Travails of teachers

Once you decide to pursue a career in teaching in Guyana, moreso in the state school system, you automatically forfeit any chance of material fulfilment at the end of that career, except you simultaneously pursue some other more lucrative moonlighting option. Otherwise, there is practically no chance that you will end up with anything even remotely resembling ‘a good life.’ Mind you, if you were to attach yourself to the extra lessons sub-sector, that will provide a useful subsidy to your substantive income. In that instance, however, there is of course the likelihood the Ministry of Education will frown on the practice, quite possibly accusing you of selling the students ‘short’ during the regular school hours in order to create a demand for your own after-hours classes.

Accordingly, we have long come to accept as an axiom that teaching is a vocation; by that is meant that unlike doctors, engineers and lawyers, teachers are expected to put in the time and the effort, inside and outside the classroom, notwithstanding which, they must still face privation as a way of life. Wealth and the good life are not goals to which teachers should aspire.

It is hard to think of any other profession upon which the burden of self-sacrifice rests as heavily. Consequently, setting aside the yawning gap between the substantive value of teachers’ contribution and their monetary compensation, there is the propensity for not a great deal of official attention to teachers’ conditions of service, the conventional wisdom being that teachers are a hardy breed, well-schooled in the various survival skills and anticipating no particularly generous material reward.  It is a form of official behaviour that is often elevated to the level of eyepass.

The travails of teachers often begin at what one might call the entry level, the Cyril Potter College of Education. (CPCE). The CPCE is a ‘put upon’ training institution. It is nowhere near adequately equipped to serve its purpose optimally. The institution openly attests to its serious deficiencies, like the acute shortage of full-time lecturers and the consequential setting aside of the regulation 9am-4pm duration for classes. Those hours have been supplanted with the requirement that students be available for classes well beyond those official hours, never mind the dislocation of the trainees’ alternative schedules that might, in instances, include part-time jobs and family obligations. Sometimes, as is the case in one instance in this academic year, of which this newspaper is aware, no lecturer has shown for the entire two-week duration of classes for a particular subject.

Then there are rules regarding the compulsoriness of attendance at “games and physical education…and any other activities sponsored or organized by the College or the Ministry of Educa-tion” and absence from which “are only accepted on medical or other serious grounds” and specifically not on grounds that have to do with either “inclement weather and remote distances.” The opinions expressed by a handful of students to whom this newspaper spoke about this particular rule reflected strong opposition.

There is, too, the CPCE rule that requires students to “make an average attendance of eighty five per cent in each course for each semester,” never mind the fact that the scarcity of lecturers means, in effect, that the College is hardly in a position to provide assurances that if the students show up it will deliver on its end of the bargain by making lecturers available.

If, for any reason, you miss a lecture, you do not simply rejoin classes on your return. College rules dictate that you, first, “report to the Principal through the Senior Lecturer Responsible for Student Development” and obtain a slip which becomes your passport back into the classroom, but not before you have sought out every lecturer whose class you would have missed and had them append their signatures to that slip.

Incidentally, there is another College rule that dictates that “a student (no distinction is made here between In-Service and Pre-Service students) wishing to get married while being a member of the College must inform the Chief Education Officer, through the Principal, in writing. One hastens to add that there is no stated penalty for tying nuptials without a student providing the CPCE’s Principal of an intention to do so.

At the beginning of each academic year and continuously throughout the year, trainee teachers are required to make copies of handouts which effectively become essential reading. At the beginning of this academic year new students were immediately greeted with a document for copying sufficiently formidable in size as to attract a quoted copying cost in excess of three thousand dollars. The expectation, one assumes, is that that cost, in the instances of the unemployed Pre-Service trainees, will come from the monthly grant of $5,500.00 (resident students) and $7,500.00 (non-resident students) paid to the Pre-Service students.

No one is saying, of course, that the effort to train to become a professional teacher ought not to be attended by some measure of challenge and difficulty, but for the newly turned-out teachers, it is after the travails of the CPCE that the challenge really begins in earnest.


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