A teacher’s blessing
“Challenging yet uplifting.”
Floyd Griffith, a Bajan teacher in New York, was reflecting on his eight years as a classroom professional in the United States, first in Louisville, Kentucky and for the past six years in one of Brooklyn’s best known schools, Erasmus, where he teaches social studies.
“The students in New York are quite different from Bajan youth. You are dealing with kids who are streetwise and certainly not as docile as ours in Barbados. But classroom management is the key and when a principal puts you in the classroom, he or she expects you to go in there and manage.”
Griffith, a teacher at an array of schools in Barbados – Speighstown Boys’, St Swithin’s Primary, All Saints Girls’, Half Moon Fort Primary and Selah Primary – before leaving for Louisville, Kentucky in 2003, wouldn’t trade his experience in the United States for all the tea in China or the coal in England where he also taught.
“It has been a tremendously uplifting, albeit challenging, experience that has made me a better educator,” was the way he put it.
At a time when the plight of hundreds of Caribbean teachers in New York is occupying the attention of federal, state and local government officials with allegations of broken promises by the Department of Education (DOE), and indifference by the city being routinely hurled at the DOE because of the immigration nightmare the West Indians are experiencing, Griffith’s story is not one of doom and gloom.
Rather, it’s a case of taking advantage of educational and professional opportunities and making the best of a difficult situation.
At the same time, he is hoping and praying that the authorities would soon grant him permanent residence.
“With a green card I could move into other career situations,” said the teacher who since leaving his birthplace has earned a master’s degree in school guidance counselling from the University of Louisville in Kentucky.
Griffith, a graduate of the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill, has another reason why he doesn’t regret moving to the US. By going first to Louisville and working in the school system there, not only was he able to study at the university there but his daughter, Kindi Griffith, received a scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor’s in biology.
“She did exceedingly well at the University of Louisville and has since returned home where she is studying medicine at the UWI,” he explained.
Although Griffith is among the more fortunate of the foreign teachers, he faces two big challenges in and out of the school environment.
“In the classroom, you must deal with the challenge of students ignoring you. Most of them don’t want to give you the light of day,” he said.
“But you must maintain control and teach. If you don’t have self-confidence and self-esteem it would be demoralizing.”
Obviously, he has come to grips with that hurdle.
Next is the immigration issue. As the holder of an H1 B visa, Griffith must confront the uncertainty of its periodic renewal when the time period expires.
Because Griffith is considered an excellent teacher he was given a three-year visa with a renewal option. It is due to expire next year.
When scores of teachers, officials of the Black Institute and the Association of International Educators as well as top elected representatives in Washington, Albany, the New York state capital, and Manhattan held a Press conference on the steps of City Hall a few days ago, Griffith was there showing solidarity.
“I wanted to lend my support to the cause,” he said.
“I plan to return to Barbados but I would like to gain some more experience in other areas. By then I would have received the green card and I could do other things professionally.”