TRIBUTE AND CHALLENGE TO COLLEAGUE TEACHERS

Occasion of this Speech: Ardenne High School Teachers Day Function

I am delighted to be participating in this function this afternoon. Three years ago it was my privilege as president of the Jamaica Teachers Association to have participated as a “mid-husband” at the birth of the idea of Teachers’ Day. The late Honourable Glen Owen and Miss Coleen Ho of the Jamaica Chambers of Commerce, Mr Woodburn Miller Secretary-General and myself of the JTA met to consider ways in which our organizations could take practical steps to promote wider recognition of the work and worth of teachers, promote teaching as a career among young people and inspire teachers in service to continue the arduous work and not to despair.

It was the Honourable Glen Owen who came up with the idea of Teachers’ Day. It was my suggestion to put Teachers’ Day within Education week. Both sides agreed to focus on the positives on that day, even when confronting the problems which cannot be ignored. I am personally delighted to observe the extent to which the public and students have responded to the idea of Teachers’ Day. I am sure that Mr. Owen would have shared this joy. This occasion is special for me in that I was off the island in Education Week in both 1988 and 1989. This is the first time I am actually participating in a Teachers Day function. Let me congratulate the parents of students at the Ardene High School for organizing the delightful occasion
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Teachers have been the backbone of Jamaican society since emancipation. No history of the building of free societies in the Caribbean and Jamaica could either be accurate or complete without noting the contributions of teachers. Those contributions have not been confined to the schoolroom. Teachers have been the cornerstones of numerous community organizations, pillars of the church, and the windows of enlightened leadership in many associations. Rural communities have been founded and built on the infrastructure of the school, the church, and the JAS Branch, and teachers have been the lynchpin of all of these.

Yet teachers have never had the national recognition of their sterling work and inestimable worth. Only one teacher at the primary or secondary level has ever received the Order of Jamaica and that is the Honourable Wesley Powell. A lifetime of service in the schoolroom does not attract the national attention that service in the civil service or business or politics so often receives. Yet at the grassroots of the teachers continue to be regarded, respected and recognized. Hardly a month passes and I do not receive an invitation to some function to honour some teacher or teachers in some community. This is probably why Teachers’ Day in the short space of three years has gathered such widespread support.

But there is still hope for the nation. Dr. Alfred Sangster recently received the Gleaners’ Outstanding Service Award from among nominees from several other fields than education. This is encouragement and inspiration to all teachers. Dr. Sangster’s work at CAST has been truly outstanding and worthy of the highest commendation. The question must be asked if it is only a few dedicated and outstanding teachers that are manning the educational system?
My job takes me into the schools all over Jamaica on a regular basis each year, either assessing student teachers, doing research or visiting institutions for social reasons. Based on this experience, if the truth ‘be told’, the vast majority of teachers are doing a good job under difficult circumstances. Yes there as a few teachers who have caved in and collapsed under the weight of negative circumstances that prevail. But they are but a few. For the truth is that teachers have always had to work in difficult circumstances. We have always battled the odds. We have always not received just compensation for the service we render to society. Some great teachers, who have given a lifetime of dedicated and selfless service, have ended their days in poverty. Despite this injustice teachers have continued to build the nation and the future through the children we teach.

I join today with all those who salute our teachers. Teachers deserve to be recognized and hailed. Yet in this tribute, I wish to include a challenge to all of us as teachers to renew our commitment as communities, students, parents and public toast our service.