Sat | Dec 15, 2018

Editorial | Waugh Richards’ disloyalty rant

Published:Friday | August 24, 2018 | 12:13 AM

Managing democracy, whether in a national government or public or private institution, is no easy business. It often requires reconciling, and building consensus out of, contrary and sometimes contrarian views. That's hard work.

Hopefully, Garth Anderson, the new president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), the teachers' union, subscribes to that fact. It appears that Georgia Waugh Richards, his predecessor, didn't, and that she harbours anti-democratic tendencies. That is a danger for the JTA and how it goes about its business.

For while Mrs Waugh Richards stepped down this week as the association's president, given the JTA's constitutional arrangement, she remains, with Dr Anderson and the president-elect, part of a triumvirate of top leaders with influence over the organisation's actions. Our worry arises from Mrs Waugh Richards' valedictory speech as president in which she questioned the loyalty of some members to the JTA.

It's all right that she is concerned that during this year's teachers' strike over pay that some of the association's parish presidents went to school and held classes "under tree" or that some teachers may have leaked information to the press. Mrs Waugh Richards appears to have taken these things very personally.

She is right, of course, about the strength of unity. This newspaper, however, draws the line at these remarks: "Back out of JTA if you are not a warrior, and allow some real JTA to lead the charge. Leave the JTA alone and stop criticise and carry news around because we must do that which we are assigned to do."

Rather than attempting to build consensus by rational and persuasive argument, which can be a discomfiting process for leaders, Mrs Waugh Richards seems to want to reprise the playbook of purges and expulsions favoured by Bolsheviks and assorted authoritarians. Happily, she didn't propose carting disloyal miscreants off to gulags. They might, however, find damnation in hell.

There may not have been declarations of outrage at the JTA's conference when those words were uttered. Dr Anderson can, however, be assured that they have sunk deep among the association's 25,000 members. In that regard, the new president is obligated to repudiate Mrs Waugh Richards' statement and declare his intention to build an inclusive teachers' union, with a broader mandate than the association has executed in recent decades.

 

ANDERSON'S FOCUS

 

Dr Anderson's priorities should include rebuilding a sense of professionalism and pride among teachers, with a focus on educational outcomes, rather than a focus merely on wages, although that is important. With respect to salaries, Dr Anderson has to lead his association to the acceptance of performance-based pay, tied to the accomplishments of the system, generally, outcomes at specific institutions, as well as the achievements of individual teachers.

It can't be difficult for the JTA and education policymakers, if they are committed to this approach, to design a workable performance-based compensation system for teachers. It need not await the standardisation of resources allocated to schools, which has been the basis of the JTA's resistance to this idea.

Dr Anderson, should he embrace it, has a compelling case to make on this matter and should, therefore, open an inclusive dialogue with teachers on it. He might start by encouraging Mrs Waugh Richards to withdraw, and apologise, for her unfortunate statement.