Sat | Aug 18, 2018

Too stressed - Another teacher dies, JTA blames being overworked, expert says not so fast

Published:Saturday | November 5, 2016 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson
Dr Leachim Semaj

Shocked at the death of a third public school teacher in a month, the "extremely concerned" Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) is warning members not to overwork themselves, while calling for the Government to find ways to reduce the "high stress levels" in classrooms.

However, psychologist Dr Leachim Semaj said that teaching "has always been stressful", and linking the deaths to stress without any assessment of the situation is a knee-jerk reaction.

Shenoria Hemmings Lee, an English teacher at the Spanish Town High School in St Catherine, died yesterday after collapsing at a workshop.

She collapsed almost immediately after she made a presentation at a National Standards Curriculum workshop at Central High in Clarendon, a participant told The Gleaner. "It's so shocking. She had just presented. I can't believe it!"

Hemmings Lee is the third teacher to die in less than a month. Thirty-nine year-old Christopher Gayle died last month after collapsing at Kingston College where he worked. Norman Manley High in Kingston was also left in mourning following the death of Nadine Trail.

JTA President Howard Isaccs said something needs to be done immediately to help teachers cope with their work in the classroom.

"As an association, we have to respond as best as possible to our members and to the teachers of Jamaica to emphasise to them that they can do so much and no more, and to focus on their own health and well-being as they work in the classroom," he told The Gleaner.




Isaccs said one of the ways to reduce stress levels is to increase the number of guidance counsellors in schools. "The working conditions for our teachers is quite challenging. The students that we deal with, in many cases, are excellent students, but we have challenges in dealing with some. More support systems need to be put in place for some of our schools [because] the teacher can't focus on what he or she does best, which is teaching."

On the issue of the guidance counsellors, Education Minister Ruel Reid said the cooperation of the JTA is required to reassign teachers from oversupplied schools to ones that need more staff.

He has expressed sadness at Hemmings Lee's passing.

"We have to get all the facts because I don't know if they had pre-existing medical conditions, but, certainly, based on policy directives we have articulated, we are committed to providing additional resources to schools. In the area of guidance and counselling, we've identified about 2,400 teachers that are said to be in overstaffed schools, and one of the mandates I've given to the ministry technocrats is to look at that cohort to see how we can retrain those persons [for redeployment]," Reid said.

Semaj, however, is cautioning that any response to the issue must be informed by proper analysis.

"Teaching has always been stressful - by our classroom size and by what teachers are asked to do, so I would not jump to that conclusion. It's a knee-jerk reaction. We need to look at the situation much more carefully before attributing any such conclusion," he said.

"As a psychologist, the rule that I follow before you can treat something (is that) you have to assess it, classify it and diagnose it. None of this has happened. This is just a reaction to some events. I can't think of any job in Jamaica which is not stressful."