by Alicia Reid
“A Teacher is not like every other adult; our calling is a much greater one. We are in the company of the Master Himself. Jesus’ main profession was that of Teacher.”
Those words, spoken by Sharon Reid at a recent staff meeting, reveals just how seriously she takes her role in the lives of the thousands of people she has helped to mould.
Many people know Mrs Reid: a teacher for the past 34 years, Principal of St. Andrew High School for Girls for 13 of those 34 years, the inaugural Principal of the Year, President of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools…
She has become an institution in the landscape of Jamaican society and a voice in the consciences of thousands of Andrewz girls.
“I was about to tell that lady off when I heard Mrs Reid’s voice say ‘self-control’ in my head!”
is a common remark made by women who long ago passed through the halls of St. Andrew High. A testament to the indelible mark this principal leaves on all those in her care.
But who is the woman behind the educator? Who is this woman who inspires fear, respect and love all at the same time? Well, for me she has always been, simply, Mommy.
One afternoon I took the time to sit down and talk with my mother – the access that only a daughter has – catching her relaxing in her bed at home and completely off guard to talk to her about who she is. So, of course, I started with the obvious…
Did she always want to be a teacher?
“It appears so,” she answered thoughtfully, “my mother tells me that it was the only career I expressed any interest in as a child. I would teach the flowers, the windows, anything I could find and I was always trying to teach my younger cousins.”
The reason for this natural affinity to teaching was two-fold. Sharon comes from a family of teachers – her mother, uncle, grandfather…the list goes on. So genetics had a part to play.
She added “And I think it was God-ordained. As a Christian I believe the Lord plans your life and it was in His plan for my life.”
Knowing her purpose from a young age did not stop her from wearing many other hats: pianist, poet, dancer, camp counsellor, actress… When asked if she regretted not pursuing those other passions she laughed. “Yes, it’s true, if I were not a teacher I would’ve loved to be in the performing arts. I love theatre, but I don’t regret not doing it because I believe I’m doing what God wants me to do, so I’m at peace. Wherever the Lord places you, your work is done to His glory. I believe that in this job God has given me to do, I am bringing honour and glory to His name and that’s the important thing.”
Sharon grew up in May Pen, Clarendon, the youngest of four siblings born to Ivan and Daisy Kenny, also a principal. She attended May Pen Primary, the Hampton School, the University of the West Indies, and Central Connecticut State University where she completed her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership. However, it was in high school that she would have the experience that changed her life forever.
What was the most significant event in her life?
“The most significant event…Alicia me ah fifty-five year old, how mi fi memba?!”
After the slight protest, she recalled that it was a Sunday evening in the chapel at Hampton School when she took that decision. A Reverend Porteous, from a Bible college in Mandeville, was speaking to the students, and she could still see herself at eleven years old making that commitment to the Lord.
The foundation for her spiritual walk was laid at that boarding school in Malvern, St. Elizabeth. “At Hampton, God placed me among a group of friends and it was as if He set us apart for a reason. We had the opportunity to grow in our faith without the trappings of denomination. Our faith was rooted in a relationship with Jesus Christ and that has made it easier for me to cope with life’s challenges.”
She has been married for 30 years. What is her secret?
Sharon believes that a big part of the reason she has such a successful marriage is that she and her husband were good friends before they got married. “We built a solid friendship. He claimed that the Lord told him early on that we should be married but he never told me at the time. We grew to love each other and eventually I got confirmation from the Lord as well.” Thirty years later they are still very much in love and the proud parents of two children. “It has proven to be a really wonderful relationship, we get on very well, and we are soul mates. We are different in many ways and we love each other and complement each other.” Being good friends, sharing with each other, sharing lessons learnt and understanding the covenant they made with each other, are elements of the healthy marriage that Sharon and Donovan enjoy.
“I really don’t hold on too tight to anything on earth”
That was the response when Sharon was asked if there was anything in particular she wished she had gotten the chance to do in life. She admitted that she had wanted to travel more, to Africa, Europe and Asia. “If it happens, it happens, if not, I’m not gonna die over it. That’s how I approach things in life. I believe the Lord has a plan, a blue print for my life, and the most important thing is for me to trust Him. There is a phrase I learnt in high school, ‘Trust God even when you can’t trace Him’. It reminds me that, if God is in charge of my life, all things will work together for good. So even if it isn’t going the way I thought it would go, I know he’ll make a way for me.”
Sharon was blessed to achieve her lifelong dream of being a teacher. However, one aspect that didn’t go as planned was that she had originally wanted to be a Spanish teacher. As no Spanish teacher was available at her high school at a crucial point in her school career, she ended up teaching history instead. A wistful smile warmed her face as she looked at me and said “But I’m pleased that my daughter is now a Spanish interpreter, the Lord has a way.” Her smile widened.
Sharon has also always had the desire to go into business, a drive inherited from her father who owned several businesses in May Pen, Clarendon. Although, due to her focus on teaching, she has not yet ventured into the business world. Her son Jason is currently studying Business Administration at the University of Technology, Jamaica. “I see myself in both of my kids, different aspects,” she added.
She has been an educator for over 30 years. What does she believe young people in Jamaica need more than anything?
Without so much as a pause she replied, “They need Jesus.” She went on to explain: “We must never apologise for sharing with young people their need for the Lord.” Sharon sees the difference in her school between those students who have committed themselves to Jesus and those who have not. In her many years of teaching, her experience has shown her that all the problems being faced in schools, the violence, the lack of respect, could be dealt with much more easily if more young people had a firm commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ.
And that is the purpose of the woman behind the educator. She isn’t just teaching academics, she is winning souls for Christ, one student at a time.