THE BIG INTERVIEW: Time for change!Hallam King. (Picture by Nigel Browne.)
Sun, September 23, 2012 - 12:05 AM
With the Commission Of Inquiry Into The Alexandra School officially over and the Commissioner’s Report now in the hands of the Governor General, one prominent former educator is speaking his mind on the recent public exercise.
Former Coleridge & Parry School head Hallam King, who was recruited from Canada as principal in February 1983, and resigned 13 years later, also reflects on his own intense battle with those he described as ineffective teachers and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU).
He sat with Associate Editor Ricky Jordan to discuss these issues, as well as the general impact of disputes on the education system.
What was your opinion of the overall teaching system when you returned in 1983?
King: What I found in the system was that teachers were hired without any formal teacher training whatsoever. They were good people who would have come from university or had a few Advanced Level certificates, and would have approached the Ministry of Education, which would put together a list, hand it to a principal and say, “Here are some people who want to teach”.
But the skills, methodologies, classroom preparation, what to look for in terms of weaknesses and strengths in a child, and other intricate psychological information were missing. So they came in and did their best; but I’m saying they should not be in the teaching system in the first place.
You should be trained in an institution prior to setting your foot in the classroom. I had no difficulty with the ones who were in the system already. Let them remain, but the new ones coming in, I asked for them to be trained in an institution before entering the classroom.
In 30 years, the system has not changed. There is more training for even primary school teachers, but I find with the secondary ones things happen rather piecemeal.
What about the wealth of individual knowledge and academia that precedes one’s embarking on a teaching career?
King: Academia is knowing the subject and not knowing how to teach the subject. A lot of people who are teaching know what they’re teaching, but they’re not able to put it over in such a way that the child enjoys it, wants to learn it and so on.
Was that the crux of your issues at CP?
King: I think the crux of my problem there had to do with the non-support for ideas that would improve teacher effectiveness and student learning. I thought, for instance, that I could’ve got more support from the Ministry of Education and a little from the unions.
But I discovered that the unions’ main job was to protect the teachers, no matter what. And if the principal wrote adverse reports on teachers, the unions would do everything in their power to have them scrapped.
I’m not political; I’m not a teacher basher; I have been and will continue to be somebody who will want to see things happen in the best interest of our students. By and large, I’m concerned about the mixed signals they get, the mixed information, and I think that it must be very confusing for young people.
In running the school, I looked to see where teachers’ strengths and weaknesses were, and if these were pointed out to a teacher in writing or even in a conversation, it would be taken to the union, which would write objecting to what I had said. Invariably what I said would be true, but the unions would not want an adverse report on a teacher; so they reacted quickly.
And if I in turn tried to get the assistance of the ministry, I found I wasn’t getting it either.
If one tries repeatedly to get assistance from those individuals who ought to support you, you get a little concerned, and after a while you speak a little more strongly on the matter.
Do you have any regrets about what you said at the speech day ceremonies of 1993 and 1994 where you levelled certain criticisms against teachers?
King: None whatsoever! This nonsense that you should not say things publicly about teachers, I’ve never seen anything like that anywhere else. That’s why I wrote recently that I honestly feel the BSTU acted illegally and got away with it. I really feel so.
My employer never showed me anything saying, ‘You do not say this about a teacher’. And what is more, I didn’t call a teacher’s name. I merely said there were some teachers who were pulling their weight and some who were not. The majority were good teachers.
I don’t know why the union found it necessary to behave the way it did, but all my research since then tells me why: that is how unions behave; not only in Barbados, but in the United States, England, Canada.
How do you feel about Jeff Broomes’ speech day criticism of a teacher in December 2, 2011?
King: I’m not in Mr Broomes’ shoes and I’m not fully aware of the intervening variables that would’ve made him behave the way he did; but if he has problems similar to mine, where he had made the effort, can show it in writing that he had made the effort via the board [of management], ministry and union, but got no help from them, I support him 100 per cent in speaking out at a speech day.
I see nothing wrong with saying that we have good teachers who are performing well and we have some who need to improve how they do their business. I stand by that, and if I had to say the whole thing over again, I would. I said it one speech day, nothing happened; and I said it again, and I would say it again if I had to because I wanted something to happen for the school, not for me.
Politicians and other officials say things are wrong and so on. Why can’t a principal say so too? I even saw someone say recently that there are some good and bad officers in the Police Force.
That is the same as Broomes or I would’ve said. It is ridiculous to be saying don’t say what is true.
Having followed the recent Alexandra Commission Of Inquiry, do you think it was necessary?
King: The inquiry was far worse than what happened at the speech day [December 2, 2011]. The speech day, even though it was described as “the last straw”, was a small disturbance compared to the inquiry which is blowing everything up for the whole nation, the Caribbean and all who come to Barbados.
I also do not know that inquiries have teeth and that there’s anything legal about them, in the sense that out of it you can make Broomes move. I do not know that Broomes has committed a crime, and in that regard I would think it’s a waste of time.
What it has done is to air a lot of dirty linen. I don’t like it. It would have been better to have done things such as getting the schools and unions on the same page to solve problems.
Would you elaborate?
King: Okay, a lot of what is happening is political. The boards are political. I had a problem where I had a political person as my chairman.
I went on a term’s leave and when I returned the deputy principal, who I believe wanted the job I had, changed things all around the school, supported by the chairman.
So when I returned, I changed them back, and there was a big problem, to the point that I did not attend board meetings for a year. Eventually they moved the chairman.
I also found that when the Government changes, they change boards, chairpersons and other things. To me, there’s a lack of continuity, and you’re bringing in very often persons who do not understand education.
It would help if boards were not political, and if there was more empathy for those practitioners in education. If you must continue to be political, then you need to have persons on boards who are mature.Please read the full story in today’s SUNDAY SUN, or in the eNATION edition.
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