The recent incident involving a teacher at the Tranquillity Government Primary School is disturbing, to say the least. That a member of this traditionally noble vocation would expose students, especially those of an impressionable age, to a vitriolic tirade rightly warranted her dismissal by the Ministry of Education. Hopefully, this sends a clear message that such behaviour while on the job will not be tolerated.
Having said that, let’s take a step back. It’s easy for us to condemn this teacher and, worse yet, to use it as an opportunity to lambaste the entire profession. After all, teachers have it easy, don’t they? They get off work at 2 pm; they get extended vacations thanks to the summer, Christmas, and Easter holidays; and they get paid regardless of how well or poorly their students perform. And on top of all that, they even have the gall to call for a protest action over salary negotiations… and it’s not even a month into the new term!
Unfortunately, this is the perception that a lot of Trinbagonians—those with and without children alike—have towards teachers, whom they regard as little more than glorified babysitters. Now I’m not saying that all teachers are do-gooders who should be praised. But considering that they bear the immense responsibility of educating and moulding our youth, I don’t believe they are given the respect they deserve. That’s why this particular teacher’s outburst, while disturbing, isn’t surprising. Let me be clear—I am in no way defending what she said. But instead of dismissing her as simply being the “one bad apple”, we should perhaps take heed of her grievance and address the challenges that our teachers face.
I am a firm believer that the manner in which the message is delivered could be just as important as the message itself. So if we put aside our outrage over this teacher’s “colourful expressions”, her main issue was that some parents seemed more intent on working against teachers instead of with them. Without quoting her exact words, she said that parents spend too much time writing letters to complain about teachers when they should be using that time to focus on helping their children. Has anyone stopped to think that maybe she has a point?
At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, I come from a time when parents and teachers were partners when it came to a child’s development. But judging by the news reports coming out of our nation’s school—primary and secondary, government and denominational—that relationship seems to have changed, and it’s just as likely to be adversarial or even non-existent. Thirty years ago a letter sent home to a parent usually resulted in the child getting a “cut arse”. Nowadays, that same letter could easily result in a parent coming to the school to give the teacher the “cut arse”. And even if teachers aren’t being accosted, there are some cases where they can spend an entire year with a student and never once meet the parents. The reality is that a teacher’s job is that much more difficult if parents don’t have an active, positive interest in what and how their child is doing at school.
If we were to give the offending teacher the benefit of the doubt, it’s more than likely that her outburst was an isolated incident—a lapse in judgment brought on by stress. That being said, I am willing to bet that her sentiments are shared by other teachers as well. The only difference is that it is voiced amongst themselves in the privacy of the teachers’ lounge. Of course, no parent wants the embarrassment of being told that their child has behavioural or scholastic problems. After all, a child’s behaviour in school is seen as a reflection of their home life. But taking that frustration out on the teacher doesn’t help.
On the contrary, a problem child can also gain the reputation of having a problem parent; the offending teacher said as much. This only turns the child into a pariah, a student who’s deemed not worth the trouble.
I am aware that my opinion is only tangentially related to the incident in question. But some of my favourite people are teachers (Hey Ria!), so I sympathise that they feel overworked and underpaid. However, I am not ignorant to the challenges that parents also face. It’s undoubtedly hard to provide for their children—to work an eight-hour day to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads, to then come home and have to contend with homework supervision.
If it’s a matter of priorities, we all know which is going to fall by the wayside. No parent or teacher is perfect… not even the teacher at the centre of this controversy. I’m not going to preach that we need to forgive her, but I’d like to think that outbursts like that could be avoided if teachers felt that parents were on their side. And that’s something that children need to understand.
Let’s remember that our national pledge lists teachers right after parents as those they should honour. Because if you think about it, for eight hours a day school becomes their home, and teachers take the place of their parents.