Long-serving educator, Samuel Archer, is a ‘Special Person’
Posted date: April 15, 2012 In: Guyana News | By Leon Suseran
Pull Quote: “Home visits were very helpful… I have found that the contact with the home and parent eases the load on the teacher”
The name ‘Sammy’ Archer resonates favourably on the lips of many educators across Guyana and especially in Berbice. Mr. Archer gave nearly 40 years of his life (37 to be precise) to the education sector as a concerned, dedicated and experienced headmaster.
During his tenure, he became a vibrant trade unionist and later President of the Guyana Teachers’ Association [later Union] (GTA) and he served his office well. He was and still is very concerned about education and its state of affairs in Guyana even though he sits quietly behind the scenes in his Cumberland, East Canje home today.
Mr. Archer still has very sober views and recommendations about the education system and words of advice for today’s teachers.
In the past, many teachers and educators were featured in this column, however, Mr Samuel Orlton Archer brings with him his unique stories and language of experience which he gained from his many years in the teaching and education system.
Born on December 1, 1934, at Smythfield, New Amsterdam, to parents Samuel and Mary, young Samuel attended All Saints’ Primary School and Berbice High from 1947- 1952.
In briefly reminiscing about his childhood, Mr. Archer stated that his life was one with many challenges.
“From the age of three, I suffered a tragedy, in that my left eye was stuck with a scissors”. One Sunday afternoon while preparing for Sunday School, he related that he was trying to bore a piece of thick flannel and tried the upward push with a scissors and “it went right in my eye and I had one operation and after that, a film started to grow over the eye and I had another surgery and later my left eye went blind”.
He lost the sight of the eye at that very tender age and “that handicap posed quite a challenge, but up to now I am living with that challenge and overcoming it” He attended school without wearing spectacles, but at age 32, he began to wear them since it was telling on his sight.
Samuel entered the teaching system in June 1953; his first teaching stint was at Wakenaam, at St Paul’s Anglican School. He spent about a year there, after which he was transferred to St Patrick’s Anglican School in East Canje in 1954. He then entered the Teachers’ Training College (later CPCE) and was among the first batch (of 150 teachers) in the Emergency Teacher Training Scheme from September 1959
to 1960. After ending college, he returned to St Patrick’s and “got all my promotions there”.
During these years Mr. Archer married Ulah Hazel, in November 1966. The union bore four children.
In 1968, he was seconded to start the Overwinning Secondary School on the East Bank of Berbice.
He became the first headmaster of that school “and we started out with 25 students on that day in September and the school had to grow, and it grew to such an extent that, at one time, a part of the secondary was housed at St Patrick’s in Canje”. He returned a year later to St Patrick’s as Deputy Headmaster until 1973 after which he was appointed as Headmaster of Manchester Secondary. In 1977, he was transferred back to St Patrick’s as Headmaster and remained there until 1984 after which he was transferred to the newly- built Canje Secondary School as the first Headmaster until his retirement in 1990.
Being the headmaster for quite a number of schools he recounted a few experiences including his best times that were spent at St Patrick’s.
“We used to take children on tours to Georgetown and Corentyne, but also Music Festivals– music was not taught at the school but we had choirs and took part in these festivals– and in 1967 we won in our age group in Georgetown”.
“Manchester was quite an experience for me because of the children– there was a dialect that I just couldn’t understand when some of them spoke, it sounded foreign to me and most times I had to ask the Senior Mistress to explain what the children said.” “It was quite something”, he recalled fondly.
After his retirement, being the caring and concerned educator he was, he did not stop finding out about how his students were doing. “I had a tracing system and tried to find out as much as possible just what the children–who passed through my hands– what they were doing.”
He recalled how he enjoyed giving extra lessons, “we used to give lessons at school but we never charged”. He saw lessons as a means of catching up with some things that time did not permit them to cover in the classroom during the normal 5- hour period “and we would have them stay back after school or on Saturdays and give them the lesson without charging a cent, unlike what is happening today…”
Mr. Archer noted how the focus back then in education was purely on making a well-rounded child and the curriculum did not only focus on Mathematics and English, “and had to participate in everything and we tried to develop the whole child, in games, plays, music and singing and we have found that those children who did the total programme, have been better adults today”.
He visited parents at home a lot and it became an integral part of his life as a teacher. “Home visits were very helpful…as long as there was a contact with the school and the home, whether it be a home visit or attending
PTA Meetings or just the parent just coming in to see the children, I have found that the contact with the home and parent, eases the load on the teacher”. The job of the teacher becomes ten times lighter and easier once the child knows the teacher has a strong and solid contact with his or her parents and the home, “half of the work is finished…attention is paid and we get along very well and results are even better where that is concerned”.
It is widely accepted that there is currently a dearth of male figures in the teaching profession. Mr Archer is fully aware of this problem and apprised of the consequences it poses to the children. The “low pay” he agrees is the reason for males not being too attracted to join teaching since they are going to avenues with more pay.
“The male is that father figure and the children often look up more to the male than the female and when you don’t have many males around, one of the things that often will happen is a breakdown of discipline”.
Mr. Archer was a staunch and active member of the Guyana Teachers’ Association (GTA). He held several positions including Second Regional Vice- President for Berbice in 1978, a position he held for several years. He later became Junior VP and First VP and in 1989, he aspired to higher office, during which he became the President of the union.
He organised and attended several seminars and conferences as well as courses both locally and regionally (Caribbean). During his tenure as president of GTA, a Memorandum of Agreement was signed with the Ministry of Education that the union should be involved in any matters involving teachers and should have a say.
Several other agreements and policies were put in place under his leadership of the GTA, many of which are still enforced and in existence for teachers today. Mr Archer was also a Village Councillor for the Sheet Anchor/Cumberland Neighbourhoods Democratic Council (NDC) and became Chairman in 1977.
He attended a three-month trade union course in Germany in 1966 where he gained a lot of experience and knowledge to build his career in trade unionism. He and several other veteran trade unionists from Guyana, were taken around and given lecturers on worker participation and management “and we took quite a lot of courses on that”.
After retiring in 1990, he joined the New Amsterdam Mayor & Town Council as a Public Relations Officer, a position he held for four years.
Looking back at his years of service, Mr. Archer is quite pleased and satisfied, especially “when children can meet you and see you, both locally and overseas—it makes you feel that you have done something and it is kind of rewarding…the reward might not be monetary, but there is satisfaction that you have done something in life and turned around the life of some child and made it better”.
These words penned to him by one of his former students, Caribbean singer Edgar Rose, are etched in his memory and provide a source of encouragement and upliftment:
“I express my profound gratitude to the Almighty God for preserving me and granting me this opportunity to thank you my teacher, Mr. Samuel Archer. I thank you for being an excellent role model in my life; your firmness, discipline, knowledge and most of all love, have made me the person I am today. It seems as though it was just yesterday I recall while attending school we were given the opportunity to view a film. Having viewed the film I couldn’t comprehend the story. However, after experiencing life’s ups and downs, I’ve realized that this film should be dedicated to you. To Sir With Love.”