Abigail Parkes using her experiences to inspire students
Glenmuir High School teacher Abigail Parkes is all too familiar with not having the fastest start, but persistently engaging a dogged determination to turn things around to accomplish her goals.
Acknowledging that she did not get the best of starts on her education journey, Parkes said that her mother supported her and ensure that she never gave up.
“I remember one instance while attending high school, a teacher told me that she was never going to approve me to do her subject because ‘mi nah go come to nothing’. I never forgot her words. When she said that, it broke me for a moment, but it also made me stronger than ever,” Parkes, who teaches geography, social studies and history at the Clarendon-based school, told The Gleaner.
It is for this reason that she goes to great lengths to get her students to believe that they can be the best if they put their minds to it, she said in an interview ahead of today’s celebration of Teachers’ Day.
Although noting that she now uses that unfortunate declaration to motivate her to land further successes, she is cautioning colleagues and parents to pay attention to the things they say to children, as they can create voids that neither parents nor teachers can fill.
A past student of St Hugh’s and Camperdown high schools, Parkes said that growing up with her siblings in a single-parent household, in a western Kingston inner-city community, was not easy.
“My mother ensured that my four siblings and I never lacked for anything. We did not have the strong support system we needed, but with Mommy behind us, it felt like we had everything. Mommy knew that she did not want us becoming products of our environment, so she tried with us, even when she felt like giving up,” she reminisced.
Failures, for Parkes, were always stepping stones and she never allowed them to break her.
She recalled that when she applied to university to study urban and regional planning, someone tried to discourage her, saying that she would never thrive in a male-dominated field.
“I laughed when the person said that to me, because I knew deep down what I am capable of, and I knew that I was going to prove that person wrong,” she shared.
Parkes said that from as far back as she can remember, she had always had a love for teaching. She recalled playing ‘school’ at home as a child with her smaller sibling and a neighbour’s son, with her as the teacher.
Even at the primary level, she recalled, she would jump at the chance to assist teachers in helping other students.
“Funny enough, I did not pursue my degree in teaching. I pursued my Bachelor of Science in Urban and Regional Planning, but here I am in the classroom. So, I would say that it is my love and passion to educate and help others that brought me to the classroom,” she shared.
Parkes said that she is big on faith, noting that God will always be at the forefront of everything she does.
She takes that approach to the classroom, too; and before lessons, she prays and asks Him to be at the centre of the class.
“I ask Him to give my students an open mind, knowledge and understanding. While going to high school and university ... before the exams, I would usually quote my favourite Bible scripture – “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me” – and this would give me an open mind. As for my students, I would always remind them of how great God is and tell them never to forget God, especially in difficult times,” she told The Gleaner.
She is reminding people from the inner cities not to be daunted by the view held by many in the society, that nothing good can come from the ghetto.
“It is not true. There’s a ray of hope. If they search deep enough, they’ll find it,” she said. “Children, work on your dreams, chase your goals and, most importantly, believe in yourself. You can do it.”