Ridding Our Schools of Errant Teachers

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
June 13, 2012

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeThere can be no doubt that a teacher’s job is fraught with great anxiety and the competing demands of their professional responsibilities and the rapidly changing social climate. However any observant reader must be alarmed by the concerns of Tim Gopeesingh, Minister of Education, when he says that errant teachers must be disciplined. If teaching is merely a job to them, then any other job would do since the ultimate purpose of a job is to take care of one’s basic needs (eating, drinking and surviving) whereas a vocation or a profession has to do with fulfilling of one’s life calling. I am aware that a young person today may change jobs as many as six or seven times in his lifetime. I have a feeling that things are a bit different in the professions.

Therefore, I was saddened when Gopeesingh complained that “fifteen per cent of our teachers and more [he does not say how much more] take time beyond their 14 days sick leave and 28 half days casual leave. How long can we continue to accept that?” [Express, June 11]. This situation should be rectified forthwith. Although in the home parents play a primary role in a child’s development, many problems of youths can be mitigated through a teacher’s commitment to his or her vocation and how he or she behaves in an out of school.

I have been a teacher all of my life. It is the only thing that I have done for the last fifty of my sixty-eight years. I taught in primary schools in Trinidad for six years (1958-64) and at the university level for the last forty two years, taking brief intervals to do my doctorate and an unsuccessful attempt to reenter the Trinidad educational system in the 1980s. Most of what I have learned in terms of discipline and commitment to my field can be attributed to the years I spent as a primary school teacher.

I admit that things have changed since I taught at the primary school level: there are more distractions (both in terms of electronic gadgets and popular culture); standards of discipline have fallen; and respect for teachers has decreased. Added to these are increasing incidents of bullying, school violence, parental and child-abuse of teachers. These factors have made teaching at the primary and secondary school level much more difficult and a more stressful and challenging situation as well.

In spite of these drawbacks, there are three fundamental truths that have remained constant within the profession: teaching is still a noble profession; teachers should still be committed to its ideals; and they should still take pride in what they do. If they do not possess these qualities, they should be drummed out of the profession as quickly as possible and leave room for those who are willing to make a contribution to the nation via the teaching of the nation’s school children.

A majority of teachers are living up to their responsibilities and giving over and beyond their capacity but the danger lies in the minority of teachers who are abusing the system. They are not likely to stop their bad behavior if they are not re-educated and the Ministry and the School Boards do not attend to this problem immediately.

The first is a conceptual challenge. Teachers do not have 14 days sick leave and 28 days causal leave to take at will. Teachers have these days at their disposal if they get sick or if there is a dire emergency to which they must attend. Teachers who adopt the attitude that these days are theirs to take as a matter of course regardless of the circumstances may be violating the principle of this provision. Taking these days as a matter of course rather than out of necessity is not only a violation of their contractual obligations but reflects poorly on their professional judgment. It is dishonorable as well.

I don’t know how the Education Department organizes its business but at some point it must do so in such a way that a teacher knows how to differentiate between the behavior of a professional and a slave. A professional is self-responsible; a slave only works when a master has a whip hovering over his back to ensure that he does what is required of him.

When a teacher fails to be self-responsible then the regulations ought to be enforced. Anyone one who violates the rules of the organization during his probation should not be given a permanent job. Anyone who takes an excess of sick days and half-day leaves during his probation period should be looked at carefully, subjected to a serious talk, and be told that if he repeats this behavior he has no future in the profession.

If he/she violates these structures within the first year of teaching he/she should be fired. There is no other way around this. If the ministry is unwilling to stand by its own rules then there is no reason why the teacher should respect and obey those rules. Unless teachers understand what it means to be a professional and that the violation of those rules has certain consequences things are not likely to change.

Our teachers have one quarter of a million students under their care. Dumping more money into the profession is not likely to solve the problem although consideration should be given to redirecting more monies into human and technical resources such as employing more guidance professionals. We should also revisit the rules that govern the hiring process and make provisions for sabbaticals for teachers. This will make it more attractive for those who would like to join the profession.

Only a disciplined, professional staff is likely to turn around the shortcomings that confront us. We cannot do without teacher- discipline; conscientiousness; and professional pride. The Ministry must also carry out its function. If it fails to do so, it would be just as culpable as the teachers it supervises.

The Ministry and TTUTA should work together to solve this challenging problem.

14 thoughts on “Ridding Our Schools of Errant Teachers”

  1. Well, it is an interesting article. I have high regards for most teachers and I can reflect back and remember them so well. I am aware and told of instances where some teachers and some support staff at high school level, technical college level and even University level make time to assemble and have a cook, play cards etc in prep rooms. They maintain low level of supervision of the students in class and do have a look out to protect themselves. I agree that these errant teachers should be weeded of this job as the vocation is certainly not there. This is where the Teachers Union should own up an make an open declaration to their members as to production, tolerance and discipline in perpetuating a pedagogical culture.

  2. When I read of the commess in Trinidad’s schools today, I tend to think that the schools are the Augean Stables of the country, and a river of concern and action has to be diverted into them to sweep out all the incompetence, sexual exploitation of students by teachers, sexual exploitation of students by older students, attempts to poison teaches by students, teachers running away from fights instead of breaking them up, teachers being absent so often, that they are apparntly working elsewhere fulltime, teachers absent from playground duty, so that student can be kidnapped, molested and beaten up, teacher who cuss students, students who cuss teachers, teachers who tach so little, then give extra lessons to their pupils for huge profits, principals who charge fees for things the ministry says are free,schools that have becoming a vending mall of sugar cake, toolum, doubles , and othr greasy, salty or sweet deliacies of minimal nutritional value,teachers who send students out to count the toilets as a math exercise, teachers who could be found in the local rum shop next door, with their drinking buddies the local cops and the principl,schools that rent out tables and chairs on weekends for local fetes,unknowwn to the ministry,schools where teachers allow a second rape to occur so that they could catch the perp, who escapes, principals who reject enrollees on the basis of race, religion or skin colour while taking the public funds for salaries and upkeep, and schools where the principals are so incompetent that they ignore all that is going on under their very noses, because they are unable to cope.

    That was one long run-on sentence, delineating only a small fraction of what is going on in our schools. May the river that cleanses these stables, be at flood.

    1. Teachers who practise law and are absent from school, without ANY sort of permission, to represent their clients in court!

      1. Thanks for the adition. We used to be a well educated bunch. now we seem to suffer from incompetence and greed; as well as a dont give a damn attitude on the part of the big shots running the system.

    2. Instead of a “long run-on sentence” incorporate “lists”.These are best illustrated with “bullets” e.g.teachers who:

      * send students out to count toilets as a math exercise

      * could be found in the local rum shop next door

      Please do not be offended.One of my professors insisted:

      “variety according to style in grammar”

      God bless!!!!!

      1. You are talking to a master of the English language, and honors degreed person from two universities, who DELIBERATELY creates a run on for a specific purpose. If Mr. Minister of Education wants to, he could create lists with bullets. I previously sent them a checklist of desirable teacher behaviours, that I hoped would have been used, could have been used to create an evaluation document for assessing teacher performance. Nothing came of that, either. So, there we go.Only when I sent some special education material to a specific gentleman who works with children, did I get the impression that at least one person in Tnt wants to do something about our collective mess. Feel free to use the run to create a list if it makes you feel that you are doing something.

  3. Simply as an example of the sorts of initiatives that are being tried here in parts of the UK to improve discipline and teacher/pupil relationships. The primary schools in any given area are organised into clusters; regular meetings are held by the heads and deputy heads to discuss mutual problems, and teachers with specialist skills, or aptitudes are loaned out among the schools to fill a short-term need (my wife was frequently seconded to other schools in her cluster to help with the considerable paperwork and organisation that attends an inspection by the School inspectorate).
    Final year primary students, during the vacation before they start at secondary school, go on a fortnights summer camp. There they meet the rest of that years intake to the school which they will attend. Apart from the permanent staff of the establishment, the teachers who will interact with the new intakes and the head of the secondary school are present and organise the activities at the summer school.
    Since this is usually the first time most of these children are away from their parents for any length of time, they build up a close bond with the teachers and their fellow first year students. This helps, enormously, in integrating them into their new school, and their interaction with their teachers, in the less formal atmosphere of the camp, helps tremendously inreinforcing the teachers status in their eyes, leading to easier discipline.

  4. Some powerful, pessimistic words from Peter, worthy of studying.
    Our moral slide
    PETER O’CONNOR Sunday, June 17 2012

    And what can you do about it? We all know that it is “not my fault” that we are where we are today. And exactly where is that? It is at the bottom of the pit of nastiness, petty selfishness, gossip, and the desire to pull down everyone and everything into the nasty pit with us.

    It is also at the pinnacle of greed, corruption, nepotism and favouritism. And the only difference between these two dreadful places is the illusion of “bling” and fame at the pinnacle.

    The greed, corruption and selfishness at the pinnacle are “good” because they are imposed upon us by the rich and powerful, those with favours and contracts to dispense. So we bow and scrape before the perpetrators as we seek to ingratiate ourselves for a few crumbs to be thrown our way.

    The same traits seen down in the bottom of the pit are “bad” because we cower in fear of the perpetrators who use guns to steal what the pinnacle people stole by using a pen.

    And that is where we are today, sublimely and oxymoronically mired in the filth at the bottom of the pit, yet reaching up greedily for the gold-plated filth at the pinnacle of all of our faults. We seek to free ourselves from the banditry and violent anarchy welling in the pit by building walls and gated communities, by sending our children to private schools, and hiding our money “away” (or in Clico?), while surrendering most of the country, including the roads and the malls, to bandits and kidnappers. But to survive in this presumably protected State, we need to become hardened against the injustices we too must impose (for our own safety, of course!) on those around us.

    We need to make deals, increase profits and buy politicians in order to pay for our walls and our private security.

    And somewhere in between these two moral parameters which define our existence, resides the majority of us, neither violent nor “sophisticated” bandits, but under serious attacks from both extremes.

    Unable to afford the walls and private security to protect us from those in the pit, and unable to withstand the pressures of servicing loans, paying medical expenses, or dealing with crumbling infrastructure imposed upon us by commerce and politics, the majority of us have nowhere to turn.

    We are living in the State of Hopelessness.

    Attacked from below, and squeezed from above, we were never taught the values of unity and community which would inspire us to come together to fight our cause and remove the rot at the base, and the illusion at the pinnacle, and become a society, or even—gasp!— a nation.

    So, unaware of our potential strength, and indeed taught and indoctrinated to remain unaware, we have two choices, both named “Join”. We can either join the bandits, by forming gangs—of neighbourhood watches, “self-protecting” nightclub limes, convoys to the beaches and the fetes,— or by joining a party sucking-up to the politicians to get favours which will give us commercial advantage over others—look, it have a “setta” State boards and special advisers positions out there (sic). And those among you who still cling to the idea that you should have ethics and morals, I ask: So what you want we to do? (sic)

    So if you still “small” and suffering the lawlessness and the benign anarchy all around you, you begin to break the law as well. And why not? Why you alone must suffer?

    So we all break the laws—traffic, litter, noise, small ongoing embezzlement, big time fraud and corruption; “all ah we tief” all the time, but we no longer consider it wrong.

    How can it be wrong if “big people” at the top are doing it all the time, and bandits, with the power of guns, are attacking us from below? And we, turning selfish, are ignoring every rule and law, but not, in our minds, breaking the law.

    And it is this hardening of our hearts—for survival sake—which can make a woman in public life state, using the “Royal We” in her remarks, that the tragedy which has befallen Marlene Coudray’s family was some form of retribution from God! Thankfully, the condemnation of those appalling remarks has been universal.

    Can I, or indeed anyone here, get through to any of us, that we are all in peril?

    The benign anarchy practised by the rich and powerful is rapidly becoming violent anarchy in our communities, as those who were told for 50 years that they need not work, have come to “take”.

    Is this where we want to be after 50 years of independence? I know we will all say no to that. But actually, this is where we are. And tragically, this is where we will stay.

  5. You guys ain’t get it, especially my Sistaz L. You can bring in 1 million of the most competent teaches, trained at respective teachers colleges located at Harvard, Columbia University , Yale, Stanford, LSE, Princeton ,Oxbridge , MIT, or Rick Perry’s Texas University, and it would be the ‘same difference,’ and why, you may ask?
    I’ll tell you . Kids cannot learn if there is no overall security in the country, lack of a proper job plan ,to curb runaway unemployment, limited food on the table, to calm those growling ,empty bellies, too many rickety ,low caste , overcrowded houses ,with sub par electricity, and devoid of decent other infrastructure, to keep them from getting washed away in Caroni river floods, or rat infested , disease ladened garbage pile up and de likes ,at de Beetham Labasse, Lavantille/ Movant/ Carenage , Brazilianlike Favellas, ennnt? Can I add, a five decade long , anachronistic , health care system,that can rival dat of backward Haiti? Queen K / Uncle Panday’s kids ,can run to Miami, Barbados, Toronto , Brisbane ,and South East Brixton England,for high end medical attention , in like manner to your morally reprehensible pal, Patrick M, who haD historically bartered our oil/ gas for his pacemakers forays in Havana , but poor Trini folks ain’t so lucky.
    These elites make me laugh, when it comes to prattling away on social ills,while using their cuddled existence in foreign Industrialized shores, and dragging it whole scale here into the global South, maybe in the hope of solving some problems here in Sweet, sweet , T&T, aka Rainbow Country.
    Sorry , folks it just ain’t happening,for in case you conveniently forgot, dis ain’t Houston , or Ontario.There is work to be done , so give me a holler when you folks are serious about addressing issues of critical importance in your country. Often times our well intentioned politicians, and civic leaders need a nudge in the right direction, so you and others writing useless white papers and filing them in foreign embassies, and universities serves no useful purpose.
    A words of warning – do it for self , as these foreign shores, are for young , still ambitious blokes. Arizona, Las Vagas, Florida, Texas, and your Uncle O’s Hawaii,are for ….. well,you can fill in de blanks , if u still dare .

  6. Where I disagree with you, son, is in the fact that I am not advocating “bringing in” anyone, from anywhere. These stables have to be cleaned by the ones who made the mess. Accountability has to be returned to the schools, like it was in the days of Randolph Telesford, Dewdrop Emmanuel, and A.A. MArk.We earned Independence without imported teachers, except at the top-the teachers’ colleges and some of the secondary schools. What we had then was some sende of purpose as to where we were going. We lost that after the 1970’s, and never got it back.

    When in your experience, has a teacher been fired in TnT for dereliction of duty, or incompetence? The reason why is that the persons who need to document incompetence, are themselves incompetent.
    If you are a good teacher, you go on doing what you do, from the goodness of your heart. Nobody really gives a damn. Nuff said.

  7. I hear you Madame L , and would always defer to your vast knowledge on matters historical, and on education, but again a sense of reality needs to be put in place when grappling with troubling socio – political issues ,that affect’s folks at the lower echelons , especially in our neck of the woods.
    You cannot use a first world understanding of good governance, and expect to force it down into another , where non progressive, tribalist /supremist, self centeredness, is the norm – as played out under present day, neo triumphalist ,cultural bandits .
    There is therefore work to be done, and you and I might have to create the change we desire via Civil Society.
    Trust me on this ,the politicians,and gluttonous business entities, that dominate T&T , will follow.

  8. It is a fact of colonial, subservient mentalities, to think that good things come from abroad, in nicely packaged European or North American form, with matching accents.
    We in TnT were once very well educated people, and ran our schools well, even if some of us were barbaric in terms of punishment. We abandonned models of good education, good policing and other good things and strove to become America’s fifty-fourth state, after Puerto Rico, Bahamas and Jamaica. Now, when I am home, I cannot tell where our thinking departs from fake north American models. We begin our days with the nonsense news from abroad, the messy lives of the hollywood set, sales at Macy’s and crime news from Miami, and we wonder why our children are lost. Meanwhile, I swelter behind electronic gates, the modern luxury home, a prison.
    We import top cop crime fighters from the cold north, only to see the crime rate escalate, mercifully, they have stopped hogging the press.
    We no longer teach land conservation, nor protection of the wildlife. Each ethnic group now treats the nation as a separate colony of exploitation, and the children of the “others” especially the poor are not taught much if anything at all.

    But here is a story of hope.

    My stepmother’s maid is from one of the other islands, and I discovered last year that she cannot read. Her son will graduate from UWI -Sta, just as her daughter gets ready to enter university.
    That’s still possible in TnT. Had her island been as wealthy, she would have gone to school. She is making sure her children go, and get educated.There is hope. We have to band together to realize that this is OUR LAND, and no foreigner can have as much interest in pushing us forward, as we should have.
    Our teachers have to work hand in hand with the parents, to do the best for our children. My mother, and my teachers, were on friendly terms. It mattered.

  9. The response to the Minister of Education regarding his plan to move towards continuous assessment in primary schools has been mixed but mostly disappointing. Once again the response has been politically motivated and it is ironic that those who stand to gain the most from these proposals are the ones who are opposing the changes. The Ministry seems to be moving towards the elimination of the “do or die” SEA as the singular criterion for admission to secondary schools. Continuous assessment would include the achievement of students over the years spent in Primary schools. The first phase seems to be the inclusion of additional examinable subjects other than the restricted basic skills. These subjects apparently include Art, Music and Physical Education. It seems that the Ministry is presently involved in teacher training to facilitate these changes. Professional development of teachers, provision of adequate resources and facilities are all critical at this stage to avert problems which may arise later during implementation. A more comprehensive assessment method is definitely needed to replace the SEA. Students whose strengths are non-academic would be provided with opportunities in secondary and post secondary institutions. Also, students with Math or Language disabilities and strengths in the Performance areas might have a chance at secondary success, especially if they are provided with adaptations to compensate for their disabilities. The end result could be highly improved graduation rates from secondary schools and fewer illiterate young people left to survive on a life of crime.

    1. Continuous assesment is not new to T&T. The fears expressed by many parents are genuine ones; mainly that it will be subjective.
      I attended Fatima & CIC. In both of those institutions continuous assesment took the form of homework set in all subject areas during each week. Weekly marks were assigned mainly on the basis of the quality of the homework produced and any other tests done during the week.
      The weekly marks for each student were recorded and an aggregate mark was given. Term marks (and position in class) were published for all students. This was in addition to the term-end tests. (Do they still have term-end tests in Trinidad shcools?) This form of continuous assesment left very little to the discretion of the teachers, and by the way, provided parents with an ongoing report of the child’s progress. My father never ever visited my school to have a report of my progress; he simply perused my “Judgement Book” as we called the book in which our marks were recorded.

      Where did we find the time for all this? Well we did not have “half-term” breaks.

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