often troubled students, who looked to her as a mother figure and confidant.”
Dunn continued: “Mrs Harris took advantage of every spare minute she had to teach her students who, over the years, were mostly those called slow learners. Colleagues, I am sure you have seen her passing out word cards to students, making games, [and] carrying a host of materials from home to motivate and challenge her students.”
Meanwhile, Williams-Harris was also lauded for the life she has lived outside the classroom.
It is said that she usually attends funeral services to support grieving colleagues and friends; she also champions the cause for teachers whom she represents on the board of management at Rosemount.
Christine Johnson, a member of staff at Rosemount, shed tears as she recounted the level of interest Williams-Harris showed when her daughter was admitted to Bustamante Children’s Hospital.
Johnson, as heard in the video below, extolled Williams-Harris for sometimes showing up at the hospital and offering financial help.
One of Williams-Harris’ former colleagues, Erica Gooden, journeyed several miles from Portland to honour the retiring educator who was also hailed as an inspiration to her colleagues.
“You have shown me how a teacher should teach a student even when they are different – so to speak,” Gooden said, adding: “She (Williams-Harris) believes that every student has the ability to learn and excel if they are nurtured and encouraged… Her love for family, community and God may have drawn us together, but, over the years, our friendship blossomed.”
Meanwhile, the lady of the moment – after soaking up the glowing tributes, collecting the special gifts, and cutting the retirement cake with her husband Michael Harris – urged her colleagues to always put the children first.
“People will not always love you, but, for the sake of the children, [let us work together]. We know this is where we get our pay, but it is not all about pay. Love each other, love God and love the children,” she appealed.
Williams-Harris, whose retirement will take effect on October 3, has been teaching for some 35 years. Thirty of those years, however, have been spent working with the Ministry of Education – at Race Course Primary School in Clarendon and at Rosemount Primary in St Catherine.
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