Meanderings and Musings of the Mind – An unvarnished commentary on recent incidents, events, and happenings in Antigua and Barbuda

By Yvonne Reynolds,

TRAGEDY, oh lord, mek we ban we belly an bawl:

It was with deep sadness, exasperation and regret that in January,2017, I first read the story about a Physics teacher’s arrest and felony charge for an incident which occurred at a high school (Clare Hall) where he worked. It happened after regular school hours, where, there he was, on school grounds, being a vintage village teacher, overseeing student behaviour.

According to an ABS TV/Radio transcript.” Charles (indicted teacher perp) says another student, Corey Simon (original offender) had been throwing stones and had disregarded his orders for him to stop. The Physics teacher says in desperation he threw the stone in Simon’s direction and Scotland (stoning victim) rode into the path.”  (parenthesis created by author)

The above citation exposes the organic mold insidiously covering our school environments – existing yet invisibly cloaked, noxious yet naively ignored. The teacher openly acknowledges “desperation”.  Extrapolation: He was at his wits end, and there were no more tools in the toolbox. He had exhausted all known optional interventions – (speaking loudly, firmly, repeatedly, gesticulating forcefully, threatening punishment) – and nothing had changed. He would have to physically catch the offender to (stop) spank him and that did not seem like a feasible possibility as the offending student was some distance away – hence not an option (assumptions made by author who was not present).

He then succumbed to his uninformed human instincts, he resorted to his childish predilections for gaining attention, he became who he was trying to correct. He became a lawless offender. In that instant his life would change forever. His reckless actions would affect his family, his friends, his school colleagues, all the nation’s school staff, the union, the education system, the domestic society, and the networked world who will perchance stumble upon media describing this totally avoidable but extremely distressing incident. That split second when he gave into his base instincts, is the moment in which he also became a victim of the education system

The rule of law rejects ignorance as an excuse for criminal behaviour. Courts (formal-legal institutions and informal-public opinion) tend to hold individuals culpable for their actions. The corporations, institutions and governmental agencies of civil society are seldom considered liable, or as co-defendants in perpetrated crimes which can be traced directly back to their actions or in-actions. His mental cry for help should have been anticipated and addressed by the people occupying positions way above his pay grade (the deep pockets), Both commission (teacher) and omission (education system) sins should be found guilty.

The Physics teacher’s life has now been turned upside down due to the lack of prevention being better than cureforesight on the part of school leaders, school boards, the union and the Ministry of Education. The recent article (April, 2019), Teacher’s future uncertain after conviction for injuring student is spot on. The teacher is caught up in a lose, lose, lose, lose, heck everybody loses, whirlpool. Students lose as they are deprived of a Physics teacher in a country where this specialty (and actual teachers in general) is in very short supply. The school loses because it is now in deficit of a teacher – and a prized, scarce, science one to boot. Peer teachers have now lost a peer. The education system loses a credentialed teacher with potential long term tenure contribution and a possible sterling career path.

Parents lose too as chances for their child (ren)’ success in innovative-foundational science exams become more limited and speculative. The domestic society loses future scholars, thinkers, workers within a/the future science technological framework, and more prosaically, the government loses guaranteed taxes and economic multipliers from a salary employee.

The teacher will keep on losing after having lost his freedom temporarily while in jail. The monies paid for bail, lawyers, court appearances and fines – lost. He has lost his community prestige, reputation and paid employment role model status. Due to his conviction, he has most likely lost any hope of becoming a citizen of any other reputable country, and will be lucky if he is granted permission to even enter many developed countries. Antigua may have become his virtual, personal prison. Most importantly, he may never be allowed to practice teaching as a profession or to hold any job associated with children.

He must believe he is truly in hell!!!  He will need to maintain a strong spirit and live in a caring supportive environment for the rest of his life, as depression and suicide sirens will always lie in wait, beckoning. This type of an incident can and most probably will radically change school dynamics (climate) all over the country, as teachers will avoid any disciplinary situation which will even remotely be stressful and which could possibly, inadvertently, trigger inappropriate responses, when caught up within the conflict cycle. The world has changed, the rule of law and child welfare considerations will no longer excuse how teachers, pastors and adults as a whole, behave.

The infuriating fact is that this did not have to happen and was easily avoidable if the school system and a principal stakeholder, the teacher’s union, had done their job. Believe it or not – the profession of teaching has evolved since the old days when people were given a room with a chalkboard and students and told to teach.  Unfortunately, this is still the reality for a substantial proportion of teachers found in today’s school classrooms – in the Caribbean and around the world. Many teachers only have theoretical education credentials in the required academics and not specifically in pedagogical practices.

Even those “certified” via teacher training programs find themselves deficient in classroom management techniques which tend to be absent from most teacher training curriculum. Practicum where teachers are evaluated on observed teacher classroom practice and lesson planning, seems more of an after-thought, considered superfluous in total certification weight, not given the high priority it deserves in pedagogy training tertiary institutions – co-equal to theories, or, even above them.  The best gift to a teacher is the tools and resources that can be actually deployed daily in the classroom to improve pedagogy and raise satisfaction levels. Good classroom management improves students outcomes, elevates teacher job satisfaction and engenders a positive school climate.

The union’s warning to all teachers, after the fact, is hindsighted, seems specious and smells of a** protectionism. School leaders, the bureaucracy at the Board of Education as well as the Ministry of Education, and especially the Director and Minister of Education, were derelict in their duty and should also be held responsible and accountable for this tragedy. They all should have known about available dedicated Classroom Management workshops (among other topics) for teachers, that provide legal, rational tools for interventions when faced with situations like the one encountered by this Physics teacher.

The response to ameliorate this oversight has been, to date, deafening silence. Imagine how different the future of this young man would have been if these workshops were the established norm for on-boarding all teachers into the education system. This should hopefully be the whenthat future education policymakers highlight as the turning point catalyst which changed teacher preparation of effective practitioners in a stressful unpredictable workplace. This is the opportunity for education systems everywhere to say … lesson learned.

The author is an instructional specialist in teaching strategies and classroom management. [MPA, MSc-Education] Other articles about education can be found at conbelach.blogspot.com or at conbelach.wordpress.com

Next Up on Heard on the Corner meandering is the dissection of education policy choices which spend revenues garnered from direct taxation with no long-term plan/projections in hand.