“I started at the elementary level and because of my love and dedication to teaching I have had many times been a mother to my pupils. And the things that I have been seeing via the public, society’s opinions, criticisms and critiques are not right. As much as I believe everybody is entitled to their opinion, the responsibilities of teachers are taken for granted and being undervalued.”
The words of a trained teacher who has been in the profession for 12 years and who is currently at the University of Guyana reading for a degree. She has been supporting the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) strike because as she believes it is time for educators to earn salaries that they can actually survive on.
I decided to speak to a teacher for this week’s column as there is much being said about the profession since some teachers decided to down tools at the beginning of the term and take to the streets calling on the David Granger administration to give them a pay hike that can actually improve their standard of living.
As the single parent of one spoke to me she did so with passion and sincerity and at times I got the impression that she was close to tears as she expressed her points.
“I say that our work is being undervalued because of my experience in the system. I started teaching at Grades One and Two and during my years of teaching those kids I personalised my classroom. I treated the children as if they were my children. I think that I established a relationship with all of my students because I am a parent and I believe in the saying ‘do onto others as you would have them do onto you’. And, also, because I genuinely cared for those children,” she continued.
“Many teachers whom I know and spoke to view their classroom and school environment as theirs. The children are our children, their concerns and challenges become the teacher’s once they step into the classroom.”
Since the teachers took to the streets many have accused them of being uncaring and not adequately teaching the nation’s children, and of refusing to teach in the classroom so as to ensure that the children attend their private lessons.
These comments affected many teachers and one of them, in an article printed in Tuesday’s edition of the Stabroek News, indicated that teachers would have to be counselled at the end of the process.
“The things being said in public are akin to abuse—verbal and emotional abuse. And even those of us who are not striking are feeling its effects. We are supposed to be doing diagnostic testing today, but we can’t do that or anything. Even if it were only one person striking, we would feel its impact, but the verbal and emotional abuse is making it worse,” that teacher was quoted as saying in the story.
Her colleague could not agree more.
“It is hurtful. It is very disturbing and hurtful to read the various comments and listen to the opinions of people who do not have the necessary knowledge as it relates to the responsibility of the teachers.
“And there is one misconception that I would like to clarify: teachers are not asking or demanding 40%, we are proposing 40% with the expectation of reasonable negotiation that would include other possible benefits and incentives. It hurts teachers who dedicate their time, interest and in many cases even the needs of our kids because we give so much in the classrooms between the hours of nine to three providing the services of multiple careers such as being mentors, counsellors, doctors and mediators. There are so many other roles that we perform and when you listen to society and its criticism there are so many persons who are accusing us of being selfish when we have been adjusting our lives and being selfless, caring and mentoring and moulding the nation’s children.”
She paused after this mouthful and it was obvious that she meant every word.
I asked her about the criticisms of persons who accuse some teachers of not performing their duties and forcing children to attend their private lessons.
“I acknowledge that there might be a few teachers who may not perform up to standard. But one also needs to take into consideration the packed curriculum that is being expected to be taught in the classroom by the Ministry of Education. It is important to note that when a teacher plans a lesson from the scheme, which might be expected by personnel to be taught within a week, often times the said topic maybe prolonged beyond the mandated stipulated time because of various methodologies and various learning abilities of the students in the classroom.
“What teachers might do at the end of the term if they realized they were unable able to teach 15 topics, they might have extra classes, free of cost. And teachers would tell you especially those who give private lessons that it is the parents many times who beg for the extra lessons for their children. Some parents also want a secure environment for their children until they would have finished working. Those views that are being expressed are misconceptions which are misinformed,” she answered.
Are teachers paid a living wage?
“Of course not,” she answered quickly.
“I am a trained teacher and I have been in the system for the past 12 years and my take-home salary is just about $87,000. I am fortunate because I don’t have to pay a rent and I only have one child. But my bills including food and transportation for myself and son come up to over $60,000. Just think about a teacher who has more than one child and is a single parent like me,” she said.
“I want people to understand we are not demanding anything that is extravagant, we just want a living wage.
“And remember it was a task force that sat together and came up with the current proposals. That task force had representatives from three government ministries including the Ministry of Finance. It is now disturbing to hear the country may be in a financial problem… why would a task force sit and come up with this figure? Why would persons who are from the government and were on the panel come up with this? The Minister of Finance is now saying we don’t have money. In my opinion that is hypocrisy coming out of the ministry when you had your personnel on the task force. What is really going on there? Is it that the minister has a personal issue with teachers getting an increase?” the teacher asked.
“In conclusion I want to say that three years ago we were promised a better life and I say we deserve it.
“And I want to say too that during the campaign days, a now senior government functionary had said untrained teachers would no longer be in classrooms and that they would have to be trained. What is happening now? Why are untrained teachers now being asked to take up classrooms? Is it to spite teachers?”
The rhetorical questions needed no answers and as she quickly rushed off to an appointment, the teacher vowed to continue to fight for a living wage.
There should be no quarrel about this; teachers do need to be paid a living wage.