Young teachers in education: why are we losing them?

Dear Editor,

The 20th Century has yielded remarkable educators; some of whom have produced great citizens in the country. These are the teachers that have taught us and our parents, devoting their whole adult life to the cause of the nation’s children. In most cases, they have stayed behind after school and offered classes free of charge, ardently believing in the potential of their students. The latter often comes with a price; either they go insane due to work-induced stress or end up frustrated by the system. Some even suffer health complications which result in an untimely death. I write, however, to illuminate a few observations which I made after a presentation at a professional development seminar by a well-known Bahamian psychotherapist several weeks ago.

The thesis of this psychotherapist’s presentation felt more of an attack than a workshop. The presenter claimed teacher frustration is a result of their personal lives. Teachers that have spent their lives outside of their economic means, go out drinking alcohol and consequently poison students with their personal frustrations. He contended that those teachers who are near retirement and have not yet finished paying their mortgages or putting their children through school are more likely to become disgruntled on the job. I listened intently as the presenter made a series of largely erroneous assumptions which did nothing more than humor the audience.

While the presentation held some merit, how could someone outside of the profession speak with certainty on its reality? How could teachers sit passively and allow it? These two things eluded me, and also prompted me to write in response to the recent issue with C.H. Reeves and Carlton Francis which has spurned ill-informed opinions about teachers on the part of the populace.

In light of the escalating demands in education and the absence of real incentives, teachers have every rational reason to be disgruntled and unmotivated. In a profession where teachers devote so much of their personal time unpaid, some concessions must be made. An occasional World Teacher’s Day does not make the cut; it does not show that teachers are appreciated. Ironically, I blame teachers for their condition, because some have adopted the idea that “it is not about the money”, when in fact, one of the things they are evaluated on, is based on whether or not they have bought the materials needed to perform, which the government does not provide. This includes the use of technology, instructional aids, paper and ink, to name a few.

Even more, there are novice teachers who have been working in the system for over five years and have not been confirmed. This means that they are working at a base-level salary. Can you imagine how difficult it is to make ends meet? It is difficult to fathom how an educated person can sit and quietly suffer in these conditions in fear of victimization by officials at the ministry. This totalitarian element of fear, which senior teachers have allowed to paralyze them for decades, is one which younger teachers refuse to endorse.

The children, who are the innocent stakeholders through all of this, often suffer, as there are teachers in the system who are unmotivated and frankly, burnt out. They tolerate these conditions solely because they need to pay their mortgages or place their children through private school. Most times, this has nothing to do with their personal lives. In a free-market economy like the one we live in, incentives are an intrinsic element to the quality of a worker’s performance. In a profession so important to nation-building, the incentives for teachers are a potential variable in the notion of a national average.

Preservice teachers are fed only the good and this is because of the need for teachers in the profession, particularly males who are said to shy away because of the salary. Do the movers and shakers know this or have they become disenchanted with this reality due to a promotion? But to make matters even worse and more inhumane, those that receive promotions are the ones that determine the work teachers are to perform. These are the people that inform instruction, no matter how irrational it may seem. Therefore, the work is ever-increasing and unachievable, unless teachers are willing to forfeit their social lives for the business of marking never-ending test scripts and lesson plans.

The recent pay cut by the government for the teachers who were on strike makes one thing clear: the collective idea of ministry officials is that they are doing teachers a favor. This tunnel-vision does not take into consideration the sacrifice, and behind the scenes work which teachers perform for free. Until these officials understand this, concessions can be made for teachers which can both hold them into the profession and improve their work ethic.

The teacher I spoke about in the beginning is one the nation owes a great many thanks. However, the ones we are losing, the young, vibrant 21st Century-minded teacher, are realistically the ones we need.

Glenn King

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