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Supporting our teachers

Published: 
Sunday, February 5, 2012

Somehow over the past couple months, schools in Trinidad have been on the front page for so many wrong reasons. The one headline that I just could not ignore was about the principal of a private primary school who seemed to have honestly believed that putting a pupil’s head in the toilet and then flushing it, is a valid option when it comes to disciplining pupils. One would think that because it is a private school, there would be a strong Parent-Teacher Association. Part of the principal’s unapologetic letter to parents was printed in the press but it is uncertain what the PTA’s response was—if anything at all. It has been suggested that the PTA may tread carefully because the demand for private primary school places exceeds the supply. Here I am particularly speaking about institutions known for feeding large numbers of pupils into so-called prestige schools. After being on a waiting list for years (in some cases) and leveraging “contacts” to get in, many parents would be understandably cautious.    

 

As the father of three boys (13, ten and two), I know how trying youngsters can be. At the same time, I cannot and I will never condone or even try to excuse the principal’s behaviour (or lack thereof).   Clearly the principal needs additional support and/or training. Perhaps the PTA can put pressure on her to this effect. If the PTA fails in its attempts, the police have started an investigation and the American embassy has allegedly become involved given that one of the young victims is an American citizen. There is however, another incident I wanted to discuss. At the time of writing (January 29), I had not noticed any reports in the printed press but a popular talk-radio personality dedicated a segment of a recent show to highlighting this other incident. Not that we need a reminder of our living in the internet-age, but a recording of this show was uploaded to Youtube and circulated somewhat extensively (over 1,000 views in only the first few days) on Facebook.

 

The talk show host related an event alleged to have taken place at a prestigious secondary school somewhere in the Port-of-Spain area.  It is alleged that during an after-hours Maths class, a young female Indo-Trinidadian teacher made a racist remark to a student of Afro Trinidadian descent.  Apparently, this particular student, like the rest of the class was lent a past paper to use during the class but he made markings on this paper and he was not supposed to do so.  The racist remark was heard by all present and as a result, some students walked out in protest. Complaints were made in writing, the teacher is believed to have privately apologised to the students but the talk show host was concerned by what appears (to him) to be a lack of action on the part of the school administration. He suggested that a cover up may be taking place.

 

Unlike a private education institution, a publicly funded and therefore state-run school gives no power to the principal to take any disciplinary action, nor to speak publicly on such issues. The Constitution recognises the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) as the body empowered “to appoint persons to hold or act in public offices in the Teaching Service, established under the Education Act, 1966, including power to make appointments on promotion and transfer and to confirm appointments, and to remove and exercise disciplinary control over persons holding or acting in such offices…” So one would expect that were such an incident to have taken place, the responsibility of the school administration would be to report the matter to the TSC through the relevant department in the Ministry of Education. At the same time, I see similarities between this alleged incident and the one that took place at the privately run primary school described earlier.

 

Both incidents point to the need for additional training and support for teachers and school administrators. In the case of the secondary school teacher, perhaps diversity and cultural-sensitivity training would be in order. The talk show host suggested that the teacher be educated in the accomplishments of Africans and the African diaspora. I would extend that recommendation to include the accomplishments of the many varied ethnicities that make up our blessed nation. Such a course could benefit all teachers not just the one teacher involved in this incident. After all, this is one island where “every creed and race shall find an equal place”. My name is Derren Joseph and I love my country and I love my region. Despite our current challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope that we will all enjoy a brighter tomorrow.

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