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!
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.”
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