The omicron variant of the Corona virus is spreading across the globe like wild fire. However, up to this point we have not heard from the health authorities whether this new and virulent variant has been discovered in SVG. Given what is currently known about Omicron, it is safe to assume that it is already here and we should act accordingly.
My major concern is the anticipated spike in cases and what it might mean for the resumption of school in a face-to-face setting. Online education has been a failure for many despite the sterling efforts made by students, teachers, parents and the authorities. For me, a return to online school is utterly and completely out of the question. Therefore, we must learn to live, work and play with the virus even as Omicron rages.
I listen to the experts. In so doing, I learn a lot. For instance, despite the virulence of variants such as Omicron, the world is much better armed to put up a fight against the pandemic than we were in the early months of its emergence. The public health protocols, the emerging therapeutics and, yes, the vaccines have all put us in a position to effectively combat and defeat Omicron. However, to arrive at this point, it requires global solidarity, national unity and personal responsibility.
As long as we are prepared to do what is required, face-to-face school can and must resume indefinitely. To do so safely and thus minimize outbreaks of Omicron, all concerned must adhere to the following:
1. Regular sanitization of hands and surfaces;
2. Wearing masks in the appropriate settings.
3. Observing social distancing as far as practicable;
4. Conducting regular testing for COVID-19 among all school personnel; and
5. Vaccinating ALL who are eligible including students.
The pandemic forced us to make some serious adjustments to life and work. Some of them made sense, others have turned out to be nonsensical. Online school was nonsensical. Even as Omicron rages, keep our school doors open. Let’s beat the pandemic by following the science.
By Vakeesha A John
According to an article published by Searchlight, the PM said that he has learnt that “half the tablets provided to students were not working, as adults had taken them over and used them for certain purposes”.
I am sick of it.
The part that irritates me the most is the reality that many of these devices have been destroyed. Whether they were destroyed by the child or the parent, the point is, it is ridiculous that proper value wasn’t placed on these devices, especially in these times. Parents should not take them over and should also ensure that every child treats the tablet with utmost care. You can’t bawl that poverty prevents you from having a device then when you get one, YOU see to it that it only lasts 1 month. Come on. This is now your responsibility to at least safeguard the device.
Man, hit the government with criticisms when you want but y’all better take responsibility when you failed to do your part. Should the government fix or replace these devices? Stewps.
Good day to everyone except parents who helped to destroy these devices or failed to supervise the child’s use of these tablets. YOU CAN AND MUST DO BETTER.
Vakeesha A John is a teacher at the Thomas Saunders Secondary School, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Is it possible to have the shadow person in the Opposition ask the Minister of Education at the next sitting of Parliament about these registration and other fees such as PTA fee, student data system fee, security fee (imagine that) etc which public and assisted secondary schools are charging pupils in SVG?
It appears according to The Education Act Cap 202 of the Revised Laws of St Vincent and the Grenadines 2009, Act no 34 of 2006 that as per Section 16 some of these fees are illegal. The Education Act makes it clear that any costs for “specialised services” and “other items” charged to students “MUST” be specified by the Minister of Education and Gazetted.
We need to know if these specialised and other fees these schools are charging are approved by the Minister and Gazetted. I propose (subject to correction) that they aren’t as empirical evidence suggests that.
If the school is sourcing ties and PE shirts etc for pupils to use it is fine for the school to pass these costs, without profit, onto students as parents would have had to buy them from private entities anyway but all operational costs charged are illegal if not gazetted.
We need an answer to this question or we may have to sort it via the courts namely – Jane Doe – V – XYZ School, The Minister of Education, The Chief Education Officer and The Attorney General.
We could have extended the school year, made a national decision to delay CSEC until next year. We could have but we didn’t. Why? Ask the brilliant minds at the Ministry of Education.
A few years ago a gentleman at a business place asked me, how could students get Grade 1s for English but be unable to speak Standard English. I said, “That’s easy!” I explained to him that English teachers are told to concentrate on content. At times we are allowed to subtract marks for grammar, spelling etc. but that’s an everyday cuss out now. I no longer take away points for poorly written short answer responses. I used to paint books red, point out every error, and make suggestions. It’s the way my teacher’s did it. I wasn’t traumatized. Now? I do things the ‘modern way’. English teachers should not upset students by highlighting all errors, it’s intimidating. So it becomes hard to remember which error you focused on last time and at times children would say, “But Miss I wrote that before.” I would then smile and put it down as human error and reinforce the correction.
Some children don’t read, and many can’t read… so English and ‘notes subject suffer’.
Anyways I am digressing.
Our Fifth Form students are going to come back with lots of Grade 1s. They are going in with passing SBAs and will only do a multiple choice. Every year I have a Form 5 class I relax a bit once all students start scoring 45/60 or above. The lowest should be 40/60. Right now English teachers are simply drilling rules and giving practice. We have stopped focusing on writing exhausting pieces. No one wants to be the teacher who did not give enough practice questions. You see CSEC brings back the same multiple choice questions year after year. The more past papers we hunt down the more likely it is for our students to ace the multiple choice.
I am writing all this to say the next few years when these children from last year and this year go off to colleges, universities and or start working it is all going to be interesting… but who cares.
Our education system was a mess before COVID-19 and the lack of foresight and interest at the Ministry of Education has only made things worse.
Not sure if this makes sense to you… Sometimes my finger is faster than my mind…
A concerned colleague messaged me with this question, “Persons are saying we will be dismissed if we don’t vaccinate, is this true?” Without hesitation, I responded with these words:
“That is absolutely NOT true. While the Ministry is encouraging teachers to be vaccinated, they are also quick to point out that it is not mandatory. Further, there is nothing in law or applicable regulations which states that failure to vaccinate is among grounds for dismissal. That would be discriminatory and unconstitutional. I have taken the first dose of the vaccine, NOT because I was forced to, but because, I believe in the efficacy of vaccines in general. I suggest that you inform yourself and make your choice accordingly.”
My colleague’s anxiety is just a reflection of the chaos, confusion and concerns engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation has become even more intense as the authorities promote vaccination for all eligible groups including teachers. Thanks to the virulence of the anti-vax movement, vaccine hesitance stands as a potentially insurmountable obstacle in the way of getting all teachers vaccinated.
The Ministry of Education is strongly encouraging all teachers to become vaccinated. Thus, they have joined with the Ministry of Health to undertake a series of consultations aimed at educating teachers about the process. Despite these efforts, a significant number of teachers continue to show hesitancy and even express outright rejection of vaccines and the vaccination initiatives on which the authorities have embarked. In the face of such opposition from teachers, how should the Ministry of Education respond?
According to Permanent Secretary Myccle Burke, “The primary concern of the Ministry of Education is for students and teachers to operate in a conducive environment, where all students are able to experience the benefits of quality education.” This is definitely not the case as hoped for through online teaching and learning. There have been significant deficiencies in the provision of “quality education” since the suspension of face to face instruction. Online engagement, despite all of its promises, can be termed as a failure in many respects. Hence, the cries for a “return to school” have reached crescendo levels in some quarters and the authorities are listening.
So, face to face classes are tentatively set to resume on April 12, 2021. And, as the Ministry has pointed out, this will be done with a “focus on health and safety”. Along with the already established COVID-19 protocols, vaccination has been adopted as one of the weapons in the fight against the pandemic. Accordingly, the Ministry of Health is set to “deploy teams to all schools to facilitate the vaccination of teachers”.
The Ministry of Education has since issued a memo which states that: “All teachers are encouraged to vaccinate in an effort to mitigate against the pandemic.” Now, the question is: What should the authorities do about teachers who refuse to vaccinate? Should they be threatened with dismissal? I cannot speak for the authorities. But, let me restate, in part, my response to my anxious colleague:
“…there is nothing in law or applicable regulations which states that failure to vaccinate is among grounds for dismissal. That would be discriminatory and unconstitutional. I have taken the first dose of the vaccine, NOT because I was forced to, but because, I believe in the efficacy of vaccines in general. I suggest that you inform yourself and make your choice accordingly.”
Teachers, don’t procrastinate, vaccinate!
Philbert J A John
March 13, 2021
Note: I share an account by one teacher of how she manages to stay connected with her students during the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting closure of schools. My colleagues and I have been making use of the same platform, Edmodo. I highly recommend it to those of you who may not have settled yet on how to stay connected. In a future post, I will share my own experience.
P. J. A John\\
Distance Learning: How to Teach in the Time of the Coronavirus
By Alessandra Pallavicini, EFL Teacher and Edmodo Certified Trainer, Italy|March 21st, 2020
These are hard times for schools and for us teachers. Staying at home does not mean rest and relaxation at all, but rather, since families expect instruction and lessons to be carried out even from a distance. The task of a teacher becomes even more difficult as preparing a lesson to do later in class is very different from preparing it, recording it (or instructing live) and then sharing it online.
Luckily for teachers, there is Edmodo! Never before has Edmodo proved so useful for its flexibility. Once a tool in our kit during classroom time or after school, Edmodo takes on a more prominent role, offering the ability to upload various materials, lessons, quizzes, and homework and then share them with students.
As a teacher, once you’ve created your own Edmodo Classes (depending on what subjects you teach and how many different classes you have), you’ll then want to organize your content and communication, making the best use of features such as subgroups and folders. A good rule of thumb is to create an orderly environment. For instance, in an online environment, students are better off responding directly to a teacher’s message rather than creating a post for all classmates to see.
Notes can be used to create announcements, lessons and discussions. Important announcements can then be pinned to ensure that they are easily found. In a Note, you can create a lesson by adding all the necessary information and attaching useful links. You can also create short, simple videos with further explanations which are then attached to the Note for the lesson. This is especially useful if the lesson hasn’t covered all the material or if it is particularly difficult for students. I am creating many of these videos—simple and short and based on the textbook where the topic is explained clearly. Using the comment section, students can ask questions or request further explanations.
In my opinion, sharing your lesson is not enough. We need to engage our students by asking them to answer questions on the topic that is being addressed. And, to make the online learning experience more closely match learning in the classroom, have students comment on each other’s answers. This is important in maintaining, as far as possible, contact between classmates. When my students took part, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of interest and care with which students participated in discussion.
Edmodo also allows you to create Quizzes and Assignments to assess learning progress. A Quiz provides the level of understanding for a topic and therefore allows us to determine overall student understanding so that we can continue moving forward or decide to stop and go over the topic again. And, don’t forget that Quizzes and Assignments can be shared among colleagues so we can help each other with relevant, high-quality learning content.
Lastly, I suggest following the hashtag #bettertogether on Edmodo to find and share good practices with other educators and to feel less alone in these difficult times!
May 06, 2020
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
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!
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
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.
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?
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.