#TeachersLivesMatter too!

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#TeachersLivesMatter too!

BY TEVIN CAMERON

Friday, July 10, 2020

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In light of the recent protests across the world denouncing the harsh treatment and realities of minorities, especially blacks, I would like to borrow the tag line and turn it into #TeachersLivesMatter.

Time and time again we have been hearing about first responders, nurses and doctors, being highlighted in our newspapers and on electronic news platforms, but what about the other first responders — teachers?

Teachers are arguably the most important members of our society. They give children purpose, set them up for success as citizens of our world, and inspire in them a drive to do well and succeed in life. The children of today are the leaders of tomorrow, and teachers are that critical point that makes a child ready for their future — a future which is quite uncertain but, with the help of a teacher, that uncertain future will become bright.

I am concerned that teachers are being placed on the back burner or, what my grandmother would say, they are being treated like “hog seed”. Over the past five years or so teachers have been at the centre of abuse from personnel such as administrators, parents, and even the students they teach. Many have been called lazy, worthless, and some have even met physical abuse. Sounds harsh, but these are realities faced by our educators.

Let's, for the purpose of example, recall the incidents involving the teacher at Pembroke Hall High School, Marsha-Lee Crawford, or the Aneisha McFarlane, who was abused by a parent because he was not pleased with an issue concerning his child's homework. While I do not condone the fact that there are some teachers who do not conform to the ideals of an effective teacher, some things ought never to happen to an educator. At the same time, there are others who feel as if they are not stakeholders, but rather they are to be babysitters for children whom their parents do not want at home. This, too, is an untenable situation.

COVID-19 and education

With the pandemic now in full swing across the world, the education system have now been forced to tap into the world of technology. Many teachers have been generous to use their own resources to reach students, but yet still they are being criticised for not doing enough to accommodate them. I am sure that teachers are doing more than enough in ensuring that students are occupied with activities. There is the utilisation of Zoom, Microsoft teams, Google Classroom, WhatsApp and a myriad other platforms to engage students. With these changes taking place, teachers now have to be playing multiple roles all at the same time, and at the same place.

Who cares for the needs of the teacher; after all, “They are being paid for the job,” as was pronounced by a parent who articulated that teachers are lazy. The needs of the teacher must not be placed on the back burner, just as how the Ministry of Education is requiring special care be given to the students. We must therefore attend to the psychosocial needs of the one who pilots and implements policies that seek to transforming a system to its desired state.

Why is this important? Like a woman who has just given birth to a child, her body requires attention so that she may take care of her newborn. So, too, teachers need the psychological help, as they are stressed, tired, and burnt out. No wonder why so many of our best and brightest educators are leaving to go aboard.

Let's consider Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in which he proposed that human needs can be organised in a tier fashion. This hierarchy ranges from more concrete needs, such as food and water, to abstract concepts such as self-fulfilment. Educators are dealing with a variety of social-emotional issues during the COVID-19 pandemic — from a lack of basic resources in the home, such as food; a deficit in coping skills, where they have to be sharing time and the effort between their own children and students; or perhaps a lack of Internet access or a hike in electricity bills. The teachers' basic needs must be met in order for them to be at their best and reach self-actualisation.

The working conditions of many teachers are deplorable. Over the years they have endured leaking roofs and lack of materials, even rodent-infested buildings, not to mention the fact that the salaries many of them receive are among the reasons teachers leave the system. Money won't solve all the problems, as Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) President Owen Spied clearly puts it in an article, 'Jamaica cannot match other countries' ( The Gleaner, January 23, 2020), but creating better working conditions is a start.

JTA's response

For the past couple of weeks many teachers are of the opinion that their association, through their president, has not been representing them in airing their concerns. While I do commend President Spied for being outspoken on issues concerning teachers, I believe it's time for the JTA to regroup and come to the table by being firm in its stance as it is an association for teachers.

Teachers play an active role in the realisation of the country's Vision 2030, national development plan, and must be regarded in decisions that will affect them, and not only to be heard when it is time for salary negotiations. To allow teachers to have a united voice in policymaking procedures should be sought, as many of those who create the policies have no idea as to what happens in our schools.

#TeachersLifeMatter should be a slogan for the academic year 2020-2021. Seeing all emphasis has been, understandably, on the students, it is time to share some focus on the mental capacity of teachers, who are many times up until two or three o'clock in the morning preparing activities, marking school-based assessment (SBA) project and other assignments. They should be loved, cherished, and respected for the unique experiences that they offer our nation's children.

Recommendations for the Government

The following are recommendations that may be pursued in response to COVID-19 and the needs of teachers:

1) Provide on-site emotional support for teachers separate and apart from the guidance counsellors available for students.

2) Increase the availability of resources to teachers that they can cater to the different learning styles; for example, projectors, laptop computers, tablets. and greater access to the Internet and its tools.

3) Elimination of crumbling school buildings by such an initiative that gets the majority of the funding targeted to schools with highest need. The schools' infrastructure programme would bring the neediest school buildings to a state of good repair and help schools to become more modernised.

Tevin Cameron is a teacher of the social sciences. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or camerontevin@yahoo.com.


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