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IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: Who has final say at St Leonard’s?

ROY R. MORRIS, [email protected]

IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: Who has final say at St Leonard’s?

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I HAVE NEVER been a primary or secondary school teacher – but I have been to school –even though I was never the top student in the class.

I have never gone to Erdiston Teacher Training College and have not received any tertiary level training as a teacher – but I have attended two universities, and in the process have picked up a thing or two about the art (or science) of teaching.

I’m no saint, but I’m a product of the old school and understand that any academic environment without discipline is likely to be a challenged one for all players.

What am I going on about? The unfortunate story of St Leonard’s Boys’ Secondary School athlete Jaquone Hoyte, who has apparently been barred from representing the school at the Barbados Secondary Schools Athletic Championships (BSSAC) because of an altercation with a teacher last athletic season  – a whole year ago.

According to reports, young Jaquone, the fastest schoolboy on the island, cussed a teacher during last year’s championships. There appears to be no disputing this, although some questions have been raised about whether the youngster felt provoked.

Provoked or not, it was conduct unbecoming. It was rude and disrespectful and deserving of a strong sanction by those in charge at St Leonard’s. Failure to send a strong message through an appropriate punishment, as far as I am concerned, would only mean that the school would have contributed to any further indiscipline that occurred.

We are also told that the boy, on the advice/instruction of the principal and with the knowledge of his parents, offered an apology to the teacher, who allegedly refused to accept it.

We don’t know what happened after that, except that one year later Jaquone has been told he will not be allowed to compete for the school this season as a result of his infraction last year.

That raises a few important questions in my mind. The first one is this: Who is in charge at St Leonard’s Boys’? Who is responsible for discipline? When a teacher says a student will not do this or that is his or her word the final word?

Then there is a more critical question: If the teacher was not going to be satisfied with an apology, was there any effort to reach an alternative settlement? Does a teacher have the legal or moral authority to impose his or her own punishment post the intervention of the head of the institution?

Here’s my position: In the absence of any information to the contrary, it looks to me like any move to prevent this child from taking part in a discipline that can have a major impact on his sporting and academic career, by possibly depriving him of an opportunity to obtain an athletic scholarship, is nothing short of vindictive.

Holding on to a year-old infraction and then imposing such a harsh punishment must be deliberate and calculated to inflict maximum pain. Were it two [big] men or women involved in the battle I might chalk it up as par for the course, but this is an unequal match – adult against child – and the child will lose.

Punishment has to fit the crime. That is a basic principle of our supposedly civilised world, and calculating such harm is nothing short of excessive.

And this brings me back to my starting position and my declaration that I have no experience or training as a teacher in the primary or secondary level. What I did not declare, however, is that I do have reasonable experience teaching at the tertiary level, where too often the level of maturity displayed by students can seem more on par with what one would expect at the very junior level of the secondary school system.

Very often teaching the subject area is the easiest part of the job. Imparting life skills in a swathe of areas is a much more complex and difficult aspect – but one that is absolutely necessary. In fact, I often get greater satisfaction from seeing students mature into “right-thinking” young men and women holding their own on the job beside veterans than from seeing the bright ones come out at the top of the class.

Squeezing young Jaquone to the point of failure cannot be a distinction in the career of any teacher. Bumping into that student 20 years down the road and having him apologise to you again for his gross infraction – without being prompted this time – and displaying respect and admiration for your caring and human approach in the face of his folly should be a more appropriate and cherished trophy for any good teacher.

I am also touched by this matter because I attended what was then an all-boys Coleridge & Parry School, where the absence of girls led to the flourishing of a much more robust environment. Boys were big and tough and they challenged masters – who were equal to the task. When a teacher felt he had cause to grab a fellow by the collar there was no parent turning up the next morning to ask for an explanation.

More importantly, generally there was no residual animosity the next day, on either side.

I recall the story of the student who reportedly was sent to principal J.S. Yearwood by a teacher because of an infraction. According to the story, when the boy got to the office he was armed with the leg of a wooden desk, prompting Yearwood to enquire why it was in his possession.

According to the storyteller, CP old scholar, then CP teacher and now former principal of Ellerslie Secondary, Douglas Corbin, the youngster replied: “Sir, I get the feeling that licks going share round here today and I came prepared!”

I’m not sure I ever heard how the story ended, but I know J.S. Yearwood did not back down from students and there was never any doubt about who was in charge. But until this day he remains, even in death, the most loved principal ever at CP because his approach to making decent young men of us all was mature and virtually unquestionable.

Teachers have to use every opportunity that presents itself to teach – it is their duty, their responsibility – and I am not talking about assigned subject areas. Sometimes the right intervention at the right time by a dedicated teacher can turn the worst of students into the best of adults – and I don’t get the impression that Jaquone is the worst, not by a long shot.

Come on, people. This one is too easy to correct. Don’t let it drag on into another “pick-up-that-wrapper” fiasco.

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