400 teachers resign to take up jobs in US; JTA boss says he will not tell them 'don't leave'
President of the Jamaica Teachers' Association Winston Smith (right) greets Minister of Finance Dr Nigel Clarke following the signing of a wage agreement in February.

THE Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) has warned the country to brace for an exodus of teachers this year as already over 400 have left the island to take up lucrative job opportunities in the United States, with just four weeks to go before the start of the new school year.

Head of the teachers' union Winston Smith told the Jamaica Observer on Thursday that many more will not be returning to the classroom in September, as teachers cannot continue to scrape by, unable to meet their basic needs.

He said the hundreds who have left so far have done so through three of seven agencies which are actively recruiting Jamaican teachers. "There are many others who have probably gone and I don't know yet. You will have plenty more leaving and I will not say to a teacher, don't leave. If you care, demonstrate that you care and pay the teachers properly," he said in an obvious swipe at the Government.

Smith, coming off a 15-week tour of teachers' conferences, including one hosted by the American Federation of Teachers, told the Observer that teachers remain severely undervalued here, even though they are touted by other countries to be among the world's best.

"There is a severe shortage of teachers worldwide [and] the teachers of Jamaica...are seen as among the best in the world. Two countries told me personally that Jamaica and the Philippines have the best quality trained teachers, but the Jamaican teachers are ahead because the teachers speak English properly, while the Filipinos, though they speak English, their accent makes it difficult. Therefore, the recruiters will be coming to Jamaica to get as many as possible from us; people are saying if they don't want to stay in the classroom, why they don't go. Well we are taking their advice," he said.The JTA president said some of the main factors affecting the move by many to seek opportunities elsewhere are the provisions in the proposed 2022 Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC) Act, which some teachers fear will criminalise the profession, instead of improving it. He said the teachers are also disappointed with what is being proposed to them under the Government's compensation review package."When we looked at the contents of it, it is not good for the sector. It may be good for one or two elements in the sector, but not overall," he remarked.He stressed that declarations of the importance of teachers are but mere platitudes: "I don't believe in the minds of the movers and shakers teachers are important at all, it's just a cliché. It's like a man or woman saying my partner is so important, but they treat you like crap. That is what is happening and I don't blame the teachers for leaving one bit."There are approximately 38,000 teachers in the education sector, including those in private institutions.In the meanwhile, Education Minister Fayval Williams, in commenting on the migration of teachers, assured that that there is no cause for alarm at this point. She explained that teachers leave the system every year for reasons such as retirement, noting also that in any given year, between five and seven per cent of teachers are on their earned leave, for example, which means that there is always a need for temporary and permanent replacement teachers.Williams said, however, she was not aware of the specific numbers who are leaving the system due to migration. "So there is turnover in the sector, but to date, I'm not seeing where it's out of line with anything that we would have seen in other years. If that number changes as we move further into August, then it would be an update. But as far as I can see we have gone through the normal process of approving leave for persons who are eligible to go on their leave [and] teachers who retire. I have not seen any numbers that would cause alarm at this time," the minister explained.

As for the anxiety of teachers surrounding the JTC Bill, which a joint select committee of Parliament started discussions on last in February, Williams pointed out that even for those who leave, there is no escaping similar requirements for licensing.

"If teachers are leaving because of that, the environment into which they are going has a similar regime. If they're going to the US they have to be licensed, if they're going to Canada, they have to be licensed [but] I haven't heard that there is any particular departure as a result of the upcoming passing of the JTC Bill," she stressed.

At the same time, Williams said focus must now be turned to the upcoming school year to ensure that all preparations are in place for students to return. She said the ministry will again renew its efforts to bring back students to the classroom, which it has not been able to account for, since 2020. The ministry, she said, was working hard to ensure a seamless start to the 2022 school year.

Collette Fuertado Pryce, principal of St.Jago High, observes students participating in teh revision of English CAPE and CSEC past papers in this 2020 Jamaica Observer file photo. The Jamaica Teachers' Association says enough respect is not given to the nation's teachers.
Alphea Saunders

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