Excerpt from the opening address of the president at TTUTA’s 40th annual conference of delegates
IN A profound statement, the poet Robert Frost stated, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” All teachers sitting here today shared a common experience of uncertainty; the experience of butterflies in the stomach, the self-doubt, and the range of emotions which filled us as we walked into a classroom for the very first time.
We recall the day – 30 years ago, five years ago – when we took our first step into our future profession. In each one of us, a fire was ignited to motivate us to walk the path we had embarked on. In each one of us was awakened the desire to give of our best to those children in front of us.
For us, there were educators of unparalleled calibre who mentored and guided us, who demonstrated skills and expertise upon which we modelled our own practice. The community revered and supported the teacher. And, as we delivered the curriculum (prescribed and hidden), we experienced the thrill of seeing our students realise their Eureka moments, the moments of their awakening.
For us here today, we have delivered strong and committed service to the education system of Trinidad and Tobago. We continue to do this on a daily basis under very trying circumstances. Inadequate remuneration, occupational health and safety issues, security concerns, and threats from the employer and other external forces all challenge our ability to deliver quality education.
How do the young teachers of today cope with the contemporary education environment? Do they have that sense of fulfilment? Are they as motivated today as we were in our early days? What is challenging their professional awakening? What will be our legacy for those to come?
Annually, UNESCO commemorates the adoption of the 1996 ILO/UNESCO recommendation with the observance of World Teachers Day. The theme for this year’s observance was “Young Teachers: The future of the profession. In Trinidad and Tobago there are three imperatives which must be addressed in order to attract young people to become teachers.
First is the issue of male teacher recruitment. What is the motivation for a young man to become a teacher? While we investigate the underachievement of males in our school system, are we designing and implementing curricula specifically to meet the needs of young male learners?
Are there opportunities for boys to experience teaching as a worthwhile profession, through mentoring, counselling and initiatives that help shape positive beliefs about education?
There must be a systematic approach which supports male learners. Additionally, the prestige and desirability of the teaching profession must be projected. Aggressive recruitment must be part of a strategic goal to attract the best talent into the service.
Secondly, preparation for 21st century teaching and learning must be addressed. How is the young person being prepared for the 21st century challenges of “teaching in diversity and diversity in teaching?” There must be concrete mechanisms to support and encourage teachers in a more systematic way.
As a nation, our teacher education and induction programmes must be well thought-out to generate teacher motivation and satisfaction. Young teachers who are sensitive to the diverse needs of learners can have a positive impact on the education of students.
Our novice teachers must not be bullied and intimidated to attend orientation sessions. Any employer that condones such actions is more likely discouraging young persons from entering the service.
The third imperative emphasises the need for more significant investments in the future of the teaching profession. The great philosopher and teacher Plato had this to say on the matter, “A nation will prosper to the degree that it honours its teachers!”
Investing in a system of high quality teacher induction and preparation can transform the teaching profession and education system. This is crucial to the effective delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals upon which the National Development Strategy 2030 is premised.
In its concept note on World Teachers Day, UNESCO identified consultation with young people and with stakeholders on the establishment of more dynamic recruitment and training strategies as necessary for making the teaching profession more attractive.
By the same token, TTUTA must continually utilise creative strategies to encourage young teachers to join the union. Young members must receive support to encourage service to students and participation in union activities. TTUTA has already begun such action by honouring from each district a Young Teacher of the Year. We continue to provide leadership training for our young members.
Colleagues, the future of the profession is inextricably linked to the sustainability of our association.