Supporting our Teachers

Somehow over the past couple of months, schools in Trinidad have been on the front page for so many wrong reasons.  The one headline that I could not ignore was about the Principal of a Private Primary School who seemed to have honestly believed that putting a student’s head in the toilet and then flushing it is a valid option for disciplining students.

One would think that there would be a strong Parent – Teacher Association because it is a private school.  Part of the Principal’s unapologetic letter to parents was printed in the press, but it is uncertain what the PTA’s response was – if anything at all.  It has been suggested that the PTA may tread carefully because the demand for private primary school places exceeds the supply.  Here I am particularly speaking about institutions known for feeding large numbers of students into so-called prestige schools.  After being on a waiting list for years (in some cases) and leveraging “contacts” to get in, many parents would be understandably cautious.

As the father of 3 boys (13, 10, and 2), I know how trying youngsters can be.  At the same time, I cannot, and I will never condone or even try to excuse the Principal’s behavior (or lack thereof).   Clearly, the Principal needs additional support and/or training.  Perhaps the PTA can put pressure on her to this effect.  If the PTA fails in its attempts, the police have started an investigation, and the American embassy has allegedly become involved. One of the young victims is an American citizen.

There is, however, another incident I wanted to discuss.  At the time of writing (Sunday 29th January), I had not noticed any reports in the printed press. A popular talk-radio personality dedicated a segment of a recent show to highlighting this other incident.  Not that we need a reminder of our living in the internet age, but a recording of this show was uploaded to Youtube and circulated somewhat extensively (over 1000 views in only the first few days) on Facebook.
US Tax Singapore

The talk shows host-related an event alleged to have taken place at a prestigious secondary school somewhere in the Port of Spain.  It is alleged that during an after-hours Maths class, a young female Indo-Trinidadian teacher made a racist remark to a student of Afro Trinidadian descent.  Apparently, like the rest of the class, this particular student was lent a past paper to use during the class, but he made markings on this paper, and he was not supposed to do so.  All present heard the racist remark, and as a result, some students walked out in protest.  Complaints were made in writing, the teacher is believed to have privately apologized to the students, but the talk show host was concerned by what appears (to him) to be a lack of action on the part of the school administration.  He suggested that a cover-up may be taking place.

Unlike a private education institution, a publicly funded state-run school gives the Principal no power to take any disciplinary action or speak publicly on such issues.  The Constitution recognizes the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) as the body empowered “to appoint persons to hold or act in public offices in the Teaching Service, established under the Education Act, 1966, including the power to make appointments on promotion and transfer and to confirm appointments, and to remove and exercise disciplinary control over persons holding or acting in such offices…”

One would expect that were such an incident to have taken place, the school administration’s responsibility would be to report the matter to the TSC through the relevant department in the Ministry of Education.  At the same time, I see similarities between this alleged incident and the one in a privately run Primary School described earlier.

Both incidents point to the need for additional training and support for teachers and school administrators.  In the case of the secondary school teacher, perhaps diversity and cultural-sensitivity training would be in order.  The talk show host suggested that the teacher be educated in Africans’ accomplishments and the African diaspora.  I would extend that recommendation to include the accomplishments of the many varied ethnicities that make up our blessed nation.  Such a course could benefit all teachers, not just the one teacher involved in this incident.  After all, this is one island where “every creed and race shall find an equal place.”

My name is Derren Joseph, and I love my country, and I love my region.  Despite our current challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope that we will all enjoy a brighter tomorrow.

Note: The blog that used to be here is now at

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