A Call for Collegiality among Members of the Teaching Profession in SVG
Over the years I have had the honour and privilege of attending several interviews for the position of principal in one of our secondary schools. Indeed, they have been so many I cannot even count. Nevertheless, for every single interview, this question was at the top of the list: “How do you get along with the rest of the staff?”
Of course, my response was always in the positive. I simply assured the panel that I got along “very well” with my staff. I never even stopped to think what “get along” meant. Further, I thought that the panel did not really care. It was just a question they must ask.
I thought that I generally got along well with the people I worked with. Yes, I have had disagreements with a few colleagues here and there. I am known to express my strongly held views with passion and vigour. And, the more passionate I get, the louder I become. Some mistake my posture and demeanor for aggression. However, I never get personal or bitter. Indeed, whenever I think I may have crossed a line, I am quick to profusely and profoundly apologise. In essence, I endeavour to be cordial, caring and collegial with my colleagues.
Now, back to the question that featured so prominently in those interviews. As I was invited to and attended more and more of them, for the same position, over the years, the question was posed again, again, and again without fail: “How do you get along with the rest of your staff?”
Fortunately or unfortunately, my answer never changed. What changed, however, was the manner in which I expressed it. I was a bit more studied and reflective. In my last interview, I can recall telling the panel that teachers have changed. They come in all forms with varying outlooks about life and the profession.
In light of this observation, I thought that it was my role as a veteran and aspiring leader to find a way to engender a spirit of collegiality among staff. I further let them know that that it was a role I have been playing within recent times particularly as it related to the younger members of staff. I even made the panel chuckle when I said that these days, young teachers “know everything and their students know more!” I think I was suggesting that playing the role of guide and mentor to young colleagues was critical.
So, how do you get along with the rest of your staff, your colleagues? This is a question about collegiality. It is a question that every teacher in our system must face squarely and honestly. It is a question to which I shall return in a subsequent post.
Oh, by the way, I was never successful in any of those interviews. Clearly, I did not impress the panel!
Philbert J. John
While doing some research on the notion of collegiality I came across an interesting article that bears the title of this post. I found it very interesting so I decided to share it here. It was found on the website of The Irish Times and was written in 1996. I could relate to most of the sentiments. I am quite sure that many of my colleagues could too. The piece is a bit lengthy but it’s worth the read. So, here goes!
FORGET about whole school inspections – if you really want to find out how a school is performing all you have to do is check out its staffroom. According to many educators, the overall view of the school that you’ll obtain from this vantage point will be as good as, if not better, than anything gained by sending in a whole team of inspectors.
“The whole culture and ethos of a school and the efficiency of its management is immediately obvious when you enter a staffroom,” says one secondlevel principal.
“You know immediately whether the school is well run, whether its attitude to its students is supportive and encouraging, and whether the teachers enjoy and are on top of their jobs.”
Tell tale signs of poor management include dingy staffrooms where the notices are out off date, the paint is peeling, dirty coffee cups are left unwashed and the carpets are dirty, this principal says.
In some staffrooms the atmosphere is tense and frosty. “I used to teach in a school where there were three groups in the staffroom that didn’t speak to each other and if you spoke to one group, the other groups wouldn’t speak to you, confides a second level teacher in Co Dublin.
“I know of a three teacher school where the principal doesn’t speak to the other two teachers and they communicate by notes which are passed by the pupils,” says a rural teacher.
School discipline is a highly contentious and divisive subject in many staffrooms, according to one teacher. Occasionally, staffroom relationships become so acrimonious they end up in the law courts.
Many teachers can recall staffrooms where certain chairs are the sole preserve of particular members of staff, or where people have their own mugs which newcomers use at their peril. “I’ve often arrived in a new staffroom only to be warned against sitting in certain seats,” says a second level supply teacher.
“In some staffrooms there’s a whole unwritten list of rules and they can be minefields for new teachers,” she adds. It’s easy to imagine that such schools are hierarchical, authoritarian and adopt strict disciplinary codes.
Meanwhile, the likelihood is that if teaching staff are open and welcoming to newcomers – particularly to H.Dip students and part time teachers – their attitudes towards their students will be equally positive.
It’s hard to believe that at the end of the 20th century there are staffrooms in this country where H.Dip students are prevented from sitting with the regular teaching staff. But teachers report that this is the case. Similarly in some schools, new and part time teachers receive no formal introductions to their colleagues.
“Very often you’re thrown in at the deep end – the principal gives you your timetable and points you in the direction of the staffroom – and that’s it,” says Katherine (not her real name) who has spent seven years as a part time teacher in a variety of second level schools.
“In some staffrooms teachers are very unwelcoming to part time teachers of whom there are very many nowadays. Nobody makes an effort to talk to you or asks you how it’s going. It makes the job much more difficult.”
“I’ve been teaching for more than 30 years in both VEC and voluntary sector schools,” says Fergal, a second level teacher. “When I started, staffrooms were small, with few teachers. There was a great intimacy about staffrooms in those days and the older teachers were very supportive of newcomers. We weren’t as unionised then and people gave more to their students, to the school and to each other.”
AMIDST all this talk about staffrooms though, it’s important to remember that they are merely microcosms of our society – walk into any workplace and you’ll almost certainly discover similar occurrences. And as in offices, shops and factories up and down the country, some staffrooms are more sociable than others.
“I’ve found that the mixed staffrooms are the liveliest – people behave differently when members of the opposite sex are about and there’s greater camaraderie. In single sex schools there’s less after school socialising among the staff,” says Katherine.
“I’ve taught in both fee paying and disadvantaged schools. Maybe I was lucky, but in my experience teachers communicate and co operate with each other far more in disadvantaged schools than they do in private schools probably because the problems they face are greater.”
However, according to seasoned observers, it is good management that makes good staffrooms and when a staffroom is good it is so largely because of the efforts of the school principal and the board of management.
“A staffroom should be a place where ideas are flowing, where there’s fun and activity. It’s easy for a young staffroom to be full of verve, but the trick is to keep a middle aged staffroom stimulated,” says Pat O’Connor who is headmaster of St Enda’s Community School, Limerick. “Good staffrooms just don’t happen – like love they have to be worked at.”
Nowadays, a major role of the school principal is people management. It’s inevitable that in large staffrooms containing 60 or 70 teachers groups of like minded people will form. Whether these groups remain open, friendly and positive or become divisive cliques, is largely up to the principal.
“The job of the principal is to note the different groups and bring them all along,” observes Fergal. “Jealousies can surface at staff meetings. Sometimes someone will put forward a contentious motion for debate – but an effective principal will deal with this before the meeting and ensure that the motion either won’t appear or will do so in a diluted form.”
The retaining of flogging as a punitive option in schools while outlawing it for criminal offences is preposterous.
Paul S Lowman
A comprehensive, uniformed set of guidelines for disciplinary actions, academic infractions and remedial educational measures are needed.
Measures that not only give teachers an avenue for taking out their frustrations on children but also take into consideration the mental well-being and the specific educational needs of the children being subjective to disciplinary actions.
The retaining of flogging as a punitive option in schools while outlawing it for criminal offences is preposterous.
It is time that we start looking at why some children act out, rather than giving teachers the option to physical abuse those who do. It is time that we recognized that by inflicting physical punishment on children we are also teaching them that it is ‘OK’ to hit. This is true whether the offence is a criminal one or a minor incident in a classroom or on school premises. Whether you agree or not, physical punishment is an appendage of slavery. We know better!
Paul S. Lowman
So, I gave an acquaintance a ride on my way to work this morning. It turned out that she was headed to the supermarket to pick up a few things in preparation for Old Year’s Night. I was curious so I inquired. Didn’t she buy enough for the season? During the conversation my passenger let out that she was really looking for a “whole fowl” to cook on Old Year’s Night. It was then I realized how far we have come as a society. Back in my days as a child, finding a fowl to cook on Old Year’s night was significantly more challenging and more fun than it is today!
Back in those days, every yard was populated with any number of uncaged chickens at varying stages of development. These chickens, or “yard fowls” were a popular source of protein derived from the eggs and the meat. Finding the eggs was easy since the laying hen tended to announce their arrival with long, loud and annoying cackling. After that, it was just a matter of picking up the eggs. However, turning these yard fowls into meat was a bit more challenging. Thus, strategies had to be devised and deployed to capture that chosen fowl which, in most cases, tended to be a cock. I vividly recall five of those strategies. I now take the time to share them with you.
1. Drunk the Fowl: This required summoning the fowls in the yard to be fed. Once gathered, their favourite food soaked in strong rum was tossed out. The food was then eagerly eaten by the fowls so gathered. In a few minutes they fell to the ground in a drunken stupor. The chosen cock was then picked up to be turned into meat. This strategy was effective but wasteful. First, it was expensive. No one wanted to use up their rum in that fashion. Second, there was no guarantee that the remaining fowls would recover from the involuntary inebriation. And third, the chosen cock was often smart enough to avoid that party. I don’t think I could recall that strategy ever being put to use in my household.
2. Feed and Snatch: As with the first strategy, the fowls were summoned under the impression that they were about to be fed. As they crowded around the food, someone sneaked up and grabbed the selected cock by the feet. It was quite an effective strategy that required stealth, agility and dexterity to make it work. The problem was, these skills were often absent or deficient at best. And, as with the first strategy, the chosen cock often found a way to avoid the gathering.
3. Chase and Stone: The chosen cock was chased all through the neighbourhood while being pelted with good size stones. The thing was, it often took much more than one stone to disable the cock after several misses! Later, as said cock is stripped, one encountered fractured bones, lacerations and bloodshot marks all over the meat. For us as kids, the chase was fun! As I reflect now, however, it was truly a cruel way to catch a fowl cock.
4. Canine Assisted Capture: Every yard had a dog. With or without invitation, this dog was often willing to assist in the hunt and capture of the designated cock. The main advantage of being assisted by the dog was its ability to sniff out the cock from its hiding place. Sometimes though, the hunt ended in disaster. It was either the dog did not want to hand over the fowl, or worse yet, all that remained were blood and feathers by the time you caught up with dog and prey. One had to be very cautious when employing canine assistance in apprehending the chosen cock.
5. Chase and Pick Up: This involved chasing the fowl cock all through the neighbourhood. The objective was to run it out of breath. No matter where it went, we followed. Up the road; down the road; across the field; behind the latrine; on top the pig pen; wherever, we kept following. Eventually, the cock was completely out of breath. As a result, it sat motionless, unable to move. At this stage, we just walked up to this wayward fowl and simply picked it up. Although it called for persistence, speed and stamina it was definitely my favourite strategy. And, compared to strategies three and four, it was not painful to the cock.
We have come a long way! I doubt very much that anyone has to put in this amount of time and effort in procuring a fowl cock to cook on Old Year’s Night. Frozen dead cocks are available in abundance. Just do like my passenger and go to the supermarket. It’s easy, convenient and safe. But, is it fun? You tell me!
A Happy and prosperous 2020 to you and yours!
P. John’s Response to Concerns Raised by a Retired Member of SVGTU
I take this opportunity to respond to “Concerned Retired Member” who shared some concerns about the SVG Teachers Union in an article published by The Vincentian on December 06, 2019 under the caption, “Sorry, I must leave”.
Like him/her, I have had some serious problems with the manner in which the SVGTU has been led over the past decade or so. The National Executive, the General Council and the General Membership are all aware of my concerns. I have articulated them at every opportunity and in every forum made available to me by my union. The records will show that, even if they are only in the form of “scrappy minutes and reports” as highlighted by Concerned Retired Member (CRM).
Among the several concerns that I have raised within recent times, is the collective attitude and activities of so-called members in the ilk of CRM. They form part of a backward cabal who seek only the advancement of their personal interests and desires using the union as their primary vehicle to do so. Imagine, therefore, my relief when CRM claims that for the sake of their health, they “must leave”! I say to them, “Thanks, but you must leave now!”
In their piece, CRM opens with an unjustified and unsupported swipe at the president and the rest of the executive. They suggest that somehow the president has her team under some kind of spell rendering them “afraid to speak up”. They further sleazily insinuate that the executive members are only in it for the stipend. The point about it is this, the current executive has been the most productive and successful in the past ten years. For those who, like CRM, are prepared to say otherwise bring your proof and come.
In paragraph 2, CRM poses five questions as follows:
- Are decisions made by the president outside of constituted meetings?
- Do the president and the general secretary want to have all the say, while the other executive members appear dumb?
- Have the original staff been relieved of their regular duties, to the point of frustration?
- Are major financial matters executed without the knowledge of the elected treasurer?
- Do executive members occupy local hotel rooms during regional conferences hosted in SVG, and the union has to foot the bill?
The simple answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO! There is a paper trail for every decision taken by the union. To the extent that CRM may have been successful in raising some doubts in members’ mind, I urge you to visit the office and scrutinize the reports and minutes. In fact, CRM is making some groundless accusations in the form of “questions”. Not only are the accusations groundless some are also libelous. No wonder the missive is published under the inane pseudonym “Concerned retired member”. They lack the gonads to declare their identity even as they appear to be on a quest to destroy the reputation of an organization for which they claim undying love.
The trend continues in the third paragraph, more lies, more innuendos. Contrary to what CRM asserts about the stewards, it is this executive that recently revived the Stewards Council; I am the past executive member “who failed to function”, that I am prepared to concede. However, I am also now one of several advisors working with the membership, at every level, to bring the union back from where leaders in the ilk of CRM were recently taking it.
In that same paragraph, CRM claims that “reports are presented to general meetings with no financial statements”. This is a patent lie! Pertinent financial data have been presented for every meeting that I have attended since this executive took office. There was an issue in the most recently held general meeting where the treasurer did not prepare the usual financial report. He had tendered his resignation a few weeks prior to the meeting. The executive in its wisdom commissioned the auditing firm KDLT to conduct a financial audit. That work was not complete in time for the meeting. So, in the interim the executive presented a summary of the financial status of the union pending the completion of the audit by KDLT.
The irony of this situation is this: The past treasurer is a retired member just like CRM. I have no doubt that they are in close and regular contact with each other. Perhaps, CRM should have consulted with him before penning his diatribe. In the meantime, like many others I await the outcome of the audit. As advisor, I make a call to have the report widely circulated.
I share CRM’s sentiments as expressed in the opening of paragraph 4 of their article. Like them, we are committed to paying our dues to ensure “the continuation of this noble organization”. Unfortunately, we part company when in the succeeding sentences, CRM continues with their groundless and outlandish claims. It seems to me that CRM is probably a long serving member of the union’s leadership with a questionable agenda. Thus, it is probably better for them to leave.
CRM’s missive comes to a dismal end in paragraph 5. They repeat their unwarranted attack on the current executive and inexplicably links their functioning to the state of CRM’s health. Apart from being confusing, the link is a tad unfair. They call for a drastic change! What the public should know is that since taking office the current executive has already implemented significant positive changes and more are underway as reflected in a menu of initiatives undertaken. This short list immediately comes to mind:
- Providing training for all leaders and potential leaders of the union including stewards;
- Reviving the 10 district branches that make up the organization
- Re-organizing and expanding the number of standing committees
- Reviving the once dormant General Council
- Recruiting highly qualified and professional staff in the areas of administration and industrial relations
- Assembling a committee to review and recommend changes to the union’s constitution
- Conducting the first comprehensive forensic financial audit of the union
- Devising new fiscal policies for the financial governance of the union
- Re-engaging the government in negotiations for a new collective agreement
- Modernising the membership cards and expanding the list of entities that provide discounted goods and services to members
- Negotiating a comprehensive insurance programme for teachers that covers life, health, home and vehicle with Beacon Insurance
- Establishing a broad based committee to manage the Union Critical Illness Fund
- Working with Public Service Union (PSU), and the Police Welfare Association (PWA) to devise an approach to the issue of pension reform;
- Hosting in August 2019, one of the most successful and well attended biennial conference of the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT)
- Hosting Branch Day as a day of family, fun and festivity;
- Establishing the Wall of Fame that recognises the contribution of past presidents
- Recognizing through an impressive award ceremony, the contribution of long standing retired members
- Convening the first ever All Committees Meeting of the SVGTU
- Improve markedly the public relations and communications programme of the SVGTU
- Successfully began the process of re-branding the SVGTU
Now, this is just a tiny snapshot of the trajectory of the SVGTU since this executive took office. People like CRM should be proud to be a part of it. I am pretty sure that truth be told, the current successes can also be attributed to the work and contribution of retired members. Unfortunately, for reasons unbeknownst to us, some of them have become “vain and bitter”. Thus, many of these changes and progressive initiatives have resulted in the discomfiture of CRM and their backward cabal. Their insipid piece is therefore a half-baked attempt to remain relevant.
CRM and all those they represent, all three of them, must leave! The new and emerging SVGTU will advance without you!
Philbert J. John
Quite often these days as I engage with some of my students, this passage of scripture comes to mind:
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
4 Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”
(2 Timothy 3:1-5, King James Version)
After all, I see all of these virulent qualities manifested in the adolescents of today, not necessarily in the majority of them but certainly, in a significant and growing minority. Timothy’s dismal prophecy appears to be coming to pass right before my very eyes.
I am therefore compelled to ask: Are we indeed in perilous times? Are we experiencing the last days? I say no way! I would never accept the notion of “last days”. This is a world without end! I may concede however, that these may be “perilous times”. But, as my mother often said, “Everything is only for a time.” Things will get better!
In the meantime, I have to find a way to deal with these covetous, proud, disobedient, unthankful, and unholy adolescents; who, according to Timothy are: “Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce,” and “despisers of those that are good…”
As a teacher, how should I respond to the fulfilment of prophecy? How can I make a difference? Should I take Timothy’s advice and “turn away”? Trust me, there are days on which I am tempted to! But, am afraid I cannot and will not turn away! I think that the bulk of our teenagers are inherently good. They however, need good guidance and an excellent education designed to steer them away from the fate described by Timothy.
For now, the times in our schools may appear perilous. But, with committed educators and caring parents, we are bound to make it better for the sake of our children. Do not turn away from them!
Several years ago in my first year at the St. Vincent Grammar School, I was ordered to write 500 lines by my beloved geography teacher, Mr Terry Cole. This was his strategy for dealing with some infraction on my part. I cannot remember the behaviour that Mr Cole was trying to correct. But, I remember his punishment as if it were yesterday.
I think it started with a paltry 100. And for reasons I still cannot recall, the number reached up to 500. Yes, 500 lines! Now, these had to be, as Mr Cole put it, “continuous lines”! This meant that I was not given a sentence to write out repeatedly for 500 times. Instead, I had to write in continuous prose until the desired number of lines in my big hard cover notebook were filled…500! We solved the problem of what to write by copying the contents of a textbook until we reached the desired number of lines…in this case, 500!
I can’t recall how long it took me to complete that assignment. But, I do remember this: Mr Cole came to collect and I was not quite finished. In the exchange, I somehow let it slip that my mother assisted me. Big mistake! Mr Cole berated me and had me start all over! I cried like a baby.
I have been teaching for 36 plus years now and I DO NOT give students lines to write. I think it is a stupid form of punishment! Parents should unite and rebel against it.
By the way, Mr Terry Cole is still one of my favourite teachers of all times. I have fond memories of his geography classes.
How far should our teachers go when it comes to dressing for the classroom? I refer particularly to our female teachers. They are the ones who tend to raise some eyebrows in this regard.
Despite the widely held notion that teachers are expected to be the standard bearers of conservatism in conduct and appearance, a growing number of our teachers have rejected this, especially the dress part. Instead, it’s all about the latest fashion; it’s all about being seen as sexy; and in the world of social media, it’s all about attracting “likes”!
In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the competent authorities have set clear rules on how public officers, including teachers, are expected to dress for work. According to the Civil Service Orders, the following mode of dress is acceptable for women:
Dresses of sober style and cut. Pants suits and pants with tops.
Shoes – no slippers.
Some may convincingly argue that the Civil Service Orders are woefully out of date and are not befitting the times in which we now live. Hence, we must prepare to embrace contemporary style and fashion in the workplace.
For some teachers, modern fashion means the skimpiest of the skimpy dresses; the shortest of short skirts; the tightest of tight pants and the exposure of as much bare skin as the market can bear. I must admit that they all tend to look absolutely fantastic, gorgeous, beautiful and indeed sexy!
The questions remain: Are these teachers going too far? Should the authorities put some limit on how sexy our female teachers are permitted to present themselves in the classroom?
Please, tell me, how sexy are teachers permitted to be?
There are several terrible teachers at work in our schools today. at they are unfit for purpose! Yet, they are called teachers. In all fairness, I do not think that many of the so called want to be teachers. Nevertheless, they are here wreaking havoc in the system.
I have racked my brain trying to figure out what could be responsible for the dismal performances so evident among many persons who call themselves teachers. Indeed, it is extremely difficult for me to come up with answers. Furthermore, it would take much more than this blog to catalogue the litany of concerns with many of today’s teachers. What I can do in the meantime, however, is to make a list of critical personality traits that I would like to see demonstrated by fellow teachers.
Without giving it much thought, the following spring to mind immediately:
Of course, there are several teachers in our classrooms who demonstrate these traits and more. I work with some of them. They must be commended, encouraged and rewarded. Unfortunately, their work often go unnoticed.
As the government proceeds to increase the salaries of public sector workers, after a lapse of several years, the notion of ”regular increments” has been inserted into the narrative, again. The point presumably being made is this: Even without a general increase in salaries during the period, public servants have been receiving regular increments each year without fail. This is absolutely correct. The problem is, however, every public servant does not get an annual increment.
Public sector workers on the permanent establishment are generally paid according to a scale. This means that when one is first appointed to a named post, he/she is paid at the start, the minimum salary associated with that post. Then, a small increase is granted each year until the maximum salary becomes payable. Depending on the post, it takes between four and seven years to earn the maximum.
It is safe to assume that the vast majority of public servants have reached the maximum salary payable in their respective posts. The only hope for any further increase, barring a promotion, is a general enhancement in salaries across the board. Consider the table below with examples from the teaching profession.
Source: SVG Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure 2018
Anyone holding any of these posts for a period in excess of the listed number of years is NOT entitled to any further annual increase. In the case of the education sector, this may well amount to hundreds of teachers.
Any attempt to give the impression that increments are paid across the board on an annual basis is misleading. Perhaps, the government and the unions should begin to consider whether increments should be automatic, as they currently are, or whether they should be granted based on performance. That is another issue!
Teachers across the country vote today and tomorrow for a new executive body. I take this opportunity to endorse Wendy Bynoe for President.
I have known Wendy Bynoe for nearly 20 years. I lectured her at Teachers College, I was her tutor/adviser when she pursued her bachelor’s and masters degrees in education; I have worked with her as an officer of the Union and as a colleague in the Credit Union movement. I have also had the privilege to see her at work at regional conferences for both the Trade Union and the Credit Union.
Wendy is deeply concerned about the teaching profession and has demonstrated a keen and abiding interest in serving the profession. She is honest, forthright, articulate and profoundly knowledgeable of the extant issues affecting teachers. Her successful tenure as the PRO of our Union speaks volumes about her capacity to take SVGTU and indeed the CUT to another level.
Trade Union leadership is about representation and advocacy; it is about being prepared to sacrifice even some professional comforts and perks for the common good. Everything that I have witnessed about this young woman over the better part of two decades has convinced me that Wendy Bynoe is the right woman for job at this time. With her blend of shrewdness and charm, the educators of this country can rest assured that they have chosen an excellent leader!
Let’s go with Bynoe!
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) will hold its general elections February 27 and 28 this year. And, as is customary, a brand new executive will be installed on April 5 when the Union convenes its biennial convention. I wish to urge every member who might be reading this to go out and vote. The list of candidates should be posted in your workplace by now.
I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to outgoing president Bro Oswald Robinson. He served the Union in that capacity for several years and has done so with some merit. Despite the challenges faced by Bro Oswald, the Union has done quite well under his stewardship. He has served for three consecutive two-year terms. And, according to the Union’s constitution, Bro Oswald can no longer contest the office of president. The membership of SVGTU should therefore express gratitude to the brother and wish him well in his future endeavours.
Not so fast though! I am advised that Bro Oswald has offered himself as a candidate for the office of general secretary (GS). Surely, this is a sign of the brother’s commitment to the Union. Nevertheless, I see it as an unfortunate step. He should have declined the nomination and encourage other young members of the Union to come forward and serve in that capacity. After serving the better part of the last decade as president; after reaching the heights of the executive of the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT) why step down to the office of General Secretary? Why did he not encourage the present general secretary, who did a good job, to seek a second term?
The constitution of the SVGTU makes provision for the immediate past president (IPP) to serve on the national executive. Bro Oswald will hold this position no matter the outcome of the elections. There, he will be able to give guidance and support to the new executive who can and will benefit from his wealth of experience. Furthermore, he can serve in that capacity for up to six years assuming that the new president is re-elected for two more terms. I, like many of my colleagues, am baffled as to why Bro Oswald would even think about vying for the office of GS. Should he be successful, and God forbids, he would be holding two offices in one body, IPP and GS, at the same time.
Bro Oswald, my message to you is this: You will not get my support or that of anyone whom I can influence. After serving for so long on the executive, you really need to make way for young, vibrant and enthusiastic members who have chosen to come forward. Stay on the executive as IPP and guide them. I supported you as president but I cannot and will not support you as GS. I have not even commented on your capacity or competence for the office…That, as they say, is another story.
The National Student Loan Programme has published a list of names and addresses of persons who have apparently defaulted on student loans over the years. In a press release carried in the Searchlight on Friday July 28, 2017, a number of persons were asked to contact the Ministry of Education by August 31, 2017. While the release did not specifically identify these persons as defaulters, it is generally assumed that they are being summoned to make good on their commitments to the programme.
There were 112 persons named on the published list. It comprised 76 males and 36 females. The listed addresses indicated a spread throughout the entire country. The graphic below shows the distribution according to constituencies. One person’s address was listed as Canada.
The publication of this list has generated quite a lot of discussion on social media. Some person are totally against the move to, as they put it, “name and shame” our young people. Then, there are those who think that it was neecessary to bring attention to what is emerging as an important isssue.
It would be interesting to find out why so many persons have chosen to default on loans granted to them to pursue studies. Is it a question of inability to pay back? Or, is it a question of unwillingness to pay. Whatever the situation, it must be negatively impacting on the sustainability of the National Student Loan Programme.
Most, if not all, of the persons named on the list are gainfully employed right here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Others have apparently migrated in search of better opportunities. Whatever the case, they clearly do not consider repayment of their student loan to be high on their list of priorities. It does not matter to them that refusal to pay puts the progammme in jeopardy and stymies the chances of other young people seeking to finance their college and university education.
As a grateful beneficiary of similar student loans in the past, both as a student and as the parent of a student, I am in full support of any measure taken by the authorities to get persons to honour their debts in this regard,
To those who have criticized the publication of the list, I say, stop complaining! If there is anyone whom you know on the list, call them up and urge them to meet their commitments. It is the patriotic thing to do.
Finally, if any of the defaulters are reading this, do the right thing and pay up!
Over the past biennium, some members of the SVGTU executive have worked very hard in advancing the interests of the union and its membership. They are now seeking re-election. In this article, I wish to offer my sincere endorsement for these candidates. I think that they should be given the opportunity to serve again. I refer to no other persons but Cain, Doyle and Bynoe, three sterling stalwarts of the outgoing executive.
The first among these stalwarts is Bro Kent Cain. He served as as 2nd vice-president on the outgoing executive and now seeks re-election to that position. Bro Kent has been a faithful and committed member of the executive. He gave solid support and has acquitted himself as a dependable team player. Brother Kent also showed his mettle during the recent impasse with the government. He gave full support to the cause of the union amidst pressure from many of his colleagues. The union needs committed foot soldiers and generals like Bro Kent. He should be returned to office.
Then, there is Sis Sharon Doyle. Sharon served as a committee member and she now seeks re-election. I have known Sharon for many years. As far as I could tell, she has never missed a union activity of significance. Sis Sharon is perhaps one of the most dependable members I have come across. As committee member, she has been the one to cover for the often absent Jane Farrell and fulfill her duties. On many occasions, Sharon has been the one who took minutes whenever Jane failed or refused to show up. We need people like Sharon Doyle back on the executive. Give her your support!
Finally, the current PRO Sis Wendy Bynoe is seeking re-election to that post. In the interest of full disclosure, I consider Wendy a friend. I must therefore declare my bias in her favour. My personal feelings not withstanding, very few would disagree that Sis Wendy has done an outstanding job as public relations officer during her tenure. She made SVGTU a household name; she has been the voice and face of the union; during the recent impasse with the government Wendy took a lot of flak from those in high authority and even a few misguided and disgruntled members. But, she bore it all with poise and dignity. Even without my endorsement, Sis Wendy Bynoe has done more than enough to merit re-election. Give her your full support!
Along with Bro Oswald Robinson, who seeks re-election as president, Bro Kent Cain, Sister Sharon Doyle and Sister Wendy Bynoe constitute the elements on the outgoing executive who worked extremely hard and made great personal sacrifices for the cause of our union. They represented the stable influence and the forward advance that the union attempted over the past biennium. They now seek re-election. I therefore urge all members to give them your full support without reservation or hesitation.
Philbert “Peejohn” John
It’s election time for the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU). On February 17 and 18, 2016, members of the union will vote for a new executive. I continue to urge all members of the union to vote. But, before you do, you must thoroughly assess the candidates. In this article, I share my views on the two gentlemen vying for the position of president, Bro Oswald Robinson and Bro Sheldon Govia.
I begin with current president, Bro Oswald Robinson. During the biennium, Bro Oswald made an effort to advance the cause of the union. However, he encountered several challenges. Among the most critical of these was the undermining and backbiting from key members of his team. There were times when he could have been more assertive in exercising his leadership. But, Robbie means well and once given the necessary support he will continue to serve the union well.
Among the issues that Robbie championed with zeal include:
- Staunch defense of the Collective Agreement, particularly Article 16;
- Fighting the government in court on the matter of the three teachers who were forced to resign their jobs despite the government’s agreement to grant election leave;
- Championing the cause of Otto Sam in and out of court challenging his illegal transfer and subsequent dismissal from the service;
- Forcing the government to agree to a salary increase after several years of a unilaterally imposed “wage freeze”;
- Demonstrating the fortitude to lead the union in industrial action despite the many obstacles.
- His stellar representation of the SVGTU in regional and international for such as meetings of the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT) and Education International (EI). He is highly respected in these bodies.
As the voice of teachers in the country, Bro Oswald has been a force to reckon with. Robbie does have his limitations as we all do. In this regard he is always prepared to listen and take advice if it becomes necessary. It is my considered view that Robbie is by far a much better choice than the other gentleman running for president.
Bro Sheldon Govia, the current first vice-president has chosen to run for president against the president with whom he has served. This fact in itself tells a story. I find this to be quite brazen of him given his record of poor performance and the blatant undermining of the National Executive. Govie’s main concern during his tenure was receiving the monthly stipend and travelling overseas.
Bro Sheldon disappointed many when it was determined that he actively worked against the union during the recent impasse with the government. He blatantly chose to go to work when the union called a strike. Further, it became clear that Govie and the others of his ilk were motivated by party politics as they disregarded the struggles of the union. In short, Govia is slow, inarticulate, incompetent, and untrustworthy! With him as president, the SVGTU would become the laughing stock of the country and the rest of the trade union world.
Watch and think carefully about whom you plan to vote for president. You have a choice between a zealous advocate for our union’s cause on one hand. On the other, there is one who has shown a willingness to sell out in times of crisis. It is either Robbie or Govie. You know where I stand! Put back Robbie!
Philbert “Peejohn” John
The office of general secretary (GS) is arguably the most critical on any union’s executive, especially that of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU). This office is the centre of the union’s operations. Indeed, the functioning of the executive is only as effective as the general secretary is effective.
A non-performing GS is tantamount to a non-performing executive. Therefore, as members of the SVGTU go out to on February 17 and 18, 2016, I urge you to think carefully about whom you might chose to fill this position.
Jane Farrell, who “served” as assistant general secretary on the outgoing executive, is now running for GS. Whatever you do, DO NOT vote for Jane. Even if you are thinking about it, here are some points you may wish to consider.
- How effective was Jane as assistant general secretary over the past biennium?
- Does she possess the skills set required for the crucial role of GS?
- Why has she failed to produce the minutes for so many meetings of the union?
- Why did she absent herself from so many meetings of the union?
- Why did she actively undermine the National Executive during the recent conflict with the government?
This is a lady whose tenure is office as assistant general secretary has been marked by gross incompetence, negligence and dereliction of duties. This is a lady who refused to show solidarity with the union during a period of crisis. How can she now function as general secretary, the most critical office of the executive?
Colleagues, think about it!
Philbert “Peejohn” John
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) will hold elections on February 17 and 18, 2016. These elections come at a crucial time in the development of our union. I urge all members to go out and vote. Exercise your franchise. Make sensible choices regarding whom you think would best serve the interests of the organization and its membership.
An official list of the candidates for each position has been published on social media- Facebook to be exact. This list presents quite an interesting mix of old and new faces. There are some who show bright promise; there are those whose record of past performance suggests that they should be returned. And, of course, there are those whom should be totally rejected and disregarded for their dismal performance and painful betrayal during the past biennium!
I urge my colleagues to seek information. Do NOT fall for the attractive posters that are currently making the rounds as the campaign heats up.Thoroughly assess each candidate and choose carefully. Consider a blend of past performance and future promise. Soundly reject those who are merely engaged in the pursuance of personal ambition; vote against the few who have already demonstrated a willingness to put their party loyalty above the union’s agenda. We must severely punish those who have blatantly betray the cause of the union.
The future of the SVGTU is in our hands. Go out and vote. Choose wisely!
I read an interesting piece in the Searchlight of Tuesday October 20, 2015 captioned: “Whose mandate, Mr President?” and purportedly written by one Denniston Douglas as a letter to the editor.
Mr Douglas, in his missive, sought to establish that I played a very significant role in bringing about the strike of October 13, 2015. Yes, that strike called by the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU) and the Public Service Union (PSU). The gentleman erroneously suggests that I was somehow the mastermind and chief instigator of the whole affair.
I can respond to Bro Denniston point by point, but I choose NOT to. I will say this, however, that his is a fantastic piece of literature. I also wish to commend him for the dramatic improvement in his language skills as evidenced in the piece. Good going brother. Keep it up! You are poised to join the pantheon of the Caribbean’s literary greats!
In the meantime, I wish to get back to the awesome task of advancing the interests of my students and my colleagues as we continue to give full effect to the education revolution. I think I still have a small contribution to make in this regard.
According to news reports, four members of the executive body of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU) reported for work on October 13, 2015, the day that the union called its members out for strike action. Not only did they break the strike, it is reported that some of them were behind the scenes lobbying rank and file members to disregard the call of the union. In industrial relations, this is an unpardonable sin. These persons, to whom I refer as the despicable four, should now do the decent thing and resign from their respective posts immediately.
It was with grave sadness that I learnt that Sis Jane Farrell, Sis Margaret Jackson, Bro Sheldon Govia and Bro Maxford Jones boldly ignored the union’s call to withdraw their services. Instead, they showed up for work. Even more disconcerting was the charge that they were allegedly involved in lobbying other members to do likewise. And, to make matters even worse, it is claimed that among them is a direct line to the prime minister who is briefed on every move contemplated by the executive. Like I said, it is alleged!
In October of 1999, the Teachers Union called a strike. And, I Philbert John, a.k.a Peejohn as PRO of the SVGTU then, chose to show up to work instead. I was unceremoniously ejected from the executive within hours! I then had the gall to show up to a subsequent general meeting where I was almost pilloried by a mob of angry members. Since that time, I have worked hard to restore some semblance of acceptability and credibility with the membership. To this day, I am still paying for that unpardonable sin.
In October of 2008, the union went on a ten day strike over unresolved issues connected to the recently concluded reclassification exercise. During that period, the then president Sis Joy Matthews was deemed to be less than enthusiastic about striking. At a hastily summoned emergency general meeting, the membership demanded her resignation with immediate effect. After all, they were dissatisfied with her lacklustre leadership during a period of crisis.
As a long standing member of the SVGTU; and as one who has borne the brunt of ejection and ostracism for my stupid act in 1999, I call on the despicable four to leave the executive immediately. I also urge all members to demand that they be removed forthwith!
These are four erstwhile decent people who may have perhaps let the promise of position and partisan patronage severely damage their integrity. The union can in NO way function with their kind in the leadership.
I say, resign NOW!
Philbert “Peejohn” John
In a previous article, and much to the annoyance of several colleagues, I shared with readers 5 ways in which I think we fail our students. I listed absenteeism; tardiness; malingering; lethargic engagement; and lack of effective planning and preparation among the behaviours that thwart the academic success of our students. In this article, as promised, I share 5 more ways in which we fail our students.
1. Deficiencies in Subject Matter Knowledge
Some teachers do demonstrate significant gaps in their knowledge base. This is perhaps true for only a small minority. However, the idea that teachers do not know much about the subjects they teach should be quite disconcerting. The dearth of knowledge may be as a result of poor pre-service preparation and failure to keep abreast with new developments in the discipline. Out-of-field teaching, i.e., the practice of deploying teachers to teach subject areas in which they have little or no expertise, is also quite common. Further, given the dynamic nature of knowledge, it is reasonable to expect gaps to emerge from time to time. However, it becomes problematic when teachers do little or nothing to correct these deficiencies.
2. Failure to Learn from Best Practices and Exemplary Models of Teaching
Good teachers, it is often said, begin with emulating their own teachers. This suggests that one could learn from the environment in which they are expected to grow professionally. Growth also comes from reflecting on one’s own practice with a view to seeking ways to constantly improve. Another path to improvement is marked by researching best practices and exemplary models that one could adapt to one’s own context. However, many of our teachers ignore such practices. As a result, their performance in the classroom is often devoid of any effective pedagogy.
3. Absence of Creativity and Resourcefulness
Teachers do encounter challenges in our quest to promote student success. These challenges do call on us to demonstrate creativity and resourcefulness. Sometime we have to step out of the confines of the classroom, the curriculum and even the rules, for the benefit of our students. This may be seen as going beyond the “wall of duty”. Every so often, in teaching and learning, situations arise that test our capacity to be creative and resourceful. A positive response to such circumstances, more often than not, redounds to the good of our students. Unfortunately, many of us are not prepared to be stretched and we allow precious potential teaching moments to slip by.
4. Demonstrating Lack of Empathy and Compassion
I have heard students referred to some of us as “cold”. This is more than a slang used to describe a hard task master and strict disciplinarian. The term is also used to define teachers who show little or no empathy and compassion for the students under their care. Being an effective teacher involves much more than teaching students to excel in their studies. It also involves making a positive impact on their very souls. This requires a certain level of sensitivity to their socio-emotional needs. It also calls for a demonstrable acknowledgment of their essence as human beings. In short, empathy and compassion for our students are vitally necessary for students’ growth and development throughout life. It appears as if some teachers do not even begin to understand and accept this point.
5. Staying on the Job despite Hatred for the Job
Some teachers hate teaching! However, they are stuck with the job since it’s a steady source of income no matter how small the salary. Should something better come along, such teachers would make a hasty exit. Teaching calls for passion, drive, discipline and commitment. Many of our teachers lack these qualities. This is evident in many of the behaviours highlighted in these articles. There are many recalcitrant teachers in the service only “marking time”. Meanwhile, their students suffer. Ronnie Thwaites, the Minister of Education in Jamaica, recently issued an impassioned plea for such teachers in that country to, “Go!” In St. Vincent a similar call from the authorities is necessary. Teachers who hate the job, for whatever reasons, should do themselves and their students a favour and just quit.
While the academic success of our students is dependent on a wide array of connected factors, I strongly contend that teachers and our behaviours are the most critical. Teachers are expected to teach! This involves doing everything within one’s capabilities to ensure that all of our students are successful.
Whenever students fail to learn, it means that teachers failed to teach. This statement may be platitudinous but it is nonetheless true. Currently, there are too many failing students in our schools. As teachers, we cannot and must not absolve ourselves of the blame for this situation.
First published in the Week End Searchlight of March 20, 2015
I strongly hold the view that teachers are solely responsible for the academic success of the students in their charge. This is a position I have adopted during more than three decades as a classroom practitioner with a penchant for research and reflection. During this time, I have observed and interacted with the good, the bad and the indifferent colleague in our classrooms. While the vast majority of us make a great effort to ensure the academic success of our students, there are those in the “stubborn minority” who do the exact opposite. These teachers fail our students. In this brief article, I wish to share five ways in which they do so.
Absenteeism among teachers is rife throughout the system. It is not unusual to have as much as 10-20% of a given staff out for the day, the entire day, every day. I challenge any school in this country that could boast of 100% teacher attendance on a consistent basis. If there is any, it is extremely rare.
Teachers fail to “show up” for a variety of reasons. These may include illness, personal business, workshops, and meetings, all of which are “legitimate”. There are also those who simply fail to show. Consider what this means for a school and classroom when even the smallest number of teachers are absent on a regular basis.
Compounding the issue of absenteeism is that of tardiness. Several teachers arrive to school late. In some schools, there are teachers who “stroll” in long after the first bell, prayers, assembly and roll-call. They are hardly ever present to participate in the traditional routines that signal the commencement of each school day.
At some institutions, chaos ensues and persists at the beginning of each day as some principals struggle to establish order in the wake of absent and tardy teachers. Indeed, I do believe that some students see no need to be there on time since “Miss” or “Sir will not be there!
This, for me, is perhaps the most annoying practice of all, malingering. Teachers are present but they “choose” not to attend to their classes in a timely manner. Instead of reporting to class, these teachers sit around and gossip in the staffroom; they huddle in small groups in the office; they stand around on the corridor or some other place; they pause on their way to class and take time to make or take a phone call, invariably on their Smartphones. Some even find the slightest of reasons to return to the staffroom and just linger until the bell rings to signal a change of session. One can only imagine the enormous amount instructional time that goes to waste as a result the annoying practice of malingering.
4. Lethargic engagement
This is another way of saying that some teachers are lackadaisical. They go into the classroom and do little or nothing to effectively engage their students. They may scrawl something on the chalkboard then sit as their charges “take charge”. Some of them turn their backs to the class and attempt to fill the board with “notes”. They may even sit at the teacher’s desk as one half of the class crowd around them while the rest are left up to their own devices. Indeed, casual observation often reveals a teacher who refuses to or is unable to connect with the students under her care. It appears to be the result of lethargy. Hence, I refer to such behaviour as “lethargic engagement”.
5. Lack of effective planning and preparation
The best lessons are the result of extensive planning and preparation. Unfortunately, this point has been lost on many of our teachers. Unprepared lessons end abruptly or go long over the stipulated time. The objectives, if any, are never ever achieved. The classes tend to lack focus and both teacher and students show little or no enthusiasm during the session. Although it is a requirement that teachers write lesson plans, quite a number of them fail to do so. Instead they appear to be guided by “old notes” in their possession. Or, they move from chapter to chapter in a slavish commitment to a prescribed text. In the end, very little is accomplished and our students suffer the harmful consequences
The essential role of the teacher in students’ academic success cannot be over emphasized. Unfortunately, there exist a significant number of colleagues throughout the system who engage in behaviours and practices that negate our mission as educators. I have touched on a few. In a subsequent article I propose to examine five other sets of behaviours among colleagues that are responsible for the failure of so many students to achieve academic success.
First published in the Mid Week Searchlight of March 17, 2015
God created sex. Yes, He did! At first, it was intended solely for the purpose of procreation. However, ever since Adam and Eve found out that sex could be had purely for pleasure as well, it has never been the same since then. Now, everyone perhaps save and except for the Thusians, engages in sex mainly for the indescribable ecstasy it brings. Procreation of the race is not even given the slightest consideration.
I recently discovered (to my amazement) that no other group loves sex more than teachers. Both males and females alike, as it turns out, have an insatiable appetite for coitus activities. This urge, if I may call it that, is most intense among unmarried educators, particularly those under the age of forty.
The thing is, sex is so damn sweet we are tempted to do whenever, wherever and with whomever. Fortunately though, this God-given desire; this most precious act is accompanied by a set of rules that are found in the Word of God. Essentially, sex must be between a male and female within the confines of a marriage ordained by God himself. Anything else is deemed sinful and wicked.
Take a look at some verses from the Holy Bible that offer sound instruction about sex.
Exodus 20:14 You shall not commit adultery.Matthew 5:28 But I say to you, That whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.Romans 8:5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.1 Corinthians 6:13 Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.1 Corinthians 6:18 Flee fornication. Every sin that a man does is without the body; but he that commits fornication sins against his own body.Galatians 5:16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.Ephesians 5:3 But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becomes saints;Colossians 3:5 Mortify therefore your members which are on the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:2 Timothy 2:22 Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.Hebrews 13:4 Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.1 Peter 1:14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance:1 John 2:16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
As a parent, you send your child to school with the reasonable expectation that she would be safe. You expect that the school authorities, teachers and administrators, would do whatever is necessary within the ambit of applicable rules, regulation and laws to ensure that your child is educated in a safe environment. But, lo and behold, your child suffers a grave bodily injury, allegedly, due to the apparent neglect of the said authorities. What do you do? What are your options?
A few weeks ago, a local newspaper reported that a young female student lost sight in on of her eyes after a “one sided” with a male student. This incident is alleged to have occurred in the classroom. It is said that the young lady was struck repeatedly in the right eye, resulting in a complete loss of sight. Subsequent reports revealed that the alleged perpetrator of this heinous act was arrested and charged by the police. Up to the point of writing this, he was on bail and awaiting trial.
This incident, horrible as it is, raises a number of questions in my mind. Apart from the obvious culpability of the offending student and ultimately his parents, what of the school, the teachers, the principal and the authorities? Should they not be held liable for dereliction of duties? What was the school’s role in preventing such an incident from occurring? Can the authorities and all those responsible be sued? What if it were your child, how would you have responded?
In light of the facts as reported in the press, I would like to make a few general observations. A few of our secondary schools are staffed by some delinquent teachers and weak administrators. They often combine to engender a school climate in which declining discipline and disorder become rampant. It is in such a climate that children are allowed to engage in rowdy and violent acts such as the one in question. When grave injury is the suffered by a student, should we not hold teachers and administrators culpable?
If a school cannot instill discipline, what is the point?
I am veteran teacher in the secondary school system. I have given over thirty years of service to our nation’s children. Ever so often though, I have to protest loudly against the mess that we allow to persist. I write today about the growing prevalence of indiscipline and the apparent enthronement thereof.
The appalling conduct of of many students manifest itself in several ways. Among these are:
- chronic late coming;
- unexcused absences;
- refusal to bring required material to class;
- absconding from classes;
- engaging in violent behaviour;
- wanton acts of vandalism;
- disrespect for each other and those in authority;
- open defiance;
- lewd and despicable behaviour.
Sometimes the situation is so terrible that one gets the distinct impression that students “run things”. Furthermore, the despicable conduct is often supported by parents and even the wider community.
Efforts to effectively address the problems associated with indiscipline are often met with resistance, particularly from misguided parents. At times, the response from the competent authorities can at best be describe as apathetic. They often appear unwilling to or incapable of confronting these issues head on. Hence, principals and teachers are all but helpless in the midst of this growing culture of indiscipline in our schools. But, if a school cannot instill discipline, what is the point?
To be sure, there are many decent students who show up. They are regular and punctual; they complete all assigned tasks in pursuit of their education; and above all, they conduct themselves in an appropriate manner at all times. However, our frustration comes from those who are bent on doing the exact opposite. Indeed, they are the ones in charge!
Is it any wonder then, that across the nation that academic performance is barely mediocre? Should we be surprised at the unacceptable rates of class repetition; dropouts and the high levels of failure on tests of basic competencies in literacy and numeracy?
Left as it is, the problem of indiscipline in schools tend to translate into scores of youths, mainly males, who offend the legal system on a regular basis. Indeed, there could well be a direct link between the decline in discipline and what appears to be a growing crime wave, particularly among the youths.
This is a simple plea for us to arrest the problem before it gets further out of control. The schools, the authorities, the parents and and the wider community must get together and carefully examine the situation. We should then collaboratively craft strategies that are designed to stem the decline in discipline and decorum among our young people.
On Friday November 14, 2014 the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union staged its annual solidarity march and rally. From all reports, the gathering of teachers appeared to be bigger than it was in a few years. In fact, several of the teachers who showed up were doing so for the very first time.
Some persons have openly expressed surprise at the growing number of teachers who chose to actively participate in the events this year. Then, there was the big question: Why are teachers still marching? Some have asserted that the teachers of this country never had it so good. That may be so. But, does it also mean that conditions can not or must not be improved?
Traditionally, teachers have worked under generally difficult conditions. Low salaries; meagre benefits; and deplorable working environments have generally marked the lot of teachers in this country. To be sure, there have been improvements over the years. However, the gains made did not come without struggle. Indeed, the protracted teachers’ strike of 1975 that led to the brutal reprisals from the authorities in the form of the arrests, trials, and dismissals of a number of teachers is still commemorated as a significant point in this never ending struggle.
After nearly forty years, there are still issues to be resolved. Even if we agree that “teachers never had it so good”, we must also accept that there is nothing for which we must continue to struggle?
Consider the following:
- the current unilaterally imposed salary freeze
- the failure to engage the SVGTU in discussion and consultation on issues touching on terms and conditions of service
- the violation of the collective agreement with regard to the Article 16, Election Leave
- the failure to honour the said article leading to the forced resignation of three teachers who ran for office;
- the plight of brother Otto Sam and what his situation may mean for other teachers who may wish to add their voices to contentious national issues;
- the failure to appoint and promote some teachers in accordance with the rules of the civil service and traditional practices; and
- the general malaise afflicting trade unions stemming from efforts to smother them.
The teachers of this country must continue to march. As conditions continue to improve we should march in celebration. To the extent that policies and practices persist that adversely affect the teaching profession we should march in protest!
Long live the SVGTU!
Every teacher may at one time or the other come into contact with a disagreeable principal. Here are a few suggestions from Max Fischer about how to handle the inevitable disagreement with an administrator
Be straightforward. Backstabbing is never a worthwhile or appropriate tactic. The most constructive means of dealing with any disagreement is to do it directly. When a principal’s determination becomes a point of friction, anything less than a candid discussion will only intensify the heat.
Go Private, not public. For sure, if a principal actively solicits input to a school-wide decision during a staff meeting, that forum is a legitimate venue for a civil rebuttal to his planned course of action. However, any sensitive issue — personnel related or otherwise — should be handled in a private meeting. A staff meeting is no place for a blindsided assault on an administrator.
Be assertive rather than aloof or pushy. By all means, when a live issue is on the table, don’t be a wallflower. If something is bothering you, pretending it will go away or that it doesn’t really matter won’t accomplish anything. Thoughts unspoken are likely to fester and lead to additional frustrations. On the other hand, a combative approach can be just as counterproductive. The body language of aggression — arms crossed, a scowl, a raised voice — will force the principal to be defensive instead of being open to an alternative perspective. The best approach, almost always, is to state the case simply, clearly, and without excess emotion.
Cite bona fide research or school-wide data. Professional journal articles can be an excellent source of support for your point of view; they can lend credence to a specific instructional strategy you want to employ if your principal is unfamiliar with that approach. Data — especially data collected at the school level — can help you make a strong case too. The more your position is grounded in observable realities and concrete information, the less likely it will be viewed as vintage emotional “whine.”
Remember who is captain. If push comes to shove, remember that your principal is the team captain. The best administrators seek consensus wherever possible. But, in those cases where consensus doesn’t, or can’t, exist, the principal must make his best judgment call. Don’t begrudge him. Don’t fight a losing battle. Move on.
There is no agreement on what makes a person a good teacher. However, it is widely perceived that good teachers are a rare species indeed. Students, parents, and the wider community tend to lament on what they see as the absence of good teachers, and good role models in the nations’ classroom today.
Recently, I came across an article online in which the writer identifies certain observable characteristics of a good teacher. I would like to share them with you.
A good teacher
• possesses good knowledge of subject area
• constantly engages in learning
• has an abundance of energy
• collaborates with other teachers
• possesses knowledge of child development
• respects children and parents while still authoritative
• possesses a sense of humour
• wants to teach; sees teaching as a lifestyle, not a job
• cares about children even after they have left school
• shows passion for teaching
• makes effort to differentiate the curriculum to challenge every student
• seeks outside resources and integrates them into the curriculum
• sets high standards for self and students
• ensures that students are engaged
• gets students excited about learning
• causes eyes to light up when teaching (kindles this passion even when tired or burned out)
• is regularly named by students as one of their best teacher.
After several years as a teacher I often wonder if I do measure up. It is not easy being a good teacher. However, we must keep on trying. Perhaps, someday a stranger would walk up to you and say, “Hi, I remember you! You were one of my best teachers!.” I look forward to that day.
Here is the link to a story recently carried by the Jamaica Gleaner. Read it! Could this be about SVG too? Is it not time that we start such a discussion? I am ready. Are you?
Over the past month I have spoken to three colleagues who have all expressed frustration with teaching today! Indeed, only one of them is willing to stick it out for a while. The other two will be gone by the end of this school year! They are all excellent teachers who still have a contribution to make to the development of our young people. At times, I too get frustrated…then I get to see scenes as portrayed in this video …
For the sake of the next generation of police, nurses, chefs, teachers, pilots etc…
Several schools across the state have been affacted by the programme of disconnection for unpaid bills recently carried out by LIME. We have since learnt that the unpaid bills had nothing to do with the government’s lack of resources or inability to pay. Instead, it is a question of poor mangement and abuse.
The abuse of the phone service in government departments and agencies including school is rampant! That is the conventional view. In the case of schools we must accept the fact that phone bills are high due partly or wholly to abuse by teachers. Should we sit back and accept this view?
Pause for a moment and consider the following points:
- Since about 2005 every single teacher is in possession of one or two or even three mobile phones.
- The preferred mobile phone or similar device for your average teacher is a smartphone (BlackBerry, iPhone etc).
- The preferred modes of communication is texting or “bbming”, or chatting on MSN and Yahoo Messenger. Note: The phone is hardly ever used for “talking”.
- It is easier and safer to gossip with a colleague, friends and family using a mobile handset instead of using the school phone which is invariably an old time fixed line handset situated in a public place.
- Most, if not all fixed lines in schools are on a the “flat fee” plan and are generally barred from making calls to mobile phones and overseas numbers.
In this context, it is difficult to figure out why and how a teacher would abuse a school phone. The old land line is simply no longer the preferred means of communicating. This is the 21st century; it is the age of FB and Twitter! Why would any teacher go into the office or staff room and spend hours on the school phone?
Call me daft! But, it just does not make any sense to me!
Cheating on SBAs has been one of my pet peeves over the years. In their haste to submit their projects, students have tried every trick in the book to gain an advantage. There is no point in detailing their cheating strategies here. Suffice it to say, at one point, I once considered challenging the validity of the SBA component of CXC exams.
I am sure that CXC has been aware of the problem over the years. They have now decided to get tough with the culprits. Apparently, with the growth of ICT, cheating has become even more widespread and more complicated.
The following was recently reported on the CXC website as concerns emerging from a meeting of officers of the Council.
Problems in SBAs
An issue of major concern which was brought to the fore was plagiarism as it related to School-Based Assessment projects, also called SBAs. In a move to clamp down on dishonesty both on the part of teachers and students Giles said CXC would be toughening its stance and ensuring work was screened in a more meticulous manner. One school, in which the country was not identified, submitted an SBA where it was later discovered that the teacher “repackaged” the project. That teacher, she said, was recommended by CXC to be suspended and all the students in that particular class were not awarded any marks.
Another problem relating to SBAs was that in some cases the projects were not being submitted by students. The result of which led to the student not being graded for the subject. According to The Caribbean Examiner, a publication of CXC, for October 2011 it cited that reported cases of fraud in the 2011 examinations included:
• Collusion in the examination room;
• collusion on SBAs;
• forged signature;
• taking notes into the examination room and;
• submission of identical practical reports;
• Submission of fabricated SBA marks;
• Submission of SBA projects previously submitted by past students.
It is interesting to note that CXC has found some teachers to be culpable. However, I choose not to comment on that at this time. I would only say that teachers should know that they DO NOT help our young people when the collude with them to cheat on SBAs.
This year’s Teachers’ Solidarity March and Rally was not without controversy; neither was it without drama.
When Burns Bonadie mounted the platform, presumably to bring a solidarity message behalf of his union, the crowd erupted in jeers, hisses and boos. A clearly agitated Bonadie still attempted to speak but he could not be heard among the raucous roars of the crowd.
This behaviour went on for a few minutes as the veteran trade unionist attempted to address scores of belligerent teachers and their well wishers in attendance. Then, Ronald Clarke, the acting president of the SVGTU, intervened. He appealed to the angry teachers to allow Bonadie to speak. Clarke’s intervention did little to help the situation. Teachers were in no moood to listen to Burns Bonadie. Nevertheless, he persisted.
Amidst the jeers from the crowd, Bonadie gave his message. He expressed solidarity with the Teachers’ Union and reminded the gathering of his own contribution to the struggle of teachers over the years. Bonadie also took the opportunity to outline his credentials as an advocate for workers’ rights across the region. As he concluded his brief address, the jeers and boos went up again.
Burns Bonadie is widely recognized as an outstanding labour leader in the region. He served for many years as the general secretary of the Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL). Bonadie is now the principal adviser to the government on labour issues and heads the recently created Workers Institute of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Some observers expressed the view that the treament meted out to the veteran trade unionist was unnecessary and embarrassing, especially for one who has done so much for the labour movement in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and across the Caribbean.
Today is World Teachers Day!
World Teachers’ Day is held annually on 5 October to celebrate the essential role of teachers in providing quality education at all levels. It also commemorates the anniversary of the 1966 signature of the UNESCO/ILO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Teachers.
Can anyone tell me how we have observed this day in St. Vincent and the Grenadines? Is it passing without much fanfare?
I have a six-year old friend who entered grade one last September. This was the beginning of his second year in primary school. I was going through my friend’s book bag (which I thought was quite big and heavy for a six-year old) when I came across a 100 page hard cover note book. I asked my friend what was he doing with this big “note book” in his bag. He responded, “Miss say we have to bring it to write notes”. Write notes? At six?
Here is another situation that plays itself out over and over on a daily basis. Almost every time I enter a classroom, I meet the black board filled with “notes”. Invariably, I have to give the students a few minutes of my period to “write down” the notes that Miss or Sir left for them. And, as you may well appreciate, all 80 square feet of the black board is emblazoned with “notes” from left to right and top to bottom.
It is therefore no wonder that the typical teen-ager finds school to be excruciatingly boring. After all, they are made to sit for hours and copy badly written “notes” from a black board. Alternatively, they must listen and write as Miss or Sir “call notes”. Unfortunately for the children of the 21st century; the children of the education revolution; “notes calling” and “notes writing” still remain as significant instructional strategies for too many teachers.
As a student, I found “notes calling” and “notes writing” to be painfully monotonous. I simply could not keep up. I often waited eagerly for my teacher to pause and offer some “explanation” of his or her “notes”. In fact, I even developed the technique of deliberately asking a slew of questions to delay the resumption of “notes calling” or “notes writing”. It did not always work though! With the urgency of covering the material foremost in their minds, my teachers would stop the questioning and stick to their notes!
As a teacher of history and social studies, two subjects notorious for “notes”, I choose not to “dictate notes”. I never did and I never will. Furthermore, I use the black board sparingly. In fact despite Charles Best’s excellent tutoring at the SVG Teachers College, I never learnt to apply the effective uses of the black board in my classroom!
We are now in the digital age and all that it implies. I prefer to refer to these times as the post black board era. Today, there are countless effective alternatives to “calling” and “copying” notes. Yet, the practice is still so ubiquitous in our school system. That is why I am calling on the SVG Teachers Union to conduct a series PD workshops on the theme: Making the Black Board Obsolete- Interesting Alternatives for Engaging Students with Educational Material.
In the meantime, I feel it for those six-year olds like my young friend who have to lug a bag of hard cover note books to and from school and who must sit and copy copious notes from the black board or as Miss dictates. Perhaps, all of this would be eliminated when every child and every teacher are in posession of the digital tools to make teaching and learning engaging, exciting and enlightening in this the digital age.
This piece is not about the digitalization of school processes and the consequent reduction in the use of paper; it is not about the integration of ICT into the curriculum with the use of digital media; it is not even about the widespread use of laptops, net-books or i-pads that threatens to make obsolete the paper bound text; it is not even about the scarcity of copy paper and the continued reliance on the chalkboard for writing up notes, tests, notices etc. No my dear colleagues, my reflections today refer to a matter of much greater import. My article is about the growing absence of toilet paper in schools across St. Vincent and the Grenadines!
This reality hit me in the face the other day when I noticed that an unusually high number of students, particularly females, kept coming to my office in search of “a piece ah toylit papah please sah”. I had no problem. I have been going “paper-less” in that regard for some time now. So, I had no difficulty in liberally sharing my supply with those who sought the item. The last time I checked, I was completely out.
Then, at an emergency staff meeting a few days ago, the scarcity of toilet paper in the school was accorded priority status on the agenda! The principal expressed concerned about the rapidity with which this precious item seemed to be disappearing. Bails of toilet paper are depleted in a matter of days. Information gleaned from colleagues around the country suggests that this may well be a nation wide trend.
As one who has an interest in educational research, I have an impulse to conduct some investigation in to the issue. Why is toilet paper so scarce in our schools? Has the Ministry of Education been cutting back on the supply? Does it have anything to do with the global economic crisis? Are our schools generating so much filth that an inordinate amount of toilet paper is necessary? Or is it that teachers are taking home the school’s supply of toilet paper?
Going paperless is a notion normally associated with the digital age. Naturally, St. Vincent and the Grenadines will not be left behind. Apart from the distribution of net-books to teachers and students, we appear to be cutting back significantly on the use of toilet paper. Perhaps we have found a way to digitize all sanitary activities!
As one writer states: “paperless doesn’t mean no paper. It means simply that technology is giving us new options to reduce or eliminate much of the paper we use today and to enjoy the cost savings that result. Moreover, it gives us the satisfaction of introducing ourselves and our students to the increased portability and accessibility of digitized ideas and to a greener way of doing business”.
Trust the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to embrace the concept of the “paperless school”. But, must we begin with the elimination of toilet paper?
Today is May 13, 2011 and in 69 days EI 6th World Congress will begin. The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) will be represented by Ronald Clarke the Union’s first vice-president and acting president. Is SVGTU in a position to represent the teachers of this country at that international forum? Does Clarke have the moral authority to speak on our behalf in such a gathering?
EI –Education International– is the global union federation of organizations that represents over 30 million teachers and other education workers, through 402 member organizations in 173 countries and territories. The World Congress, held every four years, is the supreme governing body of Education International. The next Congress will be held in Cape Town, South Africa, in the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) from July 22nd to July 26th, 2011.
The Congress provides an opportunity for representatives of all EI affiliates to meet and strengthen the bonds of solidarity between teachers and education workers throughout the world. Delegates consider the major contemporary issues affecting their organizations, the international teacher trade union movement, and the ongoing struggle to achieve quality public education for all.
At the World Congress, EI members will address “major contemporary issues” affecting teachers across the globe. Among the issues on EI’s agenda are:
- education for all;
- the working and living conditions of teachers;
- school leadership;
- status of teachers;
- trade union education;
- human and trade union rights;
- children rights gender equality;
- sexual diversity;
- health and safety at schools;
- HIV/AIDS prevention;
- the global economic crisis and its impact on teachers
- national violent conflicts and their impact on teachers.
Indeed, EI is on a mission to forge solidarity among the world’s teachers in the quest for quality education.
Where does St. Vincent and the Grenadines stand relative to all these critical issues on EI’s agenda? How has the SVGTU executed its mandate to address these concerns on the national front? Exactly what will Clarke take to the world congress on our behalf? What does he intend to bring back?
There are those who who assert that SVGTU is now a broken union. Since the last biennial convention over a year ago there has not been a single legitimate gathering of the principal organs of the SVGTU, i.e. the General Membership and the General Council. This is a clear violation of the constitution. The National Executive is apparently left to do its own thing. The situation is such that the very legitimacy of the union’s operations may be questioned. What is the acting president going to tell EI in South Africa about this situation?
Given the perception that the leadership of the organization has been unable or refused to stand up and speakout on certain national issues, can we now expect acting president Ronald Clarke to do so in South Africa? What is he going to report on issues such as:
- violation of the collective agreement;
- the status of the reclassification exercise;
- failure to revise the present agreement;
- government’s unilateral “wage freeze”;
- the impact of the twin evils of political tribalism and political victimization on the teaching profession;
- the plummeting morale of teachers across the state;
- the declining membership of the SVGTU?
- the lethargic functioning of the only body that represents the interest of teachers ?
Some members of the union may find it hard to accept the view that the acting president may well be going to South Africa on a joy ride. How can the “leader” of an inactive, silent and broken union purport to speak in an international forum on behalf of a demoralized membership? How can one who appears dumb at home go out on the international stage and “speak” on the critical issues that confront the teachers of this country? Is it too late to stop this outrage?
Teaching for me still remains quite a noble profession. After nearly 30 years in the service of our youth, I still have the drive, the passion, the energy and the motivation to make a positive difference in the lives of my students. But, as the days go by, this is becoming quite a daunting task.
Among the biggest challenges facing me and several young, bright, talented and committed teachers is the despicable decline in discipline and decorum among the student population we pledge to serve. Several youngsters are downwright rude and disrecpectful. They have absolutely no regard for anyone, human or divine.
Just yesterday a young female colleague attempted to admonish an otherwise unruly class. The unfortunate young lady probably made a remark that some elements in the class found to be “offensive”. In response to the pleading of the teacher for some quietude and order, a girl in the class blurted out, “She ah behave like she ha man prablems”.
This was an unapologetic remark directed to my young colleague; delivered without fear or trepidation. Clearly, who the hell is Miss to tell them anything? Why should Miss bring her “man prablems” to the class? What Miss should have done was to mind her own business. Miss’s presence, and her attempt to establish order was clearly an affront to whatever the students had planned for that period! And, that young lady, that first former, that beneficiary of the “education revolution” had to let Miss know it!
I still love teaching. I just have to remember to keep my “man prablems” out of the classroom!
Wednesday January 19, 2011: Why bother to plan sometimes?
I turned up this morning at period two to teach a social studies class in Form 3 Room 12. I met the classroom door locked and the windows closed. There was not a single student present. I was subsequently informed that the entire class was suspended for the day. I did not know that!
Apparently, the students in the class did not comply with the directions of their English teacher, Miss Quashie. They had an assignment to submit for her but failed to do so. I am advised that the matter was brought to the attention of the principal, Mrs James. As punishment for this infraction, the principal decided to suspend the entire class for one day!
Needless to say, I was livid. I had spent the two previous days preparing a slideshow to be presented during that double period, the only one for the week. In fact, it was the first slideshow to be presented to that class. I was really looking forward to it. But, I was thoroughly disappointed when I turned up and the students were all absent.
A few other teachers indicated to me subsequently that they were aware of the suspension. It turned out that a notice to that effect was posted on the notice board in the staff-room. The problem with that is this: The office of the deputy principal is on the lower floor. There is where I spend my time when I am not engaged in instruction. So, that notice never came to my attention. I think that I would have to visit the staff-room more often!
Another thought occured to me. The English teacher in question, Miss Quashie, is one whom I regard as a “delinquent teacher”. She is regularly late and regularly absent. I therefore thought it unfair that these students had to be suspended on behalf of a delinquent teacher. Miss Quashie too, deserves some form of recrimination for her oft times unprofessional and delinquent conduct.
It may never happen! For such is the world in which we live, the powerless and disenfranchised must suffer!