Omicron and the Opening of Schools
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.
The destruction of student tablets, a poor reflection on parents
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
What’s up with these school fees?
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.
Ranting English Teacher
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…
Dismiss teachers who refuse to vaccinate!
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
10 Rules of Conflict Management for My Colleagues
I get the sense that some of my colleagues find their current workplace environment to be quite crappy. Whether it’s the classroom, the staff-room or the meeting room, the atmosphere is one of toxicity as it is perpetually contentious. I therefore take this opportunity to share with them some points gleaned from an article that I read about a decade ago. Although it was written for the corporate world, I have taken the liberty to make a few minor adjustments to make it relevant to our situation.
Tobak’s 10 Rules of Management Conflict
1. Stay calm. Never react in anger or blow your stack. If you’re so pissed off that you can’t trust yourself to be calm, then go away and come back when you can. The staff-room, the meeting room or indeed the classroom, is no place for that kind of behaviour, period.
2. Attack the problem, not the person. When you criticize or attack someone personally, you risk burning a bridge. Focus on the real issues at hand.
3. Be open and honest. The second you grit your teeth, cross your arms, and close your mind, you give in to stubborn childish behavior. But if you remain open and keep your wits about you, you’ll manage to do the right thing in a tough situation.
4. Don’t lose perspective. Try to remember that you’re being paid to do a job, not to fight a war. The workplace is about business. You know, clients, customers, products, service, that sort of thing. It’s not about you … or him.
5. Try to be empathetic. Put yourself in her shoes and try to understand her perspective. If you can’t or you’re not sure what it is, then ask; you’re assumptions may be wrong. If she does the same, next thing you know, you have detente.
6. Take the high road. That doesn’t mean be quiet when something needs to be said. It means say it at a time and place and in a manner that’s reasonable and respectful of all present. If you kick yourself afterwards, then you probably didn’t do it right.
7. Have faith in yourself. The workplace is no place for yes-men or yes-women. You were hired for a reason, and it’s not to blindly march along with the pack. If that’s what management wants, you work with a crappy place.
8. Don’t go at it in public. If you do, be prepared to apologize in public and, worst case, be fired or transferred for insubordination. Accomplished leaders, managers and really do not like to be publicly eviscerated. Would you?
9. Then let them have it. As long as you follow the preceding eight rules, then it’s okay to go for it. Just try to be civilized.
10. Disagree and commit. Keeping your mouth shut when you disagree isn’t being a good soldier. But disagreeing, losing the fight, and committing to help the winning plan succeed, now that’s being a good soldier.
As Tobak concludes, following these rules will do wonders for your career. I have made every effort to follow them with some success. As he further astutely points out, If you’re angry at your boss or disagree with management and I add colleagues, and feel the need to speak up, ignore this list at your peril
Distance Learning: How to Teach in the Time of the Coronavirus
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!
Retrieved from https://go.edmodo.com/distance-learning-how-to-teach-in-the-time-of-the-coronavirus/
May 06, 2020
Survey of Covid-19 Response in SVG
Catching a Fowl Cock for the Old Year’s Night Cook
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!
Do you get along with your colleagues?
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
Staffrooms: the good, the bad and the ugly
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.”
Thanks, but you must leave!
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
Another education revolution
Should parents accept lines as a form of punishment?
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.
Are teachers permitted to be sexy?
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?
10 Critical Personality Traits Required of Teachers
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.
Teachers, when was your last increment?
As the government proceeds to increase the salaries of public sector workers, after a lapse of several years, the notion of ”regular increments” has been inserted into the narrative, again. The point presumably being made is this: Even without a general increase in salaries during the period, public servants have been receiving regular increments each year without fail. This is absolutely correct. The problem is, however, every public servant does not get an annual increment.
Public sector workers on the permanent establishment are generally paid according to a scale. This means that when one is first appointed to a named post, he/she is paid at the start, the minimum salary associated with that post. Then, a small increase is granted each year until the maximum salary becomes payable. Depending on the post, it takes between four and seven years to earn the maximum.
It is safe to assume that the vast majority of public servants have reached the maximum salary payable in their respective posts. The only hope for any further increase, barring a promotion, is a general enhancement in salaries across the board. Consider the table below with examples from the teaching profession.
Source: SVG Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure 2018
Anyone holding any of these posts for a period in excess of the listed number of years is NOT entitled to any further annual increase. In the case of the education sector, this may well amount to hundreds of teachers.
Any attempt to give the impression that increments are paid across the board on an annual basis is misleading. Perhaps, the government and the unions should begin to consider whether increments should be automatic, as they currently are, or whether they should be granted based on performance. That is another issue!
A student loan default crisis in SVG?
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!
SVGTU Elections: Re-elect Cain, Doyle and Bynoe …3 sterling stalwarts!
Over the past biennium, some members of the SVGTU executive have worked very hard in advancing the interests of the union and its membership. They are now seeking re-election. In this article, I wish to offer my sincere endorsement for these candidates. I think that they should be given the opportunity to serve again. I refer to no other persons but Cain, Doyle and Bynoe, three sterling stalwarts of the outgoing executive.
The first among these stalwarts is Bro Kent Cain. He served as as 2nd vice-president on the outgoing executive and now seeks re-election to that position. Bro Kent has been a faithful and committed member of the executive. He gave solid support and has acquitted himself as a dependable team player. Brother Kent also showed his mettle during the recent impasse with the government. He gave full support to the cause of the union amidst pressure from many of his colleagues. The union needs committed foot soldiers and generals like Bro Kent. He should be returned to office.
Then, there is Sis Sharon Doyle. Sharon served as a committee member and she now seeks re-election. I have known Sharon for many years. As far as I could tell, she has never missed a union activity of significance. Sis Sharon is perhaps one of the most dependable members I have come across. As committee member, she has been the one to cover for the often absent Jane Farrell and fulfill her duties. On many occasions, Sharon has been the one who took minutes whenever Jane failed or refused to show up. We need people like Sharon Doyle back on the executive. Give her your support!
Finally, the current PRO Sis Wendy Bynoe is seeking re-election to that post. In the interest of full disclosure, I consider Wendy a friend. I must therefore declare my bias in her favour. My personal feelings not withstanding, very few would disagree that Sis Wendy has done an outstanding job as public relations officer during her tenure. She made SVGTU a household name; she has been the voice and face of the union; during the recent impasse with the government Wendy took a lot of flak from those in high authority and even a few misguided and disgruntled members. But, she bore it all with poise and dignity. Even without my endorsement, Sis Wendy Bynoe has done more than enough to merit re-election. Give her your full support!
Along with Bro Oswald Robinson, who seeks re-election as president, Bro Kent Cain, Sister Sharon Doyle and Sister Wendy Bynoe constitute the elements on the outgoing executive who worked extremely hard and made great personal sacrifices for the cause of our union. They represented the stable influence and the forward advance that the union attempted over the past biennium. They now seek re-election. I therefore urge all members to give them your full support without reservation or hesitation.
Philbert “Peejohn” John
SVGTU Elections: Robbie or Govie?
It’s election time for the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU). On February 17 and 18, 2016, members of the union will vote for a new executive. I continue to urge all members of the union to vote. But, before you do, you must thoroughly assess the candidates. In this article, I share my views on the two gentlemen vying for the position of president, Bro Oswald Robinson and Bro Sheldon Govia.
I begin with current president, Bro Oswald Robinson. During the biennium, Bro Oswald made an effort to advance the cause of the union. However, he encountered several challenges. Among the most critical of these was the undermining and backbiting from key members of his team. There were times when he could have been more assertive in exercising his leadership. But, Robbie means well and once given the necessary support he will continue to serve the union well.
Among the issues that Robbie championed with zeal include:
- Staunch defense of the Collective Agreement, particularly Article 16;
- Fighting the government in court on the matter of the three teachers who were forced to resign their jobs despite the government’s agreement to grant election leave;
- Championing the cause of Otto Sam in and out of court challenging his illegal transfer and subsequent dismissal from the service;
- Forcing the government to agree to a salary increase after several years of a unilaterally imposed “wage freeze”;
- Demonstrating the fortitude to lead the union in industrial action despite the many obstacles.
- His stellar representation of the SVGTU in regional and international for such as meetings of the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT) and Education International (EI). He is highly respected in these bodies.
As the voice of teachers in the country, Bro Oswald has been a force to reckon with. Robbie does have his limitations as we all do. In this regard he is always prepared to listen and take advice if it becomes necessary. It is my considered view that Robbie is by far a much better choice than the other gentleman running for president.
Bro Sheldon Govia, the current first vice-president has chosen to run for president against the president with whom he has served. This fact in itself tells a story. I find this to be quite brazen of him given his record of poor performance and the blatant undermining of the National Executive. Govie’s main concern during his tenure was receiving the monthly stipend and travelling overseas.
Bro Sheldon disappointed many when it was determined that he actively worked against the union during the recent impasse with the government. He blatantly chose to go to work when the union called a strike. Further, it became clear that Govie and the others of his ilk were motivated by party politics as they disregarded the struggles of the union. In short, Govia is slow, inarticulate, incompetent, and untrustworthy! With him as president, the SVGTU would become the laughing stock of the country and the rest of the trade union world.
Watch and think carefully about whom you plan to vote for president. You have a choice between a zealous advocate for our union’s cause on one hand. On the other, there is one who has shown a willingness to sell out in times of crisis. It is either Robbie or Govie. You know where I stand! Put back Robbie!
Philbert “Peejohn” John
SVGTU Elections: Go out and vote!
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) will hold elections on February 17 and 18, 2016. These elections come at a crucial time in the development of our union. I urge all members to go out and vote. Exercise your franchise. Make sensible choices regarding whom you think would best serve the interests of the organization and its membership.
An official list of the candidates for each position has been published on social media- Facebook to be exact. This list presents quite an interesting mix of old and new faces. There are some who show bright promise; there are those whose record of past performance suggests that they should be returned. And, of course, there are those whom should be totally rejected and disregarded for their dismal performance and painful betrayal during the past biennium!
I urge my colleagues to seek information. Do NOT fall for the attractive posters that are currently making the rounds as the campaign heats up.Thoroughly assess each candidate and choose carefully. Consider a blend of past performance and future promise. Soundly reject those who are merely engaged in the pursuance of personal ambition; vote against the few who have already demonstrated a willingness to put their party loyalty above the union’s agenda. We must severely punish those who have blatantly betray the cause of the union.
The future of the SVGTU is in our hands. Go out and vote. Choose wisely!
P. John’s strike? My non-response to Denniston Douglas
I read an interesting piece in the Searchlight of Tuesday October 20, 2015 captioned: “Whose mandate, Mr President?” and purportedly written by one Denniston Douglas as a letter to the editor.
Mr Douglas, in his missive, sought to establish that I played a very significant role in bringing about the strike of October 13, 2015. Yes, that strike called by the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU) and the Public Service Union (PSU). The gentleman erroneously suggests that I was somehow the mastermind and chief instigator of the whole affair.
I can respond to Bro Denniston point by point, but I choose NOT to. I will say this, however, that his is a fantastic piece of literature. I also wish to commend him for the dramatic improvement in his language skills as evidenced in the piece. Good going brother. Keep it up! You are poised to join the pantheon of the Caribbean’s literary greats!
In the meantime, I wish to get back to the awesome task of advancing the interests of my students and my colleagues as we continue to give full effect to the education revolution. I think I still have a small contribution to make in this regard.
Happy World Teachers’ Day!
Today is World Teachers Day!
World Teachers’ Day is held annually on 5 October to celebrate the essential role of teachers in providing quality education at all levels. It also commemorates the anniversary of the 1966 signature of the UNESCO/ILO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Teachers.
Can anyone tell me how we have observed this day in St. Vincent and the Grenadines? Is it passing without much fanfare?