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OFF CENTRE: What does a teacher make?


Sherwyn Walters

OFF CENTRE: What does a teacher make?

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“Trouble”. That would be the answer of some people – with a sharp focus on Alexandra School – to the headline’s question.
Another answer would be: “Not enough”. Not enough for the consequential nature of their work, the sacrifice, the emotional toll, the everyday mental strain, the labour of birthing learning. Not enough in comparison with others whose less crucial input receives more handsome remuneration.
This, surely, is an incontestable answer to the question: teachers create learning.
Their “tools”? A profound passion for people; an understanding of the significance of what is being taught; an organized body of relevant knowledge; a clear sense of teaching and learning goals; ability to create and structure appropriate learning-producing activities; effective interactions; efficacious monitoring approaches and feedback. Among other things.
So when somebody claims that they are “educating the masses”, the real teacher can’t help but chuckle because they have nurtured real learning, have seen learning up close, and, unlike the non-teacher, they know that telling isn’t teaching or educating.
And they know, too, why the “training” provided in workplaces and organizations is often a waste of time and money.
The question, though, has prompted an additional response. I have yet to see it better put than in Taylor Mali’s 2002 poem What Teachers Make, which has been going around the Internet in various forms.
Its setting is a dinner discussion about education. A man, a lawyer the context suggests, says: What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?
And he tells the other dinner guests that it’s true what they say about teachers: Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. Then he says: You’re a teacher, Taylor. Be honest. What do you make?
With more than a little righteous indignation, Taylor spews the answers: I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could. I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honour and an A- feel like a slap in the face (How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best?).
And: I make parents see their children for who they are and what they can be . . . . I make kids wonder, I make them question. I make them criticize . . . .
Still flowing: I make them understand that if you’ve got [brains], then you follow [your heart], and if someone ever tries to judge you by what you make, you [pay them no attention].
Finally this, flying high over the questioner’s wallet and galling ignorance: Teachers make a difference! Now what about you?
Let me say that everybody knows some teachers who don’t seriously reach for such heights. But we also know many who do.
And though we should guard jealously, by stern criticism and sometimes more, our right to quality teacher delivery, there ought to be balancing-out evidence that teachers are treasured.
Do we not deal more carefully with people we really treasure? Loved ones, you know, can do or say things that drive you this close to sinning yuh soul. One husband, when asked if he had ever contemplated divorce, replied, “No, but I’ve thought about murder.”
To take murder out of the equation, I often say to my wife, “Darling, you know I love you . . . . (And I pause – allowing for a twinkle in her eyes and the leaping of her heart as she savours the sentiment, which she knows is true) . . . . but . . . .” Then I get to the transgression. Sometimes a verbal fight rages.
But yuh know what? When that bassa-bassa done, she is soon smiling with me again and we live happily ever after – till the next murder-avoiding skirmish. Because undoubted, deep appreciation has been shown many times.
But there is no deep appreciation for Barbadian teachers to come back to after the public has roughed them up over an issue.
You ever notice that about the only public emotional uplift Barbadian teachers get comes from their peers or from (mostly script-driven) functionaries? Yuh ever notice?
This low appreciation for teachers is probably best evidenced in this question, often asked incredulously of them: “Wait, you still teaching?” But lawyers are not asked, “Wait, you still lawyering?”
The organic nobility of teaching is so lost on Bajans (as on many other Westerners).
Because nobody is depositing into local teachers’ spirit bank, they must harbour, unrelieved, the suspicion that their public knows only exploitation and taking for granted and outrage at them.
’Cause in this monkey-hear-monkey-see-monkey-do Buhbaydus, people often expose their emotionally skinny or lumpy or pockmarked backsides as they climb higher and higher on some teacher-related issue.
So, you – yes, you – what do you make? More than workaday tangibles and money – and arguments against teachers? Ever made them feel appreciated?
• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor.

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