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Former Girls’ High School teacher looks back from England

Former Girls’ High School teacher looks back from England

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To Sir, with love

When twenty-one-year-old Englishman Dominic Bowler told his friends how he intended to spend the next two years of his life, they thought he had it made.

It was 1982, and Bowler, who had just graduated from Salford University with a degree in Chemistry, had signed up with the British charity – Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) for a two-year stint. His assignment – teaching science at a girls’ school in the Caribbean. What could be better?{{more}}

When Bowler turned up for his first day of work at the Girls’ High School in St. Vincent in September 1982, he was jolted back to reality after his first encounter with the school’s Headmistress Norma Keizer, a woman he describes as “intimidating”.

“I vividly remember my first day as Mrs K read out the timetable, which was in a state of flux due to staffing uncertainties. ‘Mr Bowler,’ she said, ‘Third year Science’. I wrote it down in my planner and waited for the next class. ‘Now’, she said in a clearly imperative tone, and I looked around for assistance from my colleagues. They just smiled sympathetically and I got up and went to the third year for Science; no chalk, no duster, no book and no idea what bit of Science I was to teach to Form 3. Two hours later, a rather confused group of third years left the class to tell their friends of the surreal experience they had just had,” he said with obvious amusement. That was the first day on the job of a period Bowler describes as the greatest adventure of his young life.

Things quickly got better, and, according to Bowler, he learned to speak so that the children could understand him. “I grew to love the children in my care and the teachers who gave up so much to ensure the next generation had the opportunities they did not,” he told Searchlight.

“I also grew to love Mrs Keizer as I learned to see through the hard exterior to the loving and kind lady inside. We had many a quiet chat in her office about the children and life on the Island. She also forgave me my occasional failings. For this I will always be grateful,” he shared.

When Searchlight spoke with the former Headmistress, however, she could not remember any of those “failings.” She says she does remember how pleasant and helpful he was, and how well he mixed with the staff and integrated into the Vincentian society. “He was a good teacher and really cared about the students. He helped out wherever he saw the need,” Keizer recalled.

Bowler taught Chemistry, General Science, Mathematics and Physical Education in the third, fourth and fifth forms. His students remember him as being patient and earnest, but a bit shy. Nicole Comp, who Bowler taught Chemistry in 5th form in 1984/85, told Searchlight: “He would blush when we behaved like 15-year-old girls typically do, but was a good sport.” Another former student, Meryl DeBique, said: “I think maybe it was a bit difficult for him at that age to be teaching classes full of teenaged girls, intent on challenging him at every turn, but he fought his way through these challenges quite successfully.”

Even though he enjoyed teaching Science, Bowler said the time he spent assisting teachers Bertie Lewis and Cecily Norris with sports holds special memories for him: “I loved the sporting nature of the school and enjoyed coaching and playing netball, volleyball, cricket, Diamond Dairy road relay and the amazing sports days at Arnos Vale,” he reminisced.

Outside of school, Bowler was quite active in the Catholic Church and made many friends there. He also became a member of the football team 100 Pipers Roseans, with legends such as Tweety Spence. “I bought a motorbike and explored the Island. I think I knew it better than almost anyone else in the school,” he shared.

As the end of his two-year stint approached, Bowler said Mrs Keizer asked him to stay on for a third year. “I didn’t have anything organised for my return. I would not be able to gain a place in a University of my choice, as I would have to see who still had places left,” Bowler disclosed. He said Mrs. Keizer’s request really “swung it” for him, as it gave him the opportunity to “sort out my future and to really make an impact in my third year. It takes a while to settle in to a new place, but that third year I really knew what I was doing and had such a great time.”

Twenty-three years later, the former Girls’ High School Science teacher now works for the Greater Manchester Fire Service as a fireman and an education specialist in the Community Fire Safety section. When he returned to the United Kingdom in 1985, he entered Loughborough University where he read for a Post Graduate Certificate in Education, after which he taught for over 20 years in schools in the UK and in Botswana.

Dominic Bowler is now 47, has been married to his wife Susan for 20 years and has two daughters, Sarah and Ruth. He lives in a village called Marple on the edge of the Peak district National Park. “I still play football, I love photography and I spend too much time chatting with my ex-pupils on Facebook.”

“Working In St Vincent really changed my life for the better, and I must thank you all for making it such a great experience,” a nostalgic Bowler told Searchlight.