Letters to the Editor

Lifting the teaching pedigree

Tuesday, October 16, 2012    

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Dear Editor,

It was recently reported that Dr Franklin Johnston, well-known senior adviser to Education Minister Ronald Thwaites, "wants unregistered and unlicensed teachers to be arrested for 'impersonating an educator". He proposes making it "... a criminal offence for someone to teach without the proper accreditation and credentials..."

This, he postulates, will rid the teaching profession of imposters and "will lift the pedigree of the teaching profession on par with law and medicine".

The advice of this eminent '67 Rhodes Scholar to his '68 Rhodes equal - but more eminent public figure - lacks certain considerations.

First, teaching is a natural gift which training can improve and accreditation can validate, but training and accreditation cannot make one a teacher! Although this statement has not been proved empirically, there is enough anecdotal evidence over thousands of years of human existence to validate this. Lee Iacocca, former general manager of General Motors, undeniably observed, "In a completely rational society, the best of us would aspire to be teachers and the rest would have to settle for something less..."

Some of the "best" are not trained, accredited or registered. Will Dr Johnston's proposal remove these excellent teachers from the system, while overlooking the real imposters: those with "teaching papers" but who should have settled for "something less"?

Second, under Dr Johnston's system, how will teachers who show no evidence of "the gift", either in performance or outcomes, be removed from the system, whether or not they are licensed and registered? May I suggest we "rid the teaching profession of imposters" by strengthening the Ministry of Education, having teacher evaluation policies and praxis, developing and implementing viable performance and outcome-based evaluation policies, giving principals more autonomy and protection to remove non-performers, and appointing school boards based on the ministry's policies, guidelines and with people sincerely interested in improving education, instead of displaying their political allegiance!

Third, pedigree is not just a useless perception, it also engenders practical benefits such as higher remuneration or social capital. Now, we all know there is no money to raise teachers' pay, so I propose, Dr Johnston, that you work on raising the teachers' social capital. This is an important consideration to make.

"Social capital is about the value of social networks, bonding similar people and bridging between diverse people (Paul Dekker and Eric Uslaner). Here is how this could work in the Jamaican teacher context:

*Imagine if just because of their status as approved government employees, teachers could walk into any financial institution and immediately qualify for a car loan or mortgage, with no down payment or deposit necessary - just proof of employment status! That's increasing their social capital by "bridging between diverse people" (average employed person and high-profile banker).

*Imagine further if loans or mortgages could be crafted in such a way that the monthly repayment was as minuscule as possible for as long a period as possible and guaranteed by insurance, should illness or death befall the teacher and prohibit them from repaying. That's using the value of socio-financial networks to add social value to the lives of normal employed people - increasing their social capital.

This kind of "bonding" and "bridging" already takes place in our society, but only among the privileged few. Let's make it available to all teachers. If Dr Johnston could remove the real imposter teachers and increase the worth of our real teachers, that would be an achievement which could "lift the pedigree of the teaching profession on par with law and medicine".

Michael Aiken

Director, Gideon Educational Centre

Buff Bay, Portland

Mandrewa@aol.com

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