Romane Elliston | Quiet for too long
“Until you are heard, you are still being too quiet.”
If you put ‘quiet’ and ‘teachers’ in the same sentence, many will perhaps laugh because teachers are anything but quiet. They talk, they strike, and they ‘negotiate’, but alas, it is not enough.
The decades-old argument of teachers has exhausted the media. Yet, our conditions have not improved in any significant way.
In fact, recently, another ball has been thrown into our court. According to the immediate past president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), Dr Garth Anderson, there has been a change in regulation by the Ministry of Education of not allowing 10 per cent of teachers from different schools to be granted study and vacation leave. This, he exclaims, is severely affecting the health and well-being of the island’s teachers. But certainly, as usual, the JTA is ‘fighting’.
However, on a completely different note, according to another article, the JTA president stated that Jamaica may have to import teachers. This headline was bittersweet – bitter in the sense that our teachers are leaving. This is disheartening because, in my estimation, Jamaica has some great teachers. I say this out of more than national pride but out of having interacted with different educational systems. At the same time, I am happy that our teachers are no longer putting up with the poor treatment by the Government and education administration.
Nonetheless, I still say that we have been quiet for too long. I am not speaking about the absence of speaking up but rather of the absence of acting. And that is exactly what is happening now – a migration of teachers.
Currently, there are many programmes, such as JET, CIEP, EPI, Meddeas, and Teach USA, among others, that offer teachers the possibility to teach abroad in both anglophone and non-anglophone countries. In fact, where the non-anglophone countries are concerned, they will accept foreign teachers and individuals who are not specialists in English to teach English. In addition to this, they offer great salaries and working conditions, as well as numerous benefits.
What this is saying is that every Jamaican teacher has the opportunity to have an experience abroad. Furthermore, as some teachers migrate, they will tell their friends and families who are also teachers about their experiences, which may further influence migration.
But what is my response to this, you may ask? I say go! It is often said that a hero is not recognised in his own country, and the same can be said for teachers. Hence, I wholeheartedly encourage all teachers to go where they are appreciated.
Before I move on, let me clarify something, lest some misunderstand me and/or perceive my arguments as being fallacious. Teachers in Jamaica are not suffering in deplorable conditions, and neither are all teachers discontent and experiencing unbearable working environments. Therefore, what I am speaking to are those teachers who work in schools with extreme behavioural issues, a lack of facilities and resources, and low salaries, which is the cry of many, among other issues, of course.
Teaching now is much different from it has ever been. If you are not passionate about teaching, there is almost nothing stopping you from packing up and leaving.
For those who have worked and/or lived abroad and had a great experience, you will understand what it means to be treated well as a teacher. I say this without offence or condescension. Having worked abroad, I have seen the fruits of what I was taught while at teachers’ college. The strategies taught in classroom management functioned, and the objectives of my lesson plans were exceeded. Technology and resources were at my fingertips, and the administration checked ever so often if I had any problems. Note, this is my experience. Consequently, when I first returned to Jamaica and had the absence of these in their totality, I could not help but yearn for better since I knew it existed. With that said, I encourage all teachers to take the leap and see if they can get a better experience, the experience they deserve, abroad.
There is one other issue that I would like to touch. Our teachers are not united, hence our quietness. When there is a strike, for example, some teachers do not participate, for whatever reason. What this does is that it weakens our voice.
In the same breath, we have a union, the JTA, and some of us choose not to make it into the organisation that it could be by demanding what is needed on behalf of teachers and functioning for all teachers.
An example of the unity I am professing was seen just the other day, in October, in Chicago, where teachers ended an 11-day strike. Yes, 11 days without teaching (AP News). The results of the strike were, as you’d expect, successful.
“Teachers officially approved a contract deal Friday following an 11-day strike in the nation’s third-largest school district last month.” You may read up on it in USA Today.
This is what I would love for my Jamaican teachers. Let us stand tall together. We are training the leaders of tomorrow. Therefore, we should be bold, stick to our goals, and not back down until we get what we want.
Note: Being bold does not mean that we have no fear or that we are not shy, but it means that we are willing to rise because of a greater goal that is in mind. Thus, we will speak up (act) because until we are heard, we are still being too quiet.
Romane Elliston (BEd Spanish and French) is a writer, motivational speaker and life coach. Website: romonrites.com. Podcast: romontalks. Email feedback to email@example.com.