Suzanne Leslie-Bailey, Guest Columnist
With Dr assuming the reins of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), and a new school year imminent, I hope we'll also see a new approach to the teachers' union's leadership.
I have been, for the most part, unimpressed by the JTA's leadership over the years. This has forced me to double-check the mission statement of this powerful organisation, which reads: "The Jamaica Teachers' Association is a democratic organisation responsible for the enhancement and protection of the economic welfare, professional development and personal well-being of its members and the promotion of the educational interests of the country of Jamaica."
It appears that the JTA's main mission is to protect the economic and personal benefits of its members. Tacked on to the end is the seemingly secondary and less important part of its mission - "... the promotion of the educational interests of the country of Jamaica".
This obligatory statement has me at sea. It sounds nice, but what exactly does it mean?
A JTA president's tenure seems to be mainly characterised by stand-offs with the government and minister of education, threats of strike, raised and angry voices, back-and-forth meetings with JTA members to decide whether to accept a wage offer, followed by the predictable signing at the 'big house', of an agreement for a euphemistic wage restraint.
All this in a bid to carry out the main part of its mission - protecting the interests of its members. But, what of the "educational interests of the country of Jamaica" that the JTA speaks of?
Regrettably, what will be remembered about the last JTA administrative year was the tumultuous impasse between the JTA and Education Minister Ronald Thwaites over study-leave entitlements for teachers. This deadlock was exacerbated by the emotive utterances of eventually successful president-elect candidate Doran Dixon, likening Mr Thwaites to a mongrel dog, as well as a former JTA president, Paul Adams, questioning whether said minister had been injected with cocaine.
All this was in a fierce defence of their 'rights' and 'benefits'. What was also troubling was the fact that this took spotlight during Child Month.
Focus on Kids
JTA, in seeking to protect the personal interests of your members, you left to languish on the back burner the interests of the youngsters you serve.
It is time the JTA put to rest its knee-jerk propensity to confrontational posturing. A government and its minister are not enemies of the JTA!
I appeal to the stakeholders in the education sector to embrace collaboration and cooperation - not confrontation. I suggest that the Ministry of Education involve the JTA in its policy formulations, and refrain from foisting upon it the end product.
This call for collaboration is not confined solely to the JTA and Ministry of Education, but to the parent-teacher relationship as well. Long gone are the days when, if children were beaten or reprimanded by a teacher and they complained to their parents, the parents would support the actions of the teacher, confident that their child must have done something wrong to warrant such a punishment.
Today, some parents defiantly go to their children's schools to 'tear off the garments' of teachers and 'duss them out' for disciplining their children.
I recall speaking at a primary-school graduation a few years ago, in my capacity as president of the Kiwanis Club of New Kingston, where I shared the concept of joined-up relationships. This is the kind of relationship that parents and teachers should share - in the best interest of the child.
The JTA needs to recognise and appreciate that the teaching profession requires acquiescence to service above self - as difficult and challenging as it may be. That is what I saw my own mother - a former teacher and principal, and others of her generation - do.
I, therefore, encourage the JTA to let the latter part of its mission - "... the promotion of the educational interests of the country of Jamaica" - emerge more forcibly to the fore.
Dr Nicely, I look forward to a new approach to leadership of the JTA!
Suzanne Leslie-Bailey is a law student and former researcher coordinator to then Prime Minister Bruce Golding. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.