Teaching with love - Keisha Dennisur-Dennis finds joy in being a mother to her students
With more than 20 years of classroom experience, Keisha Dennisur-Dennis has built a reputation as more than just a teacher, she is considered a mother by her students.
In 1997, she officially entered the classroom, only armed with the experience of teaching the hibiscus plants in her parents' garden.
"Interestingly, I've always wanted to be a teacher. My parents will tell you I would be on the outside teaching the hibiscus trees, giving them a fine beating," she joked. "As I got older, like about eight or nine years old, I would set up my parents' spare room with chairs and desks, and other children from the community would come and I would give them the work I got from the past school year."
After switching her field of study from communication to education at the West Indies College where she was studying, she put her skills to the test at a school in St Mary. Quickly rising through the ranks, Dennisur-Dennis, whose speciality was English and literature, began teaching Spanish and history while being the school's librarian.
"That was a wonderful way to start out. I really showed me my depth and all the things I was able to do," she said. Though her love for the classroom never waned, she soon began to long for greener pastures.
"When I left Denbigh (High School in Clarendon), I was so sure that I needed to come out of the classroom," she said. Dennisur-Dennis told THE STAR that she pursued her master's degree in library sciences and later took a job in that field. But she soon felt deprived of the human interaction she'd become accustomed to, and took a teaching position at the Jose Marti Technical High School in St Catherine, teaching English and literature. There her brand of teaching with love solidified itself, and blossomed into the motherhood that she is most famous for now.
"Over the past few years I do recognise that they wait until Mother's Day and they tend to send more Mother's Day greetings than they do Teacher's Day greetings. I get a whole lot of, rather than say 'Mrs Dennis', I hear 'Mommy' and it's so amazing," she said.
She continued, "I am baffled by it because they think I'm so strict. So yes they fear me but there's also this respect. I think it stems from the whole point of knowing that I genuinely care for them. It's overwhelming 'cause I'm thinking, everybody does that. So you wonder what did I do to make you do that? I'm still trying because I don't see a big deal in what I do."
While unable to pinpoint the source of these students' devotion for her, Dennisur-Dennis opined that young people will do anything for you when they know that you genuinely care about them.
"So for my classes I would begin with prayer. I prayed for them because I am not just interested in whether they are doing well in my class. I am interested in knowing, did you have lunch? How is your mother? I recognised you weren't here last week, what's wrong? I think that is what makes the difference," she said.
"Someone is sick, I am at the hospital. Someone has lost a loved one, I'm at the funeral. I'm visiting their homes and it's not just limited to Jose Marti. You move on to tertiary education, I'm keeping up. How far along are you in your studies? Remember to share your picture with me when you graduate. When they are graduating, I'm at the graduations. That is it, it's just that genuine care, that it's not just about your passing the subject, but I am interested in them being a real human being," she added.
But in 2020, Dennisur-Dennis was diagnosed with lupus, making her unable to devote herself to her practice in the way she wants.
"The past two years have been a little difficult for me. I'm unable to wear heels, I'm unable to take the stairs like I'm accustomed to. I'm unable to just stand up in classes and teach like I am used and so for the past three years I've really not been in the classroom," she said. "I really miss that interaction with the students and it has been really hard on me and my emotional health. You grieve who you were and I am not the teacher that I used be. It really causes you to second-guess your purpose in life, second-guess your impact, where you're going, what you're doing."
Now unable to physically withstand teaching, she has thrown herself into mentoring teachers. While trying to cope with her physical limitations, Dennisur-Dennis said she is still trying to be there for her students.
"Teaching is a hard job and I think you have to be intrinsically motivated. And if you're going into this looking for a reward or award, then you're gonna constantly come up feeling short. You're really never ever going to get what you truly deserve. And so to persons I say go into teaching because you really love the children and you really love what you are doing. When all hell is breaking loose, I am [OK] especially because I know I am going to see my children."