It’s Time to Appreciate Our Teachers

The recent move by teachers to rest and reflect on the First day of school last Monday was very disruptive to in which teachers are heavily relied upon for much more than presiding over classes, such as:

  • In addition to their own family responsibilities, teachers perform a  crucial duty as foster parents to children who come to school with their own load of personal problems which only the teacher is privy to;
  • Many teachers are known to have formed communities to see after the economic needs of a number of students whose parents cannot afford to buy books, clothes and food, without exposing the undignified situation of these welfare children to the rest of the class;
  • Some teachers take on the challenge of counselling students who have major mental health issues emanating from a toxic home environment with frightening implications in areas such as sexual harassment from persons who dare not be mentioned;
  • Because of these pressures, many female teachers quietly suffer from stress which many be later reflected in unexpected physical conditions including heart attacks and strokes; and
  • Our teachers form one of the strongest pillars of our society in that they are the few who are entrusted with the huge mission of  produce our professionals, our artists and our leaders: the people who form the back bone of our society.

Which may explain why Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley in a November 27, 2020 Feature Address on lamented  that out of the 13,906 teachers in the 611 government and government-assisted Primary and Secondary schools across the country, only 3,325 (23.9%) of them were male.

As he addressed the Spotlight on Education: Transforming Education programme at the National Academy for the Performing Arts, Rowley pointed to  the significant absence of male teachers in the school system, saying “a school system that is lacking a sufficient presence of the male teacher is a problem, especially when many of our children are without fathers in their homes”.

During his feature address, he revealed that out of the 13,906 teachers in the 611 government and government-assisted Primary and Secondary schools across the country, only 3,325 (23.9%) of them were male. There were 1,334 male teachers in comparison to the 5,644 female teachers in primary schools, while there were 1,991 male teachers in comparison to the 4,937 female teachers in secondary schools.

Dr Rowley said these numbers show that a lot of the teaching load falls on female teachers. He suggested the ratio of male to female teachers may be largely due to the better performance of the female population in the education system, however, some rectification is required if we are to balance the education of our children.

Responses to his Facebook Page post revealed the extent to which many citizens are keenly aware of the problems faced by teachers as reflected in some comments below: Kinesha Sylvester: I know many males waiting for their interview to be admitted into the teaching system. Yes, the number of women greatly outweighs men in general but please interview the interested males. … 

cnc3 Television Team visits Manzanilla Secondary School

Maverking Jogee: Teachers lack plenty standards of training and development in Trinidad and Tobago. Presently, there  are Sanitation and sanitary workers that possess more sanity than even Primary school teachers that are propagated by the Chief Personal Department . 

Antionette Anthony: ECCE teachers need to open their mouths and stop staying quiet because you all are part of the system. You all are the foundation members stand tall.

Kimberley Ford: As a mother of boys, my experiences with male teachers with my sons have been excellent so far. In fact the boys relate even better with male teachers. Not that female teachers aren’t doing a super job but I have noticed a positive difference in interaction… 

Shenelle De Lisle: A man cannot maintain a family on a teacher’s salary…. it’s just not possible.

Denise Straker: Sorry Boss, but some of those male will need serious training and experience as teachers.A Sunday Guardian report featuring Dr Katijah Khan, lecturer in Clinical Psychology at the University of the West Indies (UWI) spoke about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the mental health of citizens.

The COVID-19 health pandemic has brought financial, health and emotional distress to many in T&T and around the world.

According to a Washington Post report last November, Since COVID-19 arrived, depression and anxiety in America have become rampant. Federal surveys show that 40 per cent of Americans are now grappling with at least one mental health or drug-related problem.

T&T’s citizens, old and young, have been no less impacted by this pandemic which has wreaked social and economic havoc.

Dr Khan, how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the mental health of citizens.

In an interview with  Raphael John-lall on  January, 2021 story,  Dr Khan was asked a number of questions including:  

What groups of people have been most affected?

 What are the demographics in terms of age, sex, race etc?

 What types of adverse mental or behavioural health conditions are being exhibited?

To which she replied:

 It was predicted that there would be an increase in mental health problems arising out of the pandemic and this has been seen in many different contexts. Organisations have reported an increase in reports of child abuse and gender-based violence.

 While not reaching levels requiring professional help, in all the outreach, seminars and public talk I have given, every single one, people report higher levels of stress, be it private sector professionals, healthcare workers, teachers, parents or students. 

They report more symptoms including worry, anxiety, depression, problems concentrating, irritability, headaches, aches and pains, changes in appetite, sleeping and substance use. Among university and secondary school students we have seen higher rates of anxiety and depression due to the pandemic as well as heightened concerns about the quality and future of their studies and a fear of failure.

Last week, a 14-year-old child died by suicide. How vulnerable is this age group? Has the vulnerability among children grown, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic hit?

Suicide is still a pressing social and public health problem in our country and unfortunately, children are also affected. The most recent Global School Health Survey of 2017 reported some alarming statistics for Trinidad in which 24 per cent of school children aged 13-17 seriously considered suicide in the last year, 14.4 per cent attempted suicide in the past year and 9.5 per cent said they did not have any close friends. This will continue to be a problem throughout the pandemic.

Dr Khan Noted that “School not only provides an academic education but gives children opportunities to socialise, interact physically and develop important socio-emotional skills. Online schooling is not able to provide all of these and, as such, the isolation and stresses of online schooling can worsen stress and take a negative toll on children’s emotional and mental health”

Like adults, many children also are experiencing frustration and “Zoom fatigue”. Children living in homes with limited resources and no access to devices or connectivity are even more vulnerable during the pandemic as they are at higher risk to fall behind academically and cognitively. 

Children in dysfunctional homes, homes with conflict are also likely to witness more domestic violence and themselves be subjected to more verbal, physical and psychological abuse”, she added.

The plight of our nation’s already overburdened teachers was exposed by their Association’s first female President Antonia Tekah De Freitas who,  in an interview with I95.5 FM  De Freitas said: “We as educators need to reflect on where we are going, the troubles we’ve been through and maybe some of us in Trinidad and Tobago need to consider the value of teachers and look at the impact that we are making on the education sector.

“On September 5, our education professionals will be resting and reflecting because we recognise that there is need to send a clear signal to the powers that be and to society. Teachers are valuable contributors to national development.

“We are not babysitters. We shape the lives and the minds of our young citizens, but we are not babysitters.

“And therefore, as we look to return, we are going to be reflecting on all of these situations that face us and how best we as educators can meet our needs to support our families and our children

Antonia De Freitas

Antonia De Freitas, who was  once warded at hospital for “a potentially fatal ailment” she believes was brought on by her Covid-19 infection in November, 2021, revealed that 

“After the quarantine period was over I continued to suffer from what can be described as long Covid. This situation came to a head on the morning of Tuesday March 22, when I was rushed to the emergency room of the (Mt Hope) hospital for a suspected heart attack”. 

In response to the mere Four Percent wage increase offered by government, De Freitas said: ,“When we look at comparative jobs, it shows that the difference between a teacher’s job and jobs with similar qualifications and competencies is about $5,000. What we’re being offered is just about $200 before tax. So for that negotiating period, that is totally unacceptable and of course that is without the consolidation of COLA (cost of living allowance).”

Against this background therefore, few adults can remember the embarrassment they felt on reading the simple bumper sticker which said:

If you can read this, thank a teacher!

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