Sixty-seven-year-old Devon Vassel fell in love with the teaching profession at the age of 17, while working as a pretrained teacher at the Bull Savannah All-Age School in St. Elizabeth, on leaving high school in 1972.

“As my life went on teaching at Bull Savannah, I just fell in love with teaching, and I saw where students were gravitating towards me. They loved my method of teaching; they loved how I interacted with them, and I just said, I think I am going to continue as a teacher,” he tells JIS News.

Having served the noble profession for 41 years, the retired educator was among 80 educators awarded the Prime Minister’s Medal of Appreciation for outstanding and dedicated service to education.

He received the award from Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, during a ceremony at Jamaica House on September 8 for the 2021 and 2022 cohorts.

Looking back at his four decades of service in the field of education, Mr. Vassel says that his first three years at Bull Savannah All-Age as a grade-five teacher was a learning process that helped to shape his career.

He received his teacher training under the In-Service Training Educational Trust (ISTET) administered by the then Mico Teachers’ College over four years from1972 to 1976.

As he grew fond of the teaching and learning process at Bull Savannah, he volunteered to educate young men enrolled in the Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JAMAL) programme at his alma mater, Seaview Primary and All-Age, situated 10 miles from Bull Savanah.

Mr. Vassel shares that despite the transportation woes, he was committed to the cause of helping to improve the literacy skills of the youth in his community.

“I was just 17 years old, and I taught there [Bull Savannah All-Age) for three years. Everything went well as a teacher. It was a learning process for me and then during that time, I visited Seaview All-Age, which was the school I attended as a boy,” he notes.

“I used to visit them in 1972 and 1973 when they had the JAMAL classes. When I returned from Bull Savannah in the evenings, I used to visit Seaview and help out with JAMAL. I helped the young men in my community, and they respected me for that. I was also a part of the 4-H club at that time, although I was not a teacher at the school,” he recounts.

His act of volunteerism caught the attention of the principal at the time, who offered him a job at the institution in 1975.

Although hesitant at first, Mr. Vassel informs that he took up the offer and continued as a grade-five teacher at the school for five years.

Due to his innovative pedagogical skills, he was asked to transition to grade six and placed in charge of students sitting external examinations.

“My time at Seaview [All-Age] was good. I was put in charge of preparing students for [external] examinations; it was Common Entrance, then it moved to GSAT [Grade Six Achievement Test] and then to the PEP [Primary Exit Profile],” he says.

The educator indicates that his early years at Seaview All-Age opened his eyes to the need for male teachers in the education sector.

Having been the only male teacher at the institution for several years, Mr. Vassel says he was called on to instil discipline at all levels, adding that he was revered by the boys.

“Teaching and learning was the order of the day at that time, and we really instilled in the students the importance of learning. Discipline played a very important role in school also. And for the most part, I was the only male at school. So, although I was at grade six, I moved from class to class. Even at grade one, the teacher would call me; also at grade two and grade three. So, I was always involved in the development of the school,” he tells JIS News.

Mr. Vassel shares that he was heavily involved in the coordination of extracurricular activities at the institution. He served as sports coordinator and was also involved in the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides groups.

Throughout his teaching journey, Mr. Vassel offered extra classes to students seven days a week, inspired by his passion to see children excel.

“During the summer holidays, I would still have classes. Sometimes you get paid, sometimes you don’t get paid… sometimes I don’t collect one dollar, but I say I am doing a service for my community, I am doing a service for Jamaica… hoping that one day I will see doctors and lawyers out of my achievement,” he adds.

Mr. Vassel says he sees the fruit of his labour whenever he encounters past students who would walk up to him and say, “teacher, thank you very much for what you have done for me”.

After retiring from the profession as a senior teacher at Seaview Primary and Infant in 2013, Mr. Vassel returned to volunteer as an assistant teacher up to March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the education sector.

The father of two says he is pleased that his years of dedicated service to the education sector have earned him an award from the Prime Minister.

“I think it is a good gesture. I think we have worked hard as teachers over the years, and I think it’s just a way of saying thanks to us for the hard work, and it makes us feel good to know that you have been awarded by the Prime Minister of your country,” he tells JIS News.

Mr. Vassel is also a community person, as he serves as a Justice of the Peace (JP), a shelter manager, and a member of the Lions Club of St. Elizabeth and the Southfield farmers group.

The retiree is now actively involved in farming and enjoys a game of dominoes with his family and close friends in his free time.

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October 5, 2022

By Nickieta Sterling – Jamaica Information Service