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Sunday 27 May 2018
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Commentary

The temptation to condemn teachers

TTUTA

ON APRIL 25 the Newsday editorial, titled “A bad lesson,” went on to admonish and chastise teachers for engaging in protest action and the withholding of SBA marks. It accused teachers of “the unacceptable use of children as bargaining tools in industrial relations practice,” further stating that “classrooms can be abandoned at any moment pursuant to industrial relations negotiations.”

It is rather unfortunate that an editorial column would pontificate on matters it is not fully au courant with.

Regarding the protest action by teachers in Tobago and protest action by teaches in general, it must be noted that such is not undertaken by teachers in any cavalier manner.

It is the last resort after all other acceptable industrial relations approaches have been explored to no avail. The issues affecting terms and conditions of service for teachers in Tobago span over a decade and there have been countless meetings between TTUTA and the THA in an attempt to resolve these issues.

These range from confirmation and appointments, filling of vacant positions, upgrades, promotions and non-payment of increments and acting allowances. While these issues may seem trivial to some, they represent matters that impact on the very livelihood of teachers and have a demoralising effect, ultimately impacting on levels of commitment and output in the classroom.

So when teachers decide to engage in protest action it is out of sheer frustration by people who have a higher than average level of tolerance.

This singular action should never be held as the yardstick to assess teacher commitment. There are countless acts that consistently speak volumes about the commitment of teachers but these seem to be taken for granted by a public that very often passes judgment without thorough examination of the relevant facts. Many who judge and condemn have never walked in the shoes of teachers. It is also a common practice to use the unprofessional conduct of a few to condemn all.

While the public expects much of teachers it seems the reverse is not true. Our work is all too often taken for granted and by being teachers we seem to be devoid of rights as workers.

In some jurisdictions such as the UK, teachers are leaving the profession by the thousands over unsatisfactory working conditions and contemptuous treatment by government and state officials.

Very often negotiations between the union and government representatives are characterised by promises that never materialise. They are aware that they can get away with it — the public will never agitate sufficiently to force the government to resolve teachers’ issues in a timely manner; after all, teachers will not abandon their students.

But sometimes it can become overbearing and more forceful legal approaches have to be adopted to bring our plight to the attention of the national community. And yes, that is a lesson for our charges – fight for your rights and what you believe in; fight for the exercise of democracy.

On the issue of the marking (and uploading) of the SBAs, teachers never indicated that they will withhold SBA marks. They indicated they will no longer be prepared to mark SBAs without remuneration with effect from September 2018. CXC is free to have the SBAs marked whichever way it prefers — it is paid for that service.

This matter has been a bone of contention for over a decade across the region. Several meetings between CXC and the Caribbean Union of Teachers have failed to find a resolution, with CXC being adamant it will not pay teachers to mark SBAs even though it is a major component of the external examination.

CXC is paid by regional governments to administer the CSEC and CAPE. It pays markers to mark the written papers. The job descriptions of teachers specifically speak to teachers setting and marking internal assessments as part of the process of curriculum delivery.

If CXC is a creature of Caricom governments, then pursuant to its mandate, governments must put the requisite systems, resources and structures in place to ensure it is executed.

Forcing teachers to mark SBAs by threatening to fail students is nothing short of holding students to ransom by both CXC and regional governments. It is a cheap and clandestine way of getting a task done for free.

A service teachers did out of the goodness of their heart and their commitment have now been taken for granted with the expansion of SBAs and its rigour and detail. Despite our protests we continue to mark SBAs because of threats by CXC to fail students. It’s time for the courts to decide.

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