Thu | Jul 9, 2020

Claude Ellis | Wanted: quality representation from JTA

Published:Wednesday | May 27, 2020 | 12:10 AM
JTA President Owen Speid.
JTA President Owen Speid.

I HAVE spent the last few months listening to the current president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), Owen Speid, commenting on the issues involving teachers, and since March 12, those issues surrounding education during this COVID-19 pandemic. Each time I hope things will be different, only to face certain disappointment. The utterances of the gentleman, in many respects, have been reckless, irresponsible and ill-informed. His latest glib regarding teachers being “scared to death” to return to school has me contemplating a few things:

1. How did he arrive at this position?

2. How many teachers were surveyed/interviewed?

3. What cross section of the country was sampled?

4. Who collected this data and in what period?

There are several other things floating in my head, but these are some of the first things being contemplated. What is the benefit of a September external exams versus August? What guarantee is there that things would have significantly changed come September? While one understands that an answer to the last question is almost impossible for Speid to answer, it should be one he contemplates in a serious way. And why are we keeping students in the ‘holding’ position? As the arm representing teachers and administrators (a point that seems often forgotten), I am waiting to see what recommendations Speid/JTA is putting forward during this time. I suspect one will get old and COVID-19 will pass before we get any solid recommendations if things continue as they are now.


Usually, I do not post my opinions, nor do I openly oppose a colleague, but I felt compelled to add my voice when the leader for one of the largest unions in the Caribbean, representing more than 25,000 members, can come in media and call administrators “wicked” for requiring lesson plans during online teaching or my personal favourite – “you must stand up to unthinking administrators who are requesting your presence at school during this time … . If school rooms are to be sanitised, the ancillary workers are smart enough to identify desks and chairs, all they would need are the keys”. This is a direct quote from President Speid sent via WhatsApp on March 13, 2020 at 8:16 a.m. through the district associations. Many “unthinking administrators” as myself only required teachers to clear their desks to allow for sanitisation to be done. And would it be so bad if teachers were asked to help? Is it that the ancillary staff have no families to be concerned about, or is that their health does not matter? The JTA Code of Conduct Principle 2 states:

1. The teacher does not undermine the position or influence of any colleague.

2. The teacher seeks to operate at all times in a context of mutual respect for the rights of other teachers.

3. The teacher recognises the authority of school administrators and seeks to influence administrative practices through accepted channels.

Are these principles still in effect? Where is the evidence of collaboration with the school administrators that are constantly being vilified?


On the matter of heading back to the classrooms in June, like many persons, I have no idea how it will affect the different schools in their geographical location and based on resources at their disposal. There are several things to be worked out, and I remain convinced that together we can figure things out and remain safe. To say teachers are afraid of what can happen, they have to take public transportation and they have children at home to care for is not enough to not try and give students the best opportunity to be successful in their exams.

The above could be said of all workers who are expected to go back to work on June 1. This could be said of the nurses, doctors, police, drivers, cleaners, hospital porters, shelf stackers, and yes, school administrators that go out almost every day to assist with care packages for students, compiling and delivery of worksheets, sign letters that teachers require for their personal business and complete the myriad of things required by the education ministry that simply cannot be done from home. I dare someone to point me to one school administrator who does not want to see his students and staff do well in the regional exams. Name one person who wants his/her school to become an cluster for a coronavirus outbreak.

I am begging for some quality representation from my union. I don’t need only a watchdog to criticise everything that is being done, but a union with recommendations and answers. Not a union that yield to the whims and fancies of its base, but one that is willing to say to all its members “things and times have changed and are changing, let us examine how to adjust and adapt to this change”. These are serious times and it calls for serious leaders. Step up and lead, Sir, and stop speeding through the issues without rigorous thought. Let us now move the conversation to how best we protect our teachers and students in light of what will happen, either June 8 or September 7.

The Reverend Claude Ellis is principal of Pembroke Hall High School in St Andrew. Email feedback to