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Letter of the Day | The art of education

Published:Wednesday | March 29, 2023 | 1:02 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

I have been a teacher for more than 35 years. I have taught in public schools, private schools and places of business; at primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. Though this might sound like quite a claim, those who know me know that it is true. I have taught in Jamaica, the United States and in Mexico. I have studied in quite a few countries, too, which makes for a very enjoyable educational journey.

Why have I done this?

Because teachers love people and learning – and I am a teacher.

I love helping others bridge the gap between wanting to do something and having the skills to do it. I help create opportunities for others and I grow along with them. (In fact, I learn as much from my students as they do from me, possibly more).

Teaching, in fact, is an art: the art of acquiring and sharing knowledge. The art of imagining, communicating and empowering beautiful souls … then watching them grow.

Yet here is a sad but true statement: successive governments in many countries have not valued the art of teaching. Many well-intentioned officials see what is wrong without understanding the causes.

They construct buildings (some of which feel like prisons), install nerve-wracking bells, hand out inflexible curricula with insufficient resources, then demand that each and every student pass an exam which they could not and would not attempt to pass themselves.

WHAT ARE WE BEING ASKED TO DO?

What are we being asked to teach our children and why? Are we teaching them to think, develop their innate talents and treat others with kindness? Are we teaching them to be creative, take care of themselves and the planet, support themselves as well as others? Are we teaching them to enjoy their lives, use technology responsibly and contribute their talents to their communities? Hmm.

The recent teacher strikes here in Jamaica struck a chord with me – as do the discussions and painful delays regarding the new wage packages. As an educator, I have met some outstanding teachers in my time – actually hundreds of them. What troubles me is that as teachers, we are not being allowed to do what we do best.

When my husband passed away ten years ago I had to leave public teaching to support my family. I could not afford to practise the profession I am best at and love the most. Many of my brilliant colleagues who remained in the field created side-businesses to survive. Some produce and sell vegan products, handmade soaps and speciality sauces. Some are farmers and IT specialists outside of the classroom – and of course, they tutor.

Yet somehow these dedicated colleagues find a way to turn up at school the next day and teach … despite their alternate lives. And they do an amazing job. Ask their past students who are now entrepreneurs, surgeons and politicians. Just ask them.

IMAGINE WHAT COULD BE ACHIEVED

So now that my daughters have graduated from university, I am back in the public sector – back at Shortwood Teachers’ College. I am humbled and awed by the dedication of my colleagues who did not, like myself, take a detour from the field. I am amazed at the growth I have seen despite the challenges.

I end this letter with one overriding question: Why don’t we encourage our teaching professionals instead of berating them when they request better wages? Why don’t we facilitate their professional growth rather than force them to make another living on the side? Imagine what could be achieved if teachers were given the salaries and benefits to just focus on teaching … to focus on one job and a manageable number of students. Just imagine.

TAINA LOWE WILLIAMS

Lecturer in French and Spanish

Shortwood Teachers’ College