BUT acting president says teachers are disenfranchised

As teachers worldwide celebrated World Teachers Day on October 5, many teachers within the local government school system are still discouraged and disenfranchised, a Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) representative expressed on Friday.

The sad reality of a teacher shortage, few resources and the lack of support and respect for teachers is still a pressing issue, according to Joan Knowles-Turnquest, Acting Vice President of the Bahamas Union of Teachers.

Turnquest expressed that many teachers feel as if they are not treated like professionals and such treatment can come from administration, parents and students.

“I feel like there is a lack of support for teachers in terms of the things that they want to do. If a teacher is left to teach she or he can be excellent in the classroom, but when you have to deal with so many other issues and so many other things it compounds the problem,” Knowles-Turnquest said.

“You then have an undisciplined child who is in your classroom and you are trying to get the support from the parents and you are not being given that support because they [the parent] fuss you out for everything you do.”

Knowles-Turnquest, who serves as a primary school teacher in the capital, further explained that in some instances, if a teacher tries to bring law and order to his or her classroom and they are later being disrespected, the teacher is turned off from the profession.

“They realize that there are a myriad of options for them, so they really feel as if they don’t have to go through what a more seasoned teacher might have gone through, and they realize that the type of children that we have now is different from [those who were in the system] 10, 20, 30 years ago,” she explained.

“Every year it’s a whole new crop of students, and so you have to deal with that and your classroom management skills must be uplifted. If you feel like you are not getting the type of support that you need from home, then it really makes you feel like you’re fighting a losing battle.”

Also addressing the teacher shortage problem, Knowles-Turnquest said there is a high rate of students at some government schools and very few teachers.

“We need sufficient teachers to ensure that these students have the best of the best because you have 35 plus students in some classrooms. We have teachers’ aides and we do have supply teachers, but we are in dire need of teachers,” she said.

Supply teachers are those teachers who are qualified to teach but they have since retired. These teachers are re-hired but only to teach for a specific amount of time. There is a list of retirees who are called up to assist the school when a teacher is on maternity leave.

A teacher’s aide, on the other hand, assists the teacher in the classroom but they are not there to teach a class.

Knowles-Turnquest said the teacher shortage will continue to exist if Ministry officials continue to skirt around the problem.

“We have teachers who have retired every year and some would have passed [away] but we need to make sure that we are getting the best of the best. As long as we are faced with this challenge we will continue to go abroad and bring ex-patriates and this is well and good but the expatriates, as well as the local teachers, are needed to make the system work effectively.”

Overall, Knowles-Turnquest said teachers expect to be treated as professionals because they are a union of professionals.

“Every teacher must have a teaching certificate and a degree to stand before those students, and so our aim has always been to be treated with respect and dignity. In some instances, this is happening, but there is always room for improvement, and right now the collective bargaining agreement would have already been submitted to the Ministry of Education, so we are just waiting for the counter proposal right now so that we can agitate and move on so that our members are represented and get the best that they deserve.”