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.”
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.
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!
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!
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?
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!