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The Teaching Service Commission (TSC) is awaiting closure on 33 reports of teacher misconduct that are under investigation by the Ministry of Education. Chairman of the TSC Hyacinth Guy said some investigations have “taken two to three years” and that this needs to be fast-tracked so they can take appropriate action. Before the end of 2014, Guy said, the TSC would ensure that teachers be investigated in 30 days under the Public Service’s regulations.
She feels the ministry needs to be more proactive in dealing with the increasing absenteeism, punctuality issues and indiscipline among school teachers. There are 12,719 primary and secondary teachers in T&T. From 2007 to 2013, Guy said, 71 teachers were dismissed from the service and 82 teachers were suspended. So far for 2014, one teacher has been dismissed and three suspended. Since 2011, Guy said, the TSC has been receiving reports of teacher misconduct from the ministry.
“When we got those reports it was an eye-opener,” Guy said, speaking at her Cipriani Boulevard, Port-of-Spain, office on March 25.
Deal with worst offenders
The ministry’s 2012 report, Guy said, showed that 755 secondary school teachers had exceeded their 14 days of sick leave for that year. Of this figure, 444 were absent between 15 and 24 days, while 43 teachers did not attend classes more than 100 days. It also showed that 472 teachers were late for more than 1,000 minutes in one year.
“We should know if the high level of absence is warranted. Let us take action...whatever it is. When you don’t come to school, it impacts. It puts the burden on another teacher. One must deal with the worst offenders. You have to send that message so people would know that this is not an environment in which there are no consequences. It gives the teachers the feeling that they can do this and get away.”
A 2013 report by the ministry, Guy said, also showed there were 33 teachers facing misconduct over the years. Of the 33 teachers, two were being investigated for absenteeism, Guy said. While the ministry has investigated one or two of the teachers, Guy said, most investigations are still ongoing; some are taking as long as three years.
No probe should exceed 30 days
Last year, Guy said, the TSC asked the ministry to identify which teachers have been consistently absent and abusing the school system. Based on the outcome of the investigations, the teachers may be charged for misconduct according to the TSC policy guidelines. Last year, Guy asked the Director of Personnel Administration (DPA) to establish an investigating unit at the TSC to deal with teachers accused of misconduct.
The DPA and the Teaching Service Secretariat provide administrative and advisory services—in particular, legal and regulatory services—which enable the TSC to effectively discharge its mandate. Through a cabinet note last year, Guy said, the DPA was given the green light to set up the unit, which still needs to be staffed with investigators. The TSC, Guy said, would not be involved in the investigation process. Guy said the unit was imperative in order to investigate matters promptly.
According to the Public Service’s regulations, Guy said, an investigation should not exceed 30 days; the TSC wants this implemented.
Teachers can face action for turning a blind eye to bullying
Reports have also reached the TSC about teachers displaying inappropriate photographs on their Facebook wall. “Actually the ministry should have a policy on that. The ministry needs to say: if you are a teacher, you are expected to show a level of conduct.” Bullying was another topic, Guy said, with which teachers needed to be more aware. “There should be a zero tolerance for that, regardless of how it happens.” Should a teacher turn a blind eye to bullying, Guy said action could be taken by the TSC.
Guy said she would like to see principals be given more autonomy to manage their schools. She said while Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh seems to be passionate about wanting the education system to function effectively, a lot needed to be done. “If proper systems are not put in place, then we would be doing as the philosopher says: doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same results.”
Gopeesingh: Part of the fault is ours
Gopeesingh said he knows that the TSC had complained that the ministry had sent to them “over 600 cases of teachers [guilty] of gross absenteeism and on punctuality [issues].” He explained that principals who were trained in industrial relations practices were not writing up teachers. Gopeesingh said the ministry also discovered that school supervisors were not visiting schools on a regular basis to communicate with principals on school matters.
“This is where the breakdown of the discipline starts,” Gopeesingh said. According to the minister, there are also irregular meetings among principals, deans and heads of departments. “That is another area of weakness with principals and staff in terms of reporting issues that deal with absenteeism and unpunctuality.” Gopeesingh said every month the ministry ought to be given a report from schools.
“There has been some tardiness on the part of the school supervisors in bringing these reports to the chief education officer and the PS. There have been weaknesses in the whole management system by some of the heads in the schools. We have been working assiduously with them to tighten it and working with the commission, who have already said they want to investigate it. But the ministry has not been presenting the facts to them in an appropriate manner to take the appropriate action. So part of the fault is ours as well.”
Guy leaves TSC in August
In August, Guy leaves the TSC, a position she has held for three consecutive terms. Guy has been managing the TSC, which is responsible for disciplining teachers. The TSC has been operating with Guy and two other members: Gillian Paul and Alwyn Daniel. Last year, Dr Anna Mahase and Prof Ramesh Deosaran’s term on the commission came to an end. Information officer at the Office of the President Theron Boodan said the two positions would be filled by President Anthony Carmona soon.
What is misconduct?
Misconduct falls under the categories: absent without leave, bribery, bankruptcy, indebtedness, immorality, failure to perform duties, unfit for duty due to drunkenness, involved in activities outside of the service and negligence.