School reopening unease

MONTEGO BAY, St James — A high level of uncertainty looms over the education sector, president of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools (JAPSS) Linvern Wright has said.

With the opening of the new school year just a week away, principals are reportedly running around in a bid to replace educators who have confirmed their resignations over the last few days, Wright explained. According to the JAPSS president, who is also principal of William Knibb Memorial High School in Trelawny, these last-minute resignations will automatically mean that there will be an influx of “inexperienced teachers” in the classrooms come September.

Pointing out that he, too, has received 13 resignations at his school, Wright told the Jamaica Observer that he has also had to engage recent graduates to fill those positions.

“Most of us who can fill the positions will have many inexperienced teachers who we will have to do some work with, in terms of professional development. We have issues with students where it is difficult for them to really grasp the information, and with the inexperience teachers, it will be a little more difficult, so more work will have to be done by us principals and senior teachers to help them cope much better and give the students the best chance they can at learning,” Wright explained.

Just last month, Wright told the Sunday Observer that principals were sitting on the edges of their seats as a host of teachers had reportedly expressed the desire to move on to better opportunities. Though it was early days, over 272 teaching positions were being advertised across 23 high schools. Wright, however, said that the panic had heightened, as many teachers had resigned over the last week.

“I saw one school yesterday that is advertising for about seven teachers. What principals are vocalising now is that teachers have waited until they got their last pay, which was between Wednesday and yesterday, and then the resignations started coming in. Some of them [may] have been waiting for answers from overseas, so it seems that they have now got the answers and they just waited on their pay. Now off they go,” said the JAPSS president.

“For me, I have three positions to be filled and I have got some applications. But the real problem is the timing, so they have resigned now and we have to be advertising on the brink of school reopening. But we just hope that we will get the [replacement] teachers,” Wright added.

In the meantime, Wright told the Sunday Observer that though teacher migration is not a new phenomenon, teachers have stated that their reason for leaving is based on the belief that their needs have seemingly been overlooked by the Jamaica Government. He noted that the recent salary negotiations between the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) and the Government had also left a sour taste in the mouths of educators.

He also chastised the Government for that.

“What is apparent is that the salary increases that teachers got are not enough to retain them, and I think it is interesting to note that the minister of finance, in justifying the salary increase for the parliamentarians, had actually said that we need more money to retain these persons and attract the best. It seems like that logic does not work for education. It seems that there is not sufficient value in retaining the best in education and educating our young minds to be the future of the country,” Wright complained.

He added, “I think teachers are really just frustrated with that imbalanced logic where it works for one set, but it doesn’t work for the teachers and I think for that reason, many of them are going. It is unfortunate.”

At the same time, Wright told the Sunday Observer that the Ministry of Education has been working with school principals to cushion the undeniable blow that will be caused by the departure of the educators. He stated that in addition to the new graduates, principals can engage other educators wanting to lend a hand.

“We have had some suggestions from them as to how we could go about things and the truth is that the ministry has made some provisions. We can employ educators who have retired since 2018, and we can have people work for themselves…that is what is called locum tenens as a teacher going off on leave can come back to work if the area is scarce,” explained Wright.

“Many of us have employed teachers who are just coming out of college to assist us and there is still that pre-trained aspect where many people are leaving universities but are not trained as teachers. Those are people we can also employ. So we are exploring all the avenues and are hoping that we can get the teachers,” he added.

While he was unable to ascertain if any specific subject area will be gravely affected by these impending departures, the JAPSS president told the Sunday Observer that principals have shared concerns about the scarcity of English and technical teachers.

Some principals seem to be very concerned because English is one of those areas where there might be problems, I can’t say definitively if there will be a shortage of English teachers just yet though. What I know is that in the industrial arts areas — the technical vocational subjects such as mechanical technology — those areas the teachers are very scarce,” said Wright.