Thursday, December 14, 2017

Allison Poon-Wildermuth

Teacher of the year ...A True Calling


Photos by Jermaine Cruickshank

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A teacher who inspires is rarely forgotten. The face and voice linger in the deep recesses of our subconscious long after the chapter of past school days has been closed.

When someone within the classroom walls fuels our passion for learning, what seemed difficult becomes easier, and what appeared bland suddenly comes to life.

For the many pupils that have sat in her classes over the years, no one is more deserving of the Teacher of the Year award than Allison Poon-Wildermuth. Teaching might be one of the oldest professions but it's people like Poon-Wildermuth that remind us that it is also one of the noblest. For her, teaching is not a job; teaching means transforming the lives of students one day at a time, one student at a time.

Teachers have the responsibility of changing lives. And it's not a task that Poon-Wildermuth takes lightly.

Her hard work and committment is legendary at Fatima College, so when she rose to receive the Teacher of the Year Award at last Sunday's awards ceremony hosted by the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA), at the Cascadia Ballroom, the only person surprised by her milestone achievement was Poon-Wildermuth herself.

"I was very surprised, I know I'm a good teacher, my students affirm that I'm a good teacher but I know there are so many better teachers out there who do so much more. So I felt it was an honour to be a finalist and I found the other finalists were amazing. I'm glad I did it for Fatima College. Fatima College teachers work very, very hard," says Poon-Wildermuth.

For those who have worked closely with her throughout the years, the Teacher of the Year award has had Poon-Wildermuth's name on it for some time. Past principal of Fatima College Anthony Garcia wrote concernng his colleague: "Allison's performance always merited the teacher of the day, of the month and of the year."

And current principal of the boys' college, Father Gregory Augustine, described Poon-Wildermuth as a 'teacher par excellence'.

"Everything I do is to be a better teacher, she says.

"When I get up in the morning, I look forward to coming to work, When I'm having coffee, I think of one student, I think "How can I reach that student today?" When I think about my job, when I really prepare for the job, it's so easy. Coming to work is like a holiday."

Spirituality and family have always been the foundation upon which she built her career. Poon-Wildermuth describes herself as a quintessential Trinidadian and liberal Catholic. She lives in Africa Village, Pelican Extention Road, Morvant - a fact she singled out for special attention. Despite the unfavourable connotations that are associated with areas in eastern Port of Spain, while speaking with Poon-Wildermuth, I can tell that the 54-year-old veteran teacher delights in tearing down negative stereotypes.

"It's a rough neighbourhood," she admits with a nod as we walked through the hallways of Fatima College. But her parents, she says, created an oasis of learning in the community - because of this, the entire family was always respected in the area. Poon-Wildermuth and her sisters went on to have successful careers.

Having been surrounded by an abundance of knowledge, it's easy to see why she ventured into teaching. She experienced first hand the joys of teaching while still a pupil at Holy Name Convent, in Port of Spain. There, tucked away in a classroom, Poon-Wildermuth recalls being inspired by two teachers in ways which would prove invaluabe to her in later years. To this day, they are still her inspiration.

Poon-Wildermuth started teaching in 1977 and has been a French teacher at Fatima College for the past 18 years. She teaches fourth to sixth form pupils, and is head of the Modern Languages Department. She is also the motivational coach for the school's football team. Poon-Wildermuth also conducts private German classes. She speaks French and German fluently.

Teaching is an art, a science, she says. It's also a very difficult profession, but nothing compares to the rewards you accumulate, she adds.

"You have to open your eyes to see the blessings that come your way when you see a student that would have left school a long time ago and they look at you and their eyes look like a child's on Christmas Day," muses Poon-Wildermuth.

It's moments like those which Poon-Wildermuth has experienced all the time. As I enquire about her pupils' reaction upon hearing their 'Miss' had copped the Teacher of The Year award, she reaches into her bag and retrieves a file containing several letters from past pupils. In one such letter, former pupil and current teacher at Fatima College, Kwasi Noel, wrote warmly of his former teacher:

"I could only describe the experience as thought-provoking, life-changing and absolutely inspiring without a doubt, it was through her professionalism, dedication, innovative personality and overall love of imparting knowledge that I received tuition in French that has made me not just the person, but more so the teacher that I am today."

Of Poon-Wildermuth, ex-pupil Nordric Hinds wrote: "In my opinion she is the most educated and experienced school teacher I've ever met."

Being the dedicated teacher that she is, Poon-Wildermuth is also fiercely protective of her profession which she believes has borne the brunt of negative attention. Too often, she says, teachers are portrayed as people who go to work and do nothing.

"We have in our system so many unsung heroes. The majority of teachers in the country are very hard workers. I know because I'm on the executive of TTUTA Port of Spain, that a lot of schools do not have the necessary tools to ensure that teachers do their job properly. In denominational schools like Fatima College, our stakeholders ensure that we have everything we need," she says.

"... I ignore the negative noises and focus on my mission and my mission is to make a better T&T with my teaching," she continues.

Poon-Wildermuth also talks about one of her greatest pet peeves which she has little tolerance for chronic teacher absenteeism. While she empathises with teachers who must miss school because of ill health or unavoidable circumstances, she says a student's success is largely dependent upon a teacher's regularity at school.

"Our motto at Fatima College is 'By striving, we conquer' and for our immediate past principal Mr Garcia, his goal was to make Fatima College a centre of excellence for learning, you cannot have this if you don't have quality teachers and teachers being present because the alpha and the omega in classroom management is regularity and punctuality," she says.

Teaching is an extremely stressful occupation, as long as her schedule permits, she relieves tension by escaping to the dance floor. For the past six years she has been practising bellydancing techniques at the N9 Dance Company. Latin dance including the Samba is also among her favourites. She is also a substitute dance instructor.

"I am the samba queen," Poon-Wildermuth jokes.

There is a saying that goes: 'First, apostles, second, prophets, third, teachers' teaching is a blessed profession says Poon-Wildermuth and the mark of a great teacher is love, she adds without hesitation.

"A teacher transforms the lives of every student, a teacher enriches. You have to love what you do," says Poon-Wildermuth.

For those comtemplating entering into the profession. Poon-Wildermuth says they should want to make the world a better place, they must want to teach and must take advantage of training as much as possible.

"Teachers must aspire to inspire everyday, she says. "It's the little things in teaching, showing that you care in different ways, that can make a difference."