Friday, January 19, 2018

Sick of teacher-bashing

A recent letter to the editor headlined "Sick of teachers" launched a stinging assault on teachers for their actions on November 16. That letter revealed some common misconceptions about teachers' work. It painted all teachers with the same broad brush, with no acknowledgement whatsoever of those thousands of teachers who go beyond the call of duty to ensure that their students have positive and enriching school experiences, despite the conditions under which some of them work, and mindful of their students' circumstances. They spend their own money to buy basic things like Bristol board and markers; they give money for "passage" when students claim they have lost it; they buy copy books and pens/pencils/erasers, some even buy uniforms for needy students; they hunt down students to hand in their SBA projects, even going to their homes at night or on the weekend. They "nurse", "parent", counsel, provide emotional support, transport, feed, and do so many other things in addition to conducting lessons.

Contrary to popular belief, teaching is not an 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. job. Teachers have to be constantly planning and preparing lesson materials, correcting students' assignments, researching new material to keep updated on methods, and all this is done between 3.00 p.m. and 8 a.m. on weekdays and on Saturdays and Sundays. They are mandated to attend workshops anytime they are called, and this includes Saturdays and vacation periods. When CXC or CAPE exams fall on public holidays, teachers have to be at school to monitor the exams. They actually work 12 months of the year, and the majority of them sometimes 24/7. There is no time limit to "head work". According to the regulations, the vacation period is just a break from giving instruction because the students are not in school. The Ministry of Education can call out teachers at any time. The fact that this rarely happens does not negate the possibility.

Teachers are not aliens, they are products of this society. One hundred per cent of us must carry 100 per cent of the blame equally, for the moral mess in which we find ourselves. Let us not forget the many teachers who have been violently attacked in their classrooms because of due diligence in carrying out their duties. One was even killed in front of her students.

Certainly all teachers do not give extra lessons, and not all those that do charge a fee. There are teachers, especially those with exam classes, who start their classes at 7 a.m. and go as late as 5 or 6 p.m. for free.

That there are some who bring the profession into disrepute, absolutely. However, as in any other profession, these are in the minority, but unfortunately, they are the ones who bring attention to the group. Nevertheless, it is unfair to assail teachers and paint them all with the brushes of delinquency, irresponsibility and greed. In recent times, a significant number of teachers has collapsed and died, some on the school premises, literally giving up their lives for the profession. Our teachers do far more than they are given credit for. They are subject to the same stresses that adversely affect all of us citizens, why should they not want what we all want? They deserve our support and affirmation, not condemnation.

Finally, while TTUTA is very capable of defending itself, I feel compelled to take issue with the negative criticisms expressed in the letter. TTUTA is a trade/labour union; it protects teachers' rights, but it does not have regulatory function. It is not the official voice of the teaching profession, as the Law Association is for the legal profession, or the Medical Council is for the medical profession and the Nursing Council is for the nursing profession. There is at present no agency in this country with that function, and there will be none unless we are willing to accept these propositions:

1. Teaching is a highly specialized occupation that requires specialist training and constant intellectual effort.

2. Teachers are not merely public servants or day-care providers or mindless robots who carry out routine tasks. Teachers are by virtue of 1. classroom teaching specialists/ education practitioners;

3. The teaching profession should be self-regulating. The professional body, that is, teachers and other education specialists, should be the guardians of quality for the profession. This is done through professional registration and licensing and the monitoring of standards. Self-regulation gives the professional body the authority to discipline any of its members who bring the profession into disrepute, by enforcing a code of professional conduct.

TTUTA does not have the authority to call for disciplinary action against any teacher, neither does it have any standing in curriculum matters. Its influence is limited to ensuring that teachers' rights are protected and that due process is followed. Perhaps a listing of the aims of the association will bring some clarity, correct the misperceptions and influence the change to more reasonable expectations from the public. This is what is stated in its constitution, page 1, Rule 3:

"The aims of the Association shall be:

(i) To promote the cause of education.

(ii) To promote and protect the professional, economic, spiritual and social well-being of its members.

(iii) To arouse and increase public interest in educational affairs.

(iv) To secure conditions that will make possible the best professional service.

(v) To promote cordial relationships amongst its members, between its members and Government and Boards of Management, and to settle disputes amicably wherever possible.

(vi) To liaise with other associations and groups having similar aims and objects."

TTUTA does not disclose the details of its activities except to its members, and so unless you are a teacher and an active member, one does not expect that these will be known or even understood. It is therefore disingenuous to accuse the association of not engaging in particular actions, especially if there are misconceptions and false expectations about the scope of its functions. If however this is not the case, then these accusations are merely expressions of misplaced indignation.

Paula Mark Ed. D.

Teacher-education specialist and

consultant; member of the technical team of the Caricom Task Force for Teacher Education; former First vice president of TTUTA and one of the framers

of its constitution