New JTA head promises faithful, factual, fearless representation

THE 58th president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) La Sonja Harrison says her boldness, inquiring mind, and insistence on fairness in the teaching profession have not always earned her favours in the sector, and that her call to the top job in the teachers’ union was just that: a calling.

“I answered a call; I literally had a tug. That’s a seat I’ve been running away from. I’m comfortable being on the conference floor; if you’ve been to conferences annually you can rest assured that this classroom teacher would have several questions for the Ministry of Education, and most of those questions didn’t affect me personally but I would hear the cries of my colleagues and would articulate what they thought in their heads and sometimes are very afraid of saying out loud, because you are punished for speaking [out]. We live in a punitive society,” she told the Jamaica Observer this week.Harrison, who has more than 15 years in the profession, noted that although she was qualified as a senior teacher, having attained a master’s degree in education supervision and over a decade’s worth of experience in the classroom, she was never appointed to serve in a senior capacity prior to moving on to St Faith’s Primary School in Glengoffe, St Catherine, where she is now principal. The educator believes this is because of her innate forthrightness.

“They asked all my friends around me to act and I would help them to carry out their duties and give them ideas, and they would never ask me, because I would defend the rights of the teachers and question the system are processes,” she said, with a ‘thousand-watt smile’.She spent 12 years in the classroom, teaching upper and lower grades at a prominent all-girls St Andrew high school, and before that, a brief stint at Ardenne High school in St Andrew. She moved on to St Faith’s as a classroom teacher in 2018.

“My friends will tell you that I’m principal in my head,” the educator chuckled.

Harrison said teaching was not on the cards for her, but like the JTA presidency, she was called to it: “I didn’t want to be a teacher. Teaching, I would say, called me. My husband, after I had my daughter, suggested [it]. I did the police test, but I know the Lord worked it out that I would not be a part of the police force. So they didn’t call me, and I know I didn’t fail that test. Then he [husband] said, have you thought about teachers’ college.”She in fact had her sights on entering the field of media and communications, but that too was not to be. “I wanted to be a journalist or flight attendant, that’s what I wanted to do at school [but] I said okay, let me try teaching.”

She enrolled in Shortwood Teachers’ College thereafter, graduating in 2006.

“This is a service. It is a labour of love. The Government should pay us more, but it is a service. I take no greater pleasure than when I see the girls whose lives I would have influenced, and when you see those lives blossom, I don’t think there is any greater reward. What you do to nurture another human being and help them to become their best selves, I don’t think there is a greater reward, and the society is definitely in need [of teachers],” she said.She stressed that despite the necessary infusion of the virtual space into education, there is no replacement for the human element, which is critical to the process. Harrison said even with the adverse conditions facing teachers in the system, not all will leave.”Some of us will have to stay and some of us are compelled to stay by virtue of our calling, and our personal values and just our belief systems. For nation-building, for us to ensure that Jamaica fulfils its mandate that Jamaica may, under God, increase in beauty, fellowship and prosperity, and play her part in advancing the welfare of the whole human race,” she stated.

Harrison stressed that her intent as president is not one of antagonism, but that she is compelled to articulate the realities and perspectives of the teachers on the ground.

“The ministry does their PR (public relations) and the public is sold on a particular narrative. I’m bound, I have no other nature; it is what I have done over years. I campaigned on faithful, factual, fearless representation and that’s what I so intend to do, cost it what it will. It is a price somebody has to pay, in order for generations to come to benefit,” she declared.

Harrison is the 12th female head of the JTA, which represents the majority of the island’s teachers.

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