JTA looks out for retired teachers too, says president

MONTEGO BAY, St James — President of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) Leighton Johnson is reminding retired educators that they, too, are supported by the organisation.

Johnson, in a recent interview with the Jamaica Observer, stated that the JTA continues to lend a “listening ear” and a “helping hand” to all educators across the island, whether they are retired or still practising. This, he said, is done through various partnerships with the retired teachers’ associations in each parish.

“Once a teacher, always a teacher — and once you are a member of the association, you continue to be a member,” Johnson said.

The JTA president’s comments came on the heels of reports that a retired teacher is suspected to have committed suicide in St James a week ago. The deceased woman, 61-year-old Andrea McKenzie-Allen, retired last year after over 30 years in teaching.

Pointing out that there may be stress associated with retirement, Johnson told the Sunday Observer that the JTA has a helpline that is geared towards assisting those who are in need of emotional or psychological support. He noted that all teachers are encouraged to utilise that mode of communication once they are in need of support.

“Of course, having reached retirement, in some instances, can be kind of a shocking situation for many individuals who perhaps are not ready for retirement. The Jamaica Teachers’ Association continues to operate and maintain therapy [sessions] with psychologists, and a helpline is available,” Johnson said.

The president added, “Once there are individuals — not just retirees but every teacher who feels the need to speak with someone — there is a psychologist that is on call so they can reach out to the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, and we guarantee that help is going to be on the other side of the line.”

Johnson made an impassioned plea for all educators who are fighting their battles in silence to seek help through the various support groups associated. He said that calls for support can be made to the JTA’s head office or one of its four regional offices.

“We say to all teachers, retirees and practising teachers: ‘You don’t have to go through the journey alone.’ We ask them as best as possible to speak to someone, get help, and not suffer in silence. We know depression is a real situation, we know in many instances teachers are in need of support, and some of them suffer in silence,” said Johnson.

“We are saying to our members: Make it known; surround yourself with friends; and ensure that you speak about the challenges and issues that you are facing at whatever interval of your life,’ ” Johnson told the Sunday Observer.

At the same time, Johnson said the JTA is committed to showing its appreciation to retired teachers by hosting yearly activities geared towards promoting self-care and relaxation.

“The Jamaica Teachers’ Association has an annual getaway for our retired members, in November or December. They are taken to a resort and they are feted for the day. We acknowledge the work and their worth, and we try to give them as much attention as possible,” said Johnson.

In addition to focusing on the mental well-being of these retired teachers, Johnson said their physical health is also taken into consideration, with activities involving health check-ups and sessions included in the itinerary.

Similarly, the St James Retired Teachers’ Association has been organising its own health and self-care activities for members, said President Margaret Palmer, who added that the organisation consistently hosts monthly meetings, in addition to a social get-together scheduled six times per year.

“We always invite professionals to speak on different areas. Next month is Diabetes Awareness Month so we have someone coming in for our next meeting. We are also taking into consideration Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so the presentation will touch on both topics,” Palmer told the Sunday Observer.

The 140-member St James Retired Teachers’ Association has also completed five consecutive Caribbean cruises, yearly vacations in observance of Teachers’ Day, and island tours every October. Retired educators who are interested in the arts have also written and produced plays, Palmer shared. The association’s annual tea party event will be hosted on October 26.

Also interested in charitable work, Palmer said the St James Retired Teachers’ Association has played an active role in delivering multiple projects across the parish. Its most recent project was the renovation of the female ward at the St James Infirmary.

“Each year we do a project, and most of our projects focus on education. We started a project at the St James Infirmary just before the [novel coronavirus] pandemic and we finished it up last year,” said Palmer.

The association’s next project is geared towards assisting three needy youth who are atending high school. Palmer said that these projects and activities allow their members to stay active in their parish and group.

“This year we are focusing on giving educational grants. We have selected three schools, and through the guidance counsellors we are going to get the neediest child who passed the exam to go to high school. We are going to take that child from grade seven to 11 by giving them a grant every summer, and [we are going to] watch them right through high school,” Palmer told the Sunday Observer.