Classroom dream crushed - Unruly students cause new teacher to consider switching to housekeeping
Her lifelong dream was to become a teacher, but now that 24-year-old Shree James* has made it into the classroom, the reality is much different from what she had expected.
The freshly minted educator says that she now goes to school armed with a bottle of painkillers to ease the headaches she has from being in the classroom. But nothing seems to help with the anxiety attacks she experiences as she prepares herself to face her students each day.
"There is violence daily, and what I realise is that it has escalated now in the schools, so you have a lot of disruptive behaviour, and it is very hard to control," said James, a trained guidance counsellor who teaches health and family life education.
"It is not just to say they (students) are rowdy. They are just violent. I have seen a boy grabbing a girl by the neck in my class. I just put down my head for a while, and by the time I look, he is just grabbing her, pushing her, thumping her," said James, whose passion for teaching has given way to despair.
The young teacher told The Sunday Gleaner that several of those who graduated with her have left the classroom to start businesses while others have gone to the United States to become housekeepers.
James said that she once worked as a housekeeper overseas and was now contemplating whether that was a better option for her at this point.
"It's not only money. Sometimes I am saying, 'Is it really worth it for me to go through this?' There are other means and ways of making a living," said James.
"If you are feeling afraid and feeling threatened, how are you going to flourish?" she added.
According to James, she has seen teachers being threatened for sending students out of their classes, and, on occasion, students have tried to intimidate her when she has tried to assert her authority.
"Back in the day, when you saw an adult, you would draw into your shell, but that's not so now, that's when they show you who they are," James lamented.
She said that the administrators have tried to introduce several interventions at her school in order to curb the disruptive behaviour of the students, but she hasn't seen much proof to suggest that they are working.
In an effort to address violence in schools, UNICEF, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, launched a School Wide Positive Behaviour Intervention and Support (SWPBIS) framework in 56 pilot schools some three years ago.
The aim of the project is to promote positive values and reward positive behaviour as a means of reducing violence.
"It is really hinged on capacity building and a new approach to student support in schools," said education specialist Dr Rebecca Tortello.
She said that more than 5,000 educators have also been sensitised though the project, and schools have selected core values that they want to reiterate such as respect, integrity, and courtesy.
According to Tortello, the ministry is aware that some educators are feeling overwhelmed, and as a result, it is putting together a psychosocial support handbook and programmes that can link teachers so that they can get peer support.
"I do know that there are guidance counsellors who have said to us that when they get the support from the administration and you do begin to implement the SWPBIS approach, that teaching in the classroom becomes easier," said Tortello.
"But that does not take away from the fact that many teachers are struggling, and the issues that they face in the classroom are daunting, and I think the ministry is aware of that and they are trying to use their resources as best as they can to provide support," added Tortello.
*Name changed on request