Teacher Shirley Bobb-Phillips Excels Through Determination as a Champion of the Voiceless

By Maria Bristol-Darlington
Shirley Bobb-Phillips

For some people, the seventh day of the New Year 1943 was just another normal day in the humdrum of their lives.  However, for George and Marie Des Vignes, that day heralded the birth of a baby girl who was their sixth of twelve children! Large families were the order of the day back in those good ole days! Shirley, that precious bundle of joy, was delivered by her maternal grandmother, Florence Knott. Could her proud parents have ever imagined the profound impact that this baby would have on the lives of countless persons as she grew and matured into a fine young lady? Her birth was indeed a rather extraordinary event as Shirley had been created by God Almighty to be the epitome of a vocation as a part of her earthly sojourn! That was to be her mission in life! Indeed it was to be her greatest legacy.

Excelling Through Determination

Shirley thrived under the loving care of her parents, grandparents and siblings and was a delight as she grew and developed. Soon it was time for her to begin her primary school education and as a condition of her maternal inheritance, she was enrolled in the Scarborough Roman Catholic Primary School. She remained at that school up to Standard Four and was indeed a brilliant pupil! She was then transferred to the Scarborough Methodist Primary School where she successfully completed her primary school education. It would be at this latter school that she would later make her mark as an educator par excellence! Shirley graduated from primary into secondary school and attended The Harmon’s School of Seventh Day Adventist’s [SDA] where of course she continued to excel! She gained her grade three Cambridge Certificate after having only attended the school for a mere three years! This feat was attributed to her determination to succeed, her parental involvement and in her own words, “the strictness of the teachers there.”

Confident, with No Uncertainty

All these positive influences guided and nurtured Shirley making her more confident that her chosen career path was indeed the chosen one! She was never doubtful of that career path even before the tender age of seven. As a child she was often observed at home teaching the trees in the yard, the tins in the kitchen cupboards and the cloth dolls she made! So naturally after leaving high school, Teacher Shirley began her meritorious teaching career as a Student Teacher at her alma mater, the Scarborough Methodist Primary School at the tender age of nineteen! Three months later she was transferred to the Franklyn Methodist Primary School where she taught for ten years before proceeding to Port of Spain Teachers’ Training College from 1974 to 1976. She continued to shine and received her Teachers’ Diploma.

From Teachers’ Training College, Teacher Shirley was assigned to the Mt St George Methodist Primary School in 1976 to 1977. She was then transferred to her alma mater, the Scarborough Methodist Primary School in 1978. It was at that institution that she distinguished herself as one of the nation’s most prolific Common Entrance/Secondary Entrance Assessment [SEA] teachers gaining one hundred percent passes in those examinations. It was from this school that she eventually retired in 1995 believing that she had done enough and deserved a much-deserved rest. Of course, she had an impeccable record of regularity and punctuality throughout her teaching career. Her passion for her vocation confirmed by her strong conviction that teaching is not a mere job but a calling and a special service to her God through her fellowmen. She advises her younger colleagues to never view teaching in monetary terms but in the valuable contribution one makes in molding lives and shaping characters. To Teacher Shirley, being able to touch lives in a positive and meaningful way is the most precious reward any teacher can receive.

Dedicated and Loving

It was not only academia that held interest for Shirley! She met and fell head over heels in love with a handsome gentleman named Mr. George Abraham Bobb. At the tender age of eighteen, her mother signed for her to get married. As Teachrer Shirley puts it: “I did not want to have my character cast in any derogatory manner so I decided I would settle down in marriage at an early age.”  This loving union produced five children – Clement, Garvin, Judy, Rennie and Neila in that order, followed by eight adorable grandchildren. As a dedicated and loving homemaker, wife, mother and business partner to her husband, Shirley was still able to balance her affairs and continued to perform her teaching duties competently and conscientiously. She would be seen going all day at work, correcting piles of pupils’ books late into the night and yet never appeared before a class without proper prior preparation and planning.

Spritual Journey

It was during that period that she joined the Methodist faith and continues to grow spiritually daily in her journey as a Christian. She is actively involved in the life of the church, sings in the choir, is a class leader, member of the Bible Study Group and a member of the Methodist School Board of Management. She willingly acts as a substitute teacher at the Scarborough Methodist Primary School when called upon to serve in this capacity. She ensures she has her lesson plans and goes beyond the call of duty by assisting struggling readers before the start of school. The pupils know to line up with their readers in readiness every morning that she is there! The present teachers all sing praises for Teacher Shirley’s high standard of instruction and dedication. Once a great teacher, always a great teacher!

On the 1st July, 1991 after more than thirty years of wedded bliss her loving husband George died after a brief period of illness. She confides that: “Had it not been for the advice, support and prayers of family and friends, I don’t know how I would have made it at that overwhelming time. God’s Hand was indeed at work then.” After weighing her options, she decided to take over the management of the family business, ‘Bobby’s Hardware’ upon her retirement so that its success and existence would be guaranteed. Without a shadow of a doubt, she also accomplished that goal efficiently and effectively. Shirley has the knack of achieving excellence at whatever task to which she puts her hands and mind. 

True Calling

However, after only one year, Shirley soon confessed: “[I] realized and accepted the fact that the hardware business was not for me.” Therefore, it did not take much persuasion for her to accept the position of Principal and naturally, Standard 5 teacher at St Nicholas Private Primary School in 1996. Initially it was for only six years but of course Shirley succumbed to that burning urge to continue in what she has always considered her true calling- TEACHING. It came as no surprise that she remained at that school as the Principal and Standard 5 teacher for eleven years before retiring in 2007. While at St Nicholas Primary School she chalked up an enviable record of SEA passes, raised the level of discipline to an all-time high and realized the overall improvement, extension and upgrade of the institution’s facilities. Subsequently, the school’s population increased significantly. Shirley is presently the oldest and most successful SEA teacher in Tobago and has to her credit a 100% pass rate.

Of course, it was not all work and no play for Shirley. Almost six years after the death of her first husband, she fell in love again and got married to Hilson Phillips on 16th January, 1997. She was subsequently known as Mrs. Shirley Bobb-Phillips. She is once again a devoted wife who treats her husband with respect and affection. She retired from St Nicholas Primary School in 2007 much to the dismay of the parents and members of staff in order, as she says to “go home to do other things like resting and relaxing, starting a kitchen garden, helping the elderly with their affairs and spending more time with my husband.” Knowing the individual and her passion, do you really think that was possible or the end of her career in her field of endeavor? Certainly not

Teacher Shirley felt compelled to shelve those dreams for the reality when “the children followed her” and she was prevailed upon by the parents and guardians to start ‘Shirley’s SEA Prep Class’ in the same year. The school was housed at her home. Prior to that, she continued her evening classes which had started in 2003. In that year 2007, of her school’s nineteen students the pass rate was, as expected, 100% with five placing among the top twenty in Tobago. That class continued due to the constant requests, demands and pressure exerted on Teacher Shirley by parents and guardians to continue to prepare pupils for the SEA examinations. However, she took the hard decision to close the doors of her school in 2011 after that years SEA examination. Of course, there were persistent and convincing parents and guardians who tried to woo her back into continuing what she does best – TEACHING!

Heeding the Call

Was it any big surprise when Teacher Shirley heeded the call to become the Principal of Campbell’s Academy and in her usual spirit of excellence raised the standard at that institution as well? She has that special touch. She resigned from that school after a few years but was begged by the Ministry of Education to take up the mantle once more when the school had some challenges and without any hesitation she agreed. She stayed on until things were regularized and then she gracefully bowed out but remains as their quiet advisor. Teacher Shirley gives private remedial reading classes to children ever cognizant of the fact that reading is the bedrock of all learning. She even took time off from her busy schedule to go to Trinidad to tutor her grandson Isaiah and her granddaughter Shirley in preparation for their SEA examinations. Needless to say, both passed for the schools of their choice.

Mrs. Shirley Bobb-Phillips is a multifaceted personality. Those who get close enough to know her personally often wonder where she finds the time, energy and will for effective involvement in so many things. It may not be generally known that she is an excellent and charismatic motivational speaker and has been engaged by religious organizations, Parent Teachers Associations, schools at all levels and corporate bodies to share her wealth of knowledge and expertise in leadership. This attribute has undoubtedly been a contributing factor to her ability to inspire and motivate so many pupils into achieving high levels of success.

Teacher Shirley is indeed an outstanding exemplar who has earned the reputation of being the go-to-person when one wants a job done efficiently and urgently without fuss or flair. She gives sound advice, leads by example, is a great confidante, has a remedy for any ailment and is always willing to lend a hand. Sister Shirley’s discipline, capability and commitment have made her a one-time efficient Circuit Steward of the Tobago Methodist Circuit, a functioning member of the Methodist School Board of Management, a Class Leader and Chorister. Her elevation from guider through the ranks to the position of Division Girls Guide Commissioner in Tobago from 1986 to 1992 is remarkable and she served well. Teacher Shirley has always demonstrated a love for this association throughout her teaching career.

 You are by now rightfully wondering how does Teacher Shirley do so much? She is a go-getter, she loves to serve, she can’t say no to a worthy cause and her involvement makes her life worthwhile, she emphasizes. You can count on her to rise to the occasion, never say no to genuine requests even on the spur of the moment and to volunteer when others balk at awesome responsibilities. She is also generous and is always giving someone ‘a little something’ to help them out discreetly. God is indeed blessing her for her generosity of spirit and selflessness. In spite of her health issues she maintains an upbeat and positive demeanour.

Among her noteworthy achievements are:

  • Credits in Psychology, Sociology of Education and Teaching Methods at Teachers Training College in 1976.
  • Most outstanding contributor to the Tobago Division from the Trinidad and Tobago Girls Guide Association in 1992.
  • Contributor to Education in Tobago from Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association [TTUTA] in 1994.
  • Certificate in Teaching of Dyslexics in 2001.
  • Tobago House of Assembly [THA] nominee for the Evelyn James Teacher of the Year Award in 2003.
  • Award for Education from the Regional Chapter of Co-operative Credit Union League in 2004.
  • An honorary member of the Tobago Writers Guild.

Champion of the Voiceless

Even more noteworthy than those awards are the kudos Teacher Shirley receives constantly from people whose lives she has positively touched. She is lauded for being resilient, God-faring, a devoted wife, a supportive mother, a loving grandmother, a true friend, a reliable help in times of trouble and distress, a dedicated educator, a lifelong learner, an upstanding citizen, a devout Christian, a concerned and contributing citizen, a champion of the voiceless and the list goes on and on and on!

 Teacher Shirley is an advocate of 1 Corinthians 10:31 which states: “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Kalu Ndukwe Kalu’s statement sums up the life and works of Teacher Shirley as he wisely opines: “The things you do for yourself are gone, but the things you do for others remain as your legacy.” 

We salute Mrs. Shirley Bobb-Phillips for her sterling contribution in the field of education, for being an inspiration and a role model! Well done Teacher Shirley.

Maria Bristol-Darlington is a longstanding member of the Tobago Writers Guild. She began writing at the tender age of eight, and credits her love for writing to her love of reading. Some of her early works included poems, jingles, essays and short stories. The mother of three and grandmother of three writes on a variety of themes, with religious ones a speciality. The experienced primary school teacher has composed several pieces for church functions that cater for children, as well as writing speeches, poems and short stories. Ms Bristol-Darlington holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Language Arts and is a regular performer at Tobago Writers Guild annual Literary Affair and Reading Fest events.

[Photo – Shirley Bobb-Temple – By Author]

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