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SPOTLIGHT on Ms. Britton

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On a clear day last December, Ms. Britton’s advisory was engaged in an unplanned but heated discussion over whether a fake Christmas tree is better than a real one. The students where boisterous, talking over each other, and even standing on their chairs flailing their arms.  When it got to the point where the energy needed to be redirected, Ms Britton handled it in the cool, collected manner you would expect from such a seasoned teacher. She threw down a funky dance move across the room without uttering a word. Immediately her students fell over with laughter. Ms Britton has fun expressing herself  and encourages her students to do the same. We wanted to know more about what makes this 7th grade Science teacher such a positive force in so many student’s lives. She agreed to answer a few of our questions.

We are curious to know what kind of a student you were in middle school? Did you love math and science? Did you enter science fairs? Or was there some practical realities of your life that made science useful and necessary?

Wow! I was an “all rounder,” I think. The common thread in all I do to this day is the desire for excellence. I believe I try to know what excellence looks like at all times, and even when sometimes the steps along the path to excellence seem possible, I think nothing of availing myself to all to the resources around. AND THERE ARE RESOURCES! It meant then, that I excelled in all areas of learning in middle school and did not begin to make more specific choices until later. While I was born in England, my Middle School years were spent in Jamaica. A feature of Middle School was academic ranking every quarter. I was always in the top three students, not because anyone forced me. My drive was innate. While other parents begged their children to study, my parents begged me to put my books down!

In the Upper School things were a little different. Teachers found it difficult to guide me towards one area of study or the other so they kept me in both. I excelled on the General Certificate of examination at the Ordinary Level and later at the Advanced Level. When I realized I was not prepared for Upper Level Organic Chemistry, for instance, I took the book home for Easter break, and studied it’s over 400 pages from cover to cover – and succeeded on that test. In other words, I did not accept failure as an option. It’s not to say I always succeeded, but when I didn’t, I was fine with that….because I always, “put my best foot forward.” I use that phrase with my students to this day!

What did you love to do? Sports? music?

I loved sports ….and still do (Good  football is my favorite!). I was Sports Captain in Middle and High schools. I did 100 ‘yds’ (these days, ‘meters’) in middle school and distance running in upper school – although I was not particularly strong at either. I played basketball through college – goal defense – believe it or not! They called me the warrior. I feared no one. I followed the rules and worked hard as I always have. I still believe that the qualities that one brings to sports teams transcend the field and influence a classroom. Consistency, determination, ability to rebound, good sportsmanship, etc. are all features of excellent collaboration in the classroom.  I believe, however, that I was not sports captain because of my amazing skills. I was sports captain because I have always been committed to the task and a cheerleader. The latter qualities seem to come naturally. I love music and dance to this day! I recognize excellent song and dance. I never got the opportunity to work on this, however – Perhaps because in order to do this in school I would have to miss alternating academic periods. To me this was a travesty! “Jack of all trades and master of none,” was always an unwelcome trade-off for me. To this day, I am still able to say, “no,” when it’s not possible to bring good effort to a task.  My daughter is a brilliant dancer. I live vicariously!

Who were your influences? Heroes? And why?

I do not believe that as a child I was too impressed by any one person – I admired qualities in people like modesty, wisdom, loyalty, drive, fairness, strength, organization, work, spirituality, etc.  I LOVE A UNIQUE SPIRIT. I beg my students to be themselves. It is hard to watch middle-schoolers try to camouflage who they are when the real “them” is so awesome! I wonder if sometimes as middle school teachers we spend time enabling that camouflage in the name of ‘appropriate behavior’ as opposed to allowing students to be themselves.

I see the above qualities in people like

  • Tina Turner
  • President Barack Obama
  • Ms. Omowanile
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Meryl Streep
  • Olivia (from The Help)
  • Martin Luther King
  • My Pastor – Paul Smith

And on and on…….I worry about those who believe success comes through privilege……In my mind, that success is only temporary! Lasting success and joy involves working from the ground up to produce it and then maintaining its excellence

What was the hardest obstacle for you to overcome?

Wow! Some might expect me to say being a single mom or my divorce…but I’d say neither. I saw being a single mom as a wonderful opportunity to invest my time and energy into raising a beautiful child …..and I did! To this day I hate the negative tone around, ‘single-parent’ homes as if to suggest that two parent homes are most ideal! We should look at what is best for the family and do that….even if it’s hard. We should then figure out how we take care of ourselves and our families given the hands we’ve been dealt. Once we have a successful system, we should stick with that…….”come hell or high water!”

 What do you look forward most in your day? And least?

I love my daughter’s laugh and smile. I love my mom’s home and the smell of her cooking. I love my students! I bask in a successful class where students seem happy and engaged. I love the day when students get that “I really have their backs!”

I LOVE an, “I love you,” and a “thank you,”  telephone call from my daughter – and she pretty much sends me those several times per day. Least favorite – Being misrepresented on any level!

Does positive thinking come easily to you or is it something you’ve taught yourself over the years? Any defining moments for this positive outlook.

I believe positive thinking comes naturally to me – It certainly annoys my family. Yet, they are the ones who caused me to grow up this way. I remember being flabbergasted by the attention they paid to ‘silly’ disagreements or arguments. I remember promising never to have that kind of tension in my home. To this day, my daughter and I share pretty much everything! People are blown away by our relationship…To us, “it’s the way we role – everyday!” Negativity shows itself as terrible unhappiness.

What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the environment?

Inconsistency in addressing the task…(Our City Government exemplifies that every day)…..Or when taking care of the environment is fashionable as opposed to being a way to preserve Mother Earth!

What is the single most important thing you’d like your students to take away from your class?

“I came in thinking it couldn’t be done. Look at me now!”

 If you couldn’t be a teacher what would you be or do?

I have always been encouraged by those who know me well to become a medical doctor. Science comes naturally to me…..it makes sense..AND caring for people is even more natural. I believe I blend the latter well – I do it every day. Therein lies most of my joy.

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