From the tender age of five, Jeff Broomes knew he wanted to be a teacher. So it was no surprise that even though he gained the fourth highest score in the New York law school entry exam that he returned to Barbados after graduating from Union College in New York to take up his first teaching job.
“I gave up a nice job in the insurance company to teach for less than one-eighth of the money because I wanted to teach. I can’t remember a day I did not love teaching, and I was very passionate about it,” he told Barbados TODAY.
“That’s why I will always get myself in trouble, because my view is if you’re not passionate about it you should not be in it. I tell anybody if you’re not passionate about our profession don’t come in it because children will be hurt otherwise.”
Broomes spent 41 years in the education system before retiring in May this year as principal of Parkinson Memorial School. He spent 22 years at St Lucy Secondary, which is now the Daryl Jordan Secondary School, two years at Frederick Smith, three years at St Michael School, and 11 and a half years at The Alexandra School before spending the last three and a half years of his career at Parkinson.
Throughout those four decades in the profession, Broomes developed a reputation for being controversial, having angered teachers, their unions and even some parents by the stances he has taken.
“I don’t mind that because I respect the regulations that govern the profession and I believe if you’re being paid to do a job you should do it. And if you’re not going to do it I’m going to say something about it . . . . I have stood up for what is right and some people did not like it, but they could not beat me on substance so they started talking about my style,” Broomes said.
It was that style that led to a Commission of Inquiry at The Alexandra School in 2012, sparked by Broomes’ public scolding of a senior teacher. He was eventually transferred to Parkinson.
“They had a national inquiry on me when they had a little issue dealing with teachers and the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union. [They] spent almost a million taxpayers’ dollars to find out what’s going on with me. They moved me from one school to the next, which did not bother me at all,” the retired principal said.
Broomes also developed a reputation among students and their parents for being a strict disciplinarian. It is something he believes is critical to a child’s overall education.
“I believe you come to my school, you dress properly, you behave yourself in here and you don’t bring certain things here because I will take action . . . . Children respect you more when you set standards. If you don’t fit my standards you going to have to deal with me. And once you set standards that children know that are there, they will operate within them and they will love you for it,” he argued.
His discipline was not limited to the classroom, as his daughter Lia received the same treatment as his students.
“She told me she hates any word beginning with ‘s’ because she grew up all through school hearing me saying ‘standards and structure’, so she got sick of those words. But I believed in them,” Broomes said.
“She and her mum are very close but when it comes to education that’s my baby, so I took care of that. Don’t cross me when it comes to education ’cause Im not going to get in your business in other things. So they would sit down and talk my name and tell me how knotty my hair is; I didn’t mind it too much,” he chuckled.
Lia has followed in her father’s footsteps and is now a teacher in the United States. Broomes beams with pride when he speaks of her, as well as his granddaughter, Sufi, and his wife, Margaret to whom he has been married 36 years although they have been together for 40.
Outside of the classroom, Broomes served as vice president of the Barbados Union of Teachers for five years, while the current Minister of Education Ronald Jones was president. He would later serve three years as president.
As a young man, he was an active sportsman, representing Barbados in athletics and swimming. As a cricketer, he managed the Barbados Youth Team, the West Indies Under-19 team, and also served on the Barbados Cricket Association’s board of management.
Now retired, the 62-year-old said he is enjoying every minute of it.
“I love the idea of being able to go to sleep for two or three hours in the middle of the day without losing pay or anybody quarrelling saying I’m not doing my job,” he said.
Aside from getting lots of rest, Broomes hosts the radio programme Talk Yuh Talk on CBC every Monday, as well as writes a weekly newspaper column. He is also working on a quiz show for children preparing for Common Entrance, and has resumed classes for them.
But it’s not all work for the former principal. He can also be found hanging out with friends at a rum shop.
“Jeff Broomes in the classroom or in the home is different from Jeff Broomes in the rum shop, and I don’t mix the two. My social life, I enjoy myself and my wife sometimes gets upset when I can’t make it home before one or two o’clock in the morning. But Friday night I got home before eight and she almost had a heart attack. Last Monday I did not leave home at all and she wanted to know ‘wait, you sick?’ You just cannot please you ladies,” he laughed.
As for what’s next for him, the veteran education said: “Seeing my granddaughter become the best she can possibly be. That’s my main, main focus.”