By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
April 29, 2020
Alberta Smith (not her real name), my dear friend, has been a primary school teacher for thirty years. She didn’t like last week’s article and didn’t put water in her mouth to tell me so. She sent the following response which I was free to reproduce once I omitted her real name. She wrote:
Dear Sellie: I did not like the article because you gave your perspective as a teacher in your country (the United States). I wonder if you did a survey or called teachers to find out how we are coping with the challenges that we face daily in trying to meet our students’ educational needs and how we are rising above these challenges.
It is true that Mrs. Antonia De Frietas told her members that the MOE’s letter was “spurious” and “unreasonable” and “we are not required to account for work done at home and cannot be mandated to do so.” Teaching is an honorable vocation. The role of the teacher is to instruct and to impart knowledge. We love what we do and take our jobs seriously. Teachers, myself included, especially those in the denominational schools, support our union fully but in this pandemic we also think about our charges as well.
Our school closed prematurely on 13th March. I am an S.E.A teacher. I have done the following things since school closed:
- Contacted each of my 25 students by phone to find out how they are coping with the virus, what studies they are doing, what is available to them online, and if they are following the MOE television programs that run on TTT daily.
- Every day I look at Mathematics and Creative Writing at 9:15 am and 1:15 pm respectively after which I call students randomly to ask what they have learnt. I do this to ensure that they are really viewing the programs. I encourage them to create a journal where they can review the materials for further assessment.
- I have a WhatsApp group to which I give work daily and correct their responses. I also FaceTime with students who are having difficulty and discuss how to proceed. Those who do not have computers send me essays via WhatsApp photos. I email these essays to my computer, read them and provide feedback via phone.
- I do not accept your saying that I am not entitled to my full salary during this period. I work harder at home than I do at school. I spend 8 to 10 minutes with every child with whom I FaceTime. I discuss the challenges the face while working at home. I call the parents of students who do not have internet connection to ensure that these students are doing some kind of work even if it is reviewing work they did previously. Every day I record my mode of interaction with these students and how successful was my intervention.
- One of my biggest challenges teaching online is low-student motivation. In a classroom setting teacher supervision ensures a child is working. It is difficult to supervise work online when you put up work at 7:30 a.m. and 12 noon but only 2 student responses come in at different times during the day or night. Although many parents are not frontline workers, the pupils are not working as diligently as they should.
There are other difficulties. We are not sure when school will reopen although the Minister of Education said it may be in September and exams will be held in October.
It is a challenge to work online from March to September when parents are not even encouraging their children to participate in the process. In some cases the children are using their parent’s phone but the latter are not giving the children the phone to use at the appropriate times.
You spoke about the downturn in the economy and the possibility of there being pay cuts. I must remind you that my mortgage payment and servicing of loans remains the same. Although the banks are offering moratoriums of our loans, the interest still has to be paid. These deferred payments will add years to my mortgage resulting in an extended period that I will have to pay my mortgage.
I am willing to be a part of any shared sacrifice and to embrace change. Presently, I am sacrificing my time to meet my students’ educational needs, and using current technology to meet their demands, but I am not willing to sacrifice a PAY CUT to achieve those ends.
How will I service my debts if I receive a pay cut?
You cited Mrs. Garcia’s response to her situation in Colombia. I may not die from hunger but will surely die from stress if my salary is cut and I cannot pay my bills. I will not be able to meet my students’ educational needs which may result in the collective deaths of all of us.
My salary is neither a privilege nor an entitlement. I am working harder at home than I do on my job.”
That was Alberta’s letter to me. On April 21, David Beasley, executive director of the Food Relief Program declared “the world is facing widespread famine of ‘biblical proportions’ because of the coronavirus pandemic…. More than 30 countries in the developing world could experience widespread famine” (London Guardian, April 21).
Alberta may be able to preserve her salary but I wonder if she will have the food and medicines she will need to keep her alive.
These perilous times call for new ways of looking at one’s place in society and the world. We either rise together or perish in our aloneness.