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IN THE CANDID CORNER: Teachers throng The Gym

Matthew Farley

IN THE CANDID CORNER: Teachers throng The Gym

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The teaching profession interfaces with every aspect of national development in a way that other professions do not. – Robert J. Havighurst
The gymnasium of the Garfield Sobers Sports Complex has been swarmed by members of many professions over the years. It is a location that has come to be associated with sporting and cultural events.
Throughout the summer just ended, the facility, named after the greatest cricketer the world has ever known, was swarmed by members of what is easily the most important profession in the world. This historic gathering had two faces, both of which revealed themselves on the compound where Barbadians find release as they exercise or party.
The first gathering was in many ways unfortunate for the teaching fraternity and depending on the outcome, might turn out to be a watershed in the history of the profession.
For just over five straight weeks the authority of the commission of inquiry summoned scores of my colleagues to appear, not for the purpose of delivering instruction, but to give evidence, conclusions from which would inform the recommendations to be forwarded to the Governor General of Barbados in relation to the state of affairs at The Alexandra School.
For 36 days, from as early as 6:30 a.m., those with a vested interest in the outcome of this commission and others who were mere spectators, waited to be marshalled into a small room at the head of which the lone commissioner, retired Justice Frederick Waterman, presided.
In the view of many, what emerged as teachers vented and literally “spilled their guts” was a sordid picture of management gone awry, to the extent that every tier of the entire educational system might have been implicated in some form or fashion.
The scenario was likened very much to a ring or a court of some sort, as two sides emerged, with charges and countercharges being mediated as legal counsel volleyed the arguments in favour of their clients. As many of my colleagues and I followed the developments, especially on the digital version of the media, we were distraught by a kind of anxiety never before felt in this noble profession.
For the entire summer vacation, as some people put it, “a new soap opera” that threatened stiff competition to the popular Days Of Our Lives, emerged. The almost gory details that came out in the public wash, as the Minister of Education and Human Resource Development put it, “exposed the nakedness of the teaching fraternity” in a way that has never been seen or experienced before.
It is my wish that such an exposé would never again be visited on this noble profession in which many educational practitioners have given of their blood, sweat and tears in the service of nation building.
The second swarming of The Gymnasium by members of the teaching profession was occasioned by a summons from the Chief Education Officer at the behest of the minister, who expressed the desire to meet with his “foot soldiers” in one place. With many of them, of course, wounded, limping and sore, they came in their thousands, as was their legal obligation.
On the occasion of the second swarming of the facility by the pedagogues, of course, none of us did the 6:30 a.m. but by 8:45 a.m., when the school bell would normally be ringing, most of us were seated and waiting. With the self-inflicted wounds that occasioned much public bashing still open and fresh, we came in our thousands, as if thirsty and longing for “the balm of Gilead” to soothe our professional souls.
There was a heightened sense of expectation that has come to be associated with the start of a new academic year. The planning in most of our primary and secondary schools was complete and all systems were pretty much ready as were the teachers, to hear from their leaders.
The feedback from this gathering was mixed. Everyone agreed with the necessity and timeliness of the meeting but while a few of us left buoyed and encouraged, there were too many teachers and administrators who felt it was a waste of their time.
Among the comments which floated around the facility as the teacher-driven traffic tailed its way off the compound, were “an opportunity missed”. Others said that while the minister tried, the other speakers were lacklustre and failed to provide the kind of inspiration for which many seemed to long.
Even the hope of a Teachers’ Service Commission and the promise of a new Education Act were not enough to inspire and empower those of us who thronged The Gymnasium. Calls for consensus and conciliation were weakened as they became clothed in a “tracksuit” of words and phrases like fiefdom, slap-down, narcissistic and myopic views and respecting your so-called positional responsibilities among others that did nothing to call a truce.
Clearly, this second swarming of The Gym was no longer the time for drawing swords and throwing punches but more of a time for inspiration and healing.
To those new members who just joined the profession and to those principals, deputies and senior teachers who are assuming office for the first time, and to all other members of the fraternity, I say:
Rise ye valiantly to the task ahead, in spite of all that has been done and said;
With passion and pride, go forth, as you potter the clay – soul, mind and head!
(This column is dedicated to my fallen colleague Juan Forte-Chandler.)
• Matthew D. Farley is a secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum on Education, and social commentator.