Esther Tyson, Contributor
You are the salt of the earth, but when the salt has lost its savour, how can it be salted again? So said Jesus Christ to his disciples. I say to the teachers of Jamaica at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year that you are the salt of the education system, and the savour needs improvement.
Teachers, you have the most powerful influence on the development of this nation's children, apart from their parents. You have the awesome power to make or break a life. Society would have us teachers feel that we are failures, but that is a false message. There are many teachers who are doing excellent work in the field.
Even in the most disruptive school environment, you will find a small pocket of teachers who are making a difference in their class. There are many teachers who are surrogate parents for many students. They, sometimes, are the only positive adult figure that a child has in his or her life.
There are teachers who are being creative, innovative and who have excellent teaching skills. Their students thrive under their instructions. If this were not so, our national results would have been worse than they are now. So many students are lacking proper parenting that it seems that if some teachers were not in fact playing their role well, in loco parentis, Jamaica would have been in a worse condition than we are in.
There are, however, too many teachers who are incompetent, lacking training and lacking passion for the job. They are in the classroom with a negative attitude towards the students, believing that many of them cannot learn. They have bought into the negative attitude that we tend to have in this nation. They blame the children for their own failures. They do not seek to examine their practices to see how they can improve.
These teachers take all the praise when the students do well, but place the responsibility at the feet of the students when they fail. These teachers, however, cannot take all the responsibility for the condition of our education system. It is the system itself that allows such teachers to be proliferating in the classroom.
First of all, the standard for matriculation to teaching colleges is too low. Countries that have successful educational systems, take students who are the cream of the crop, academically, and train them extensively to become competent, efficient and respected teachers.
Furthermore, background checks need to be done on teachers before they are allowed to enter the classroom to interact with vulnerable children. In the same way that the police force has now begun to do background checks on applicants, so too should the Ministry of Education and the board of management of schools for teacher recruits. This would help in preventing a number of paedophiles and perverts who are using the classroom as a contact point with an intention of molesting students.
It is very distressing to hear the reports that many cases of child sexual molestation and abuse are perpetrated by teachers. Teachers have an awesome responsibility and power over the lives of students and, therefore, the Ministry of Education needs to be vigilant in screening persons who are allowed to go into the classroom.
In addition, all teachers need to be properly registered and held accountable for their professional development. The Jamaica Teaching Council, under whose mandate this job would fall, is still not fully operational because the legal framework for its function has still not been finalised. Meanwhile, the cat naps, the mice play.
Therefore, a teacher can be fired from one school and simply move on to another without there being any follow-through on their misconduct. The Ministry of Education does not have the structure in place to monitor such teachers, even though reports have to be sent to them when a teacher is dismissed from a school.
Even though the Transformation in Education team had recommended that more responsibility and authority be divested to boards of school for the management of schools, this has still not been done. The present Code of Education Regulations 1980 is long outdated and does not address many present realities. It is difficult for boards to dismiss those teachers who are non-performing or behaving immorally or unethically. This is because, many times, teachers are returned to schools after they are dismissed because the Jamaica Teachers' Association, whose officials are experts on the code, use technicalities to maintain tenure.
I repeat my call for a College of Leadership to be established for school administrators. The requirements of leading a school in today's Jamaica are much more complex than they were 10 years ago. The practice of having a teacher going through the system and then becoming principal, without receiving training in financial management, human resource management, instructional leadership, interpersonal relationships, project management and plant management must change if we want our education system to improve. Furthermore, we need to ensure that our school leaders are persons of integrity and moral rectitude.
The system, as it exists, is not promoting the development of a cadre of bright, passionate, morally positive, academically qualified, and fulfilled teachers who will ensure that the students of Jamaica receive a world-class education.
How then are we going to fulfil Vision 2030 with a system that is in serious need of restructuring?
Esther Tyson is an educator. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.