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Kristen Gyles | Teaching profession losing its dignity?

Published:Monday | March 2, 2020 | 12:00 AMKristen Gyles/Guest Columnist

Some are becoming worried that a teacher-less school system may be on the horizon. Teachers are leaving in droves. Leaving the country and, in many other cases, leaving the profession. What is it that is disconcerting the so many teachers that have left the classroom? Low pay? I doubt it.

Since the beginning of the year, it seems more parents have become emboldened enough to barge on to school grounds to fist it out with teachers. The abused teachers, constantly being reminded of their duty to set the right example, try hard not to retaliate. Some succeed here. Some don’t. Either way, it seems the teaching profession is losing its dignity.

Neither parents nor students seem to see teachers as authority figures anymore, and it shows not only in the decorum (or lack thereof) demonstrated by students in the presence of their teachers, but also in the number of teachers getting sucker-punched on the job.

Once upon a time, teaching was a well-respected profession. Now, it look like everybody tek teacher fi poppy show.

We all saw the video which made the rounds on social media last year, of a teacher from Pembroke Hall High School ‘tracing’ off a student bitterly, with death threats. I laughed a little when I got wind that the young man who got the ‘cussing’ had requested through the Office of the Children’s Advocate, that she apologise to him publicly. The student, whose identity was not clearly disclosed in the video or otherwise, apparently said he was not looking for revenge, but felt publicly embarrassed and hence, wants a public apology, which would put the matter to rest.

The teacher explained, subsequent to the video going viral, that the boy was accused of stealing a cell phone and started hurling insults at his accuser during her class. She also admitted that she acted unprofessionally in her handling of the matter. It seems this wasn’t enough, though, since she didn’t appropriately cover herself in sackcloth and ashes and throw herself down at the feet of the young man.Things and times have really changed – and clearly for the worst.

Schoolchildren and parents across the country have taken note of the paradigm shift that has taken place. This includes the mother of the Homestead Primary School student who was slapped by his school principal. The principal said she did it in self-defence, since she was first hit by the child while trying to break up a fight within which the child was involved. The mother now, too, wants an apology. Since her child is shivering in fear, of course.

Classroom culture has taken a 180-degree turn, in that whereas the older generation would have attended grade school at a time in which the teacher was always right, we have done what we do best as people – swing to the other extreme. Now, the student is always right. And if the teacher wants to be right, they must be on the (good) side of the student.

NO RESPECT

Teachers are filtering out of the classroom largely because they just aren’t getting the respect that is due to them. Their work is seldom acknowledged and once things go awry, they are blamed.

For all the many loads of cowpat teachers put up with in the classroom from ill-bred students, and out of the classroom from their parents, teachers are definitely dissatisfied with their compensation. Not necessarily because the pay in and of itself is poor, but because it is not nearly commensurate with the input being demanded, and hardly takes into consideration the disregard with which they are treated.

Jamaica’s high turnover rate of teachers indicates that clearly, once other more lucrative and less stressful options present themselves, teaching gets last pick. Yet, the education ministry seems to be short of incentives that could reduce the stresses associated with the job and that could restore the profession to its former glory. Instead, year by year, greater obstacles are placed in the way of teachers – from more stringent evaluation metrics to more rules about what a teacher can and cannot do in the classroom.

Teachers are also constantly battling the hypocrisy of societal expectations. The teacher must be a gentle, sweet and understanding confidante to their students, but be a firm disciplinarian at the same time. And, of course, when they don’t strike the perfect (and imaginary) balance between the two, they have failed miserably at the mind-blowingly easy work they have to do. When teachers do try to instil discipline, though, they’re sometimes given the back by school administrators who try at all costs not to upset the parents.

If teachers don’t start getting more support from parents and the general society, we’ll eventually find that we have no one to teach our students. In any case, students run things now, so they should have no problem teaching themselves. Perhaps when they end up being forced to sit exams for subjects for which they simply never had a teacher, they will get a glimpse into the future they are helping to create.

Kristen Gyles is a mathematics educator and an actuarial science graduate. Email feedback to kristengyles@gmail.com and columns@gleanerjm.com.