To date, we still have less than 50% of our primary school teachers trained and the number is even more discouraging at the secondary level. MoE has made a bold step to try to increase access to teacher education programs, but that for some reason, teachers are still leaving the profession. Some of them are moving to another level in the education system but many are moving out of education completely. We have not been able to identify a substantial method of keeping them in the profession. We’ve been considering bonding them for a period after training (we’ve done this before), but I think providing some additional incentives for them to want to stay in the profession might be a more long-term solution. When I went to Antigua a few weeks ago in connection with the OAS Teacher Education Project, the idea of clearly defined career paths in the teacher was a point of discussion … something that perhaps we can consider here in Belize. By 2010, another 300-400 of our trained teachers will retire although we are hoping that many of them will want to stay on until they reach the mandatory retirement age of 60. The point is, we seem to be providing the training programs that they need but we’re not making any substantial difference in increasing the percentage of trained teachers, granted it is still too early to see any significant difference in the statistics. We have been making speculations about why these teachers leave the profession and we have no concrete evidence in this regard. One thing that the TEDU will take on early next year is an investigation exercise to find out exactly why this is happening. The thinking is that if we can concrete evidence that tells us why our trained teachers are leaving, then we may be able to address the problem more adequately.
Quality of Teacher Educators. One might think that a way to get more teachers trained is to increase the access to teacher education programs. In my mind, the problem with this in Belize is that we do not have suitably qualified persons to deliver the training programs. This year alone, TEDU has spent most of its time trying to provide support to the institutions that are new in this teacher training business. TEDU also does not have the capacity to support additional institutions if they want to come on board (even though the politicians are now suggesting that we need to spread teacher education across the country). The Belize Board of Teacher Education has been working on developing standards for these teacher education programs which we hope we can use to guide the monitoring and evaluation of these programs. TEDU has also been actively trying to, in consultation with the teacher educators, define a profile for teacher educators along with a set of competencies that they must have which we hope will guide recruitment efforts and more importantly will allow us to develop and/or facilitate appropriate professional development opportunities for them. Right now we have a significant problem with one particular institution where the teacher educators that were employed came straight out of a Bachelor’s degree program from UB and let me add that in my mind, were not even in the top 50 percentile of their class. You can only imagine what type of training they are providing there. Sometimes I grimace at what they say and do and try my best to remain as tactful as I can when working with them. The reality is that the shift from being a teacher to a teacher educator is huge and we do need to consider issues relating to recruitment, induction and professional development opportunities for them.
Institutional Framework used for Teacher Training. Belize made a decision to begin to train teachers using the junior college framework I believe mainly to try to increase the access to teacher training opportunities across the country. I believe that in principle, the concept was well intended but we have had much difficulty working with these institutions (two of them in particular). In my mind, the underlying reasons for this is that (a) these institutions were not designed to offer professional programs such as these and have much difficultly in managing the scheduling and other logistics that come with implementing the clinical component of the program and (b) the administrators were never trained teachers themselves and so have limited knowledge about what is involved in training teachers. They don’t understand the business of training teachers and seem to have some difficulty with an external body coming in to their institutions to offer advice and support to them. This year, we spent a considerable amount of time reviewing the initial teacher training program that we now have in place (the AA in Primary Ed program) not only because we needed to ensure that what teachers are actually exposed to at this initial level is what we feel they actually need to be sufficiently competent in the primary classroom, but also because we need to ensure that we have in place a national program. As you pointed out to us a while ago, Belize is too small a country for us to have different training programs at this level. At the moment, the junior colleges are providing one program and the University of Belize is providing another. Unfortunately, the collaboration between UB and SJCJC was minimal or even non-existent when SJCJC was developing the program for pilotting. TEDU has been able to bring all the stakeholders together to conduct the review but when we brought the administrators on board (maybe our timing was bad), they were not too cooperative claiming that the proposed revise program will only make it more difficult for them to manage. One example of what I mean is that these administrators feel that eight weeks of teaching practice where the student teachers are paired in a single classroom is sufficient. What we have proposed is that the teachers do a full semester of teaching practice on their own for in-service teachers and under the guidance of a cooperating teacher for pre-service teachers. There are many other examples. At one point, I told them point blank that some aspects of this professional program is not negotiable. Perhaps our methods were not the best but the fact that we have persons involved in the business of training teachers who have very limited no experience doing so makes it a bit challenging on its own.
Teacher Support. Many people feel that once teachers are trained, then they are able to competently handle the classroom thereafter. In most cases, this is very far from the truth as many training programs do not adequately bridge the link between theory and practice. For this reason, TEDU has implemented the first ever Induction Program for Newly Qualified Teachers. This program is still in its infancy stage and we will need to do some formal evaluation to determine its effectiveness but we feel that once we sufficiently support teachers even after they are trained, they will overcome the many obstacles that often drive newly qualified teachers out of the profession. What we also need in Belize are school leaders who are adequately certified to lead our schools. Many of our principals are trained teachers but that does not suggest that they are fully equipped to lead a school. The concept of instructional leadership is relatively new in Belize but is worth examining. If our principals are capable of supporting our teachers then I believe that might also help with the retention issue.