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.”
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
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!
It’s election time for the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU). On February 17 and 18, 2016, members of the union will vote for a new executive. I continue to urge all members of the union to vote. But, before you do, you must thoroughly assess the candidates. In this article, I share my views on the two gentlemen vying for the position of president, Bro Oswald Robinson and Bro Sheldon Govia.
I begin with current president, Bro Oswald Robinson. During the biennium, Bro Oswald made an effort to advance the cause of the union. However, he encountered several challenges. Among the most critical of these was the undermining and backbiting from key members of his team. There were times when he could have been more assertive in exercising his leadership. But, Robbie means well and once given the necessary support he will continue to serve the union well.
Among the issues that Robbie championed with zeal include:
- Staunch defense of the Collective Agreement, particularly Article 16;
- Fighting the government in court on the matter of the three teachers who were forced to resign their jobs despite the government’s agreement to grant election leave;
- Championing the cause of Otto Sam in and out of court challenging his illegal transfer and subsequent dismissal from the service;
- Forcing the government to agree to a salary increase after several years of a unilaterally imposed “wage freeze”;
- Demonstrating the fortitude to lead the union in industrial action despite the many obstacles.
- His stellar representation of the SVGTU in regional and international for such as meetings of the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT) and Education International (EI). He is highly respected in these bodies.
As the voice of teachers in the country, Bro Oswald has been a force to reckon with. Robbie does have his limitations as we all do. In this regard he is always prepared to listen and take advice if it becomes necessary. It is my considered view that Robbie is by far a much better choice than the other gentleman running for president.
Bro Sheldon Govia, the current first vice-president has chosen to run for president against the president with whom he has served. This fact in itself tells a story. I find this to be quite brazen of him given his record of poor performance and the blatant undermining of the National Executive. Govie’s main concern during his tenure was receiving the monthly stipend and travelling overseas.
Bro Sheldon disappointed many when it was determined that he actively worked against the union during the recent impasse with the government. He blatantly chose to go to work when the union called a strike. Further, it became clear that Govie and the others of his ilk were motivated by party politics as they disregarded the struggles of the union. In short, Govia is slow, inarticulate, incompetent, and untrustworthy! With him as president, the SVGTU would become the laughing stock of the country and the rest of the trade union world.
Watch and think carefully about whom you plan to vote for president. You have a choice between a zealous advocate for our union’s cause on one hand. On the other, there is one who has shown a willingness to sell out in times of crisis. It is either Robbie or Govie. You know where I stand! Put back Robbie!
Philbert “Peejohn” John
The office of general secretary (GS) is arguably the most critical on any union’s executive, especially that of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU). This office is the centre of the union’s operations. Indeed, the functioning of the executive is only as effective as the general secretary is effective.
A non-performing GS is tantamount to a non-performing executive. Therefore, as members of the SVGTU go out to on February 17 and 18, 2016, I urge you to think carefully about whom you might chose to fill this position.
Jane Farrell, who “served” as assistant general secretary on the outgoing executive, is now running for GS. Whatever you do, DO NOT vote for Jane. Even if you are thinking about it, here are some points you may wish to consider.
- How effective was Jane as assistant general secretary over the past biennium?
- Does she possess the skills set required for the crucial role of GS?
- Why has she failed to produce the minutes for so many meetings of the union?
- Why did she absent herself from so many meetings of the union?
- Why did she actively undermine the National Executive during the recent conflict with the government?
This is a lady whose tenure is office as assistant general secretary has been marked by gross incompetence, negligence and dereliction of duties. This is a lady who refused to show solidarity with the union during a period of crisis. How can she now function as general secretary, the most critical office of the executive?
Colleagues, think about it!
Philbert “Peejohn” John
Every teacher may at one time or the other come into contact with a disagreeable principal. Here are a few suggestions from Max Fischer about how to handle the inevitable disagreement with an administrator
Be straightforward. Backstabbing is never a worthwhile or appropriate tactic. The most constructive means of dealing with any disagreement is to do it directly. When a principal’s determination becomes a point of friction, anything less than a candid discussion will only intensify the heat.
Go Private, not public. For sure, if a principal actively solicits input to a school-wide decision during a staff meeting, that forum is a legitimate venue for a civil rebuttal to his planned course of action. However, any sensitive issue — personnel related or otherwise — should be handled in a private meeting. A staff meeting is no place for a blindsided assault on an administrator.
Be assertive rather than aloof or pushy. By all means, when a live issue is on the table, don’t be a wallflower. If something is bothering you, pretending it will go away or that it doesn’t really matter won’t accomplish anything. Thoughts unspoken are likely to fester and lead to additional frustrations. On the other hand, a combative approach can be just as counterproductive. The body language of aggression — arms crossed, a scowl, a raised voice — will force the principal to be defensive instead of being open to an alternative perspective. The best approach, almost always, is to state the case simply, clearly, and without excess emotion.
Cite bona fide research or school-wide data. Professional journal articles can be an excellent source of support for your point of view; they can lend credence to a specific instructional strategy you want to employ if your principal is unfamiliar with that approach. Data — especially data collected at the school level — can help you make a strong case too. The more your position is grounded in observable realities and concrete information, the less likely it will be viewed as vintage emotional “whine.”
Remember who is captain. If push comes to shove, remember that your principal is the team captain. The best administrators seek consensus wherever possible. But, in those cases where consensus doesn’t, or can’t, exist, the principal must make his best judgment call. Don’t begrudge him. Don’t fight a losing battle. Move on.
There is no agreement on what makes a person a good teacher. However, it is widely perceived that good teachers are a rare species indeed. Students, parents, and the wider community tend to lament on what they see as the absence of good teachers, and good role models in the nations’ classroom today.
Recently, I came across an article online in which the writer identifies certain observable characteristics of a good teacher. I would like to share them with you.
A good teacher
• possesses good knowledge of subject area
• constantly engages in learning
• has an abundance of energy
• collaborates with other teachers
• possesses knowledge of child development
• respects children and parents while still authoritative
• possesses a sense of humour
• wants to teach; sees teaching as a lifestyle, not a job
• cares about children even after they have left school
• shows passion for teaching
• makes effort to differentiate the curriculum to challenge every student
• seeks outside resources and integrates them into the curriculum
• sets high standards for self and students
• ensures that students are engaged
• gets students excited about learning
• causes eyes to light up when teaching (kindles this passion even when tired or burned out)
• is regularly named by students as one of their best teacher.
After several years as a teacher I often wonder if I do measure up. It is not easy being a good teacher. However, we must keep on trying. Perhaps, someday a stranger would walk up to you and say, “Hi, I remember you! You were one of my best teachers!.” I look forward to that day.
Here is the link to a story recently carried by the Jamaica Gleaner. Read it! Could this be about SVG too? Is it not time that we start such a discussion? I am ready. Are you?