THE EDITOR: After the Tranquillity Government Primary School recent fiasco, there were many comments regarding the teacher and the punishment meted out to her. Several writers commented on what is expected of teachers in the classroom.
However, no one spoke to the changing times and current environment in which teachers have to work. This in no way means I condone her behaviour. People may not wish to admit it, but teachers today are faced with more challenges than those of the past.
In the US teachers are leaving the profession for multiple reasons: pay disputes, inadequate physical conditions, emotional stress, large class sizes, lack of basic classroom material, paperwork bombardment, ridiculous curriculum, and lack of time along with unrealistic expectations. A phenomenon which has increased over the last two decades is the lack of respect for teachers.
Among professional occupations in the US, teachers are rated the lowest. They feel their opinions count the least at work, and there seems to be little or no respect for them today. This perceived lack of respect from students, parents and administrators has taken a toll.
Some teachers feel micro-managed by administrators (in TT it’s principals) and parents. These people do not respect teachers, who say “we have little to no say.” Furthermore, they are frustrated by “lawnmower” parents who expect their child to get an “A” when they are only doing “C” work.
One teacher used the word “abominable” to describe behaviour in the classroom. “We have no recourse and the kids know it,” she says. If you so much as cross your eyes at a child, they (or their parents) call the police and the school board. One teacher said, “Ten-year-olds hold my career in their hands.” Thar’s ridiculous.
Another teacher blames parents. “We put up with a lot,” she says, including attitudes, lack of co-operation, physical attacks, yelling and tantrums. Parents only want to be their child’s friend and take no parental responsibilities.”
In TT the removal of corporal punishment in schools gave students the upper hand (which they are aware of) and made teachers powerless. There are several incidents where parents have entered the school compound and attacked the teacher and/or principal.
Teaching has become a hazardous occupation as teachers need to deal with angry, abusive parents sometimes. They have become punching bags and targets of verbal abuse by students as well. Those who have been physically abused say they were also verbally abused, often laced with profanity from both students and parents.
A 2011 survey in England found that one in ten principals reported being assaulted by parents. Children show disrespect by issuing threats and teachers go to school feeling unsafe. In addition, there is confrontation over the phone, by text or e-mails.
Parents today are angrier and this is attributed to financial situations and lack of maturity. Young parents lack coping skills. Although affluent parents may not act aggressively, they question grades that teachers give to their children and are highly disrespectful.
These are some of the challenges teachers are faced with today, mostly created by the Ministry of Education, TTUTA and parents who have shunned their responsibilities. The ministry followed the UN polices wholesale without tweaking. TTUTA stood idly by, teachers made no objections (they have no say) and parents regard teachers as mere babysitters.
The Tranquillity incident was inevitable, as instead of discussions and sharing among stakeholders being instituted (one-day consultations are ineffective) a top-down approach proved to have a negative impact.