Teachers need more than a 'thank you'
Teachers in Dominica are sick and tired of the phrase 'thank you' from those who have the power to do more.
"Too often what we hear is 'thank you': CXC results are good, 'thank you'; Grade six results are good, thank you; literacy is good, thank you," said President of the Dominica Association of Teachers, DAT, Mervin Alexander.
"Teachers require a little more than 'thank you'; we need something to take to our credit unions and banks; something that will help us build our homes; and, some of us, to buy a little vehicle to travel to our schools. While money is not our only motivation, we must make no apology in saying that we are being underpaid and we deserve better."
Alexander shared that the Association meets roadblocks in its valiant attempts to enhance teachers' working conditions.
"When it comes to negotiating, we interact with senior public officers. We call them, but they usually don't take our calls. We write to them, and they don't respond to our letter either," Alexander said. "Common courtesy dictates if you get a letter seeking clarification on something, some form of response is required."
Unbiased in his assessment of the situation, Alexander drew attention to an earlier restructuring exercise to improve the work environment.
"We welcome the structural adjustment to salaries from CARICAD's report, but it still leaves us below many of our counterparts in the region. And teachers in Dominica work equally hard and some in very trying conditions," he said.
The DAT boss also mentioned the recent announcement by Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit that public officers will see an increase in salary from September month end. "While the government calls it an increase, technically it is not. Rather, it is an adjustment. This means that you have not been paid adequately for the job you have been doing, which means you were being underpaid," Alexander said."I ask the question, is fifty-three dollars, six per cent, an increase in a qualified teacher's salary who has been working for many years? That, to my mind, is nothing short of an insult."
Alexander further challenged the Ministry of Education, and the government by extension, to eradicate the country's 'acting' culture.
"Too many of our teachers and top education officials are on stage," he said. "When will those long-acting appointments and vacant positions come to an end? When will teachers who have completed training be appointed? Something is wrong with our system, and it needs to be fixed."
The senior educator referenced his teaching career, where he would regularly get appointed a few months after completing various levels of training. He lamented the same does not exist now.
"A revised structure in government secondary schools got underway in 2021. Teachers applied to positions advertised and were all given acting or temporary positions," he said. "We are in 2023, and we are still in the same boat. Are we for real?"
Dominica joined the international community in observing World Teachers Day (WTD) and Teachers Appreciation Day in October. But what appreciation is shown to teachers apart from the repetitive 'thank you'?
Alexander asked: "Why should a teacher with a Bachelor's degree be in the service for 18 years, not appointed permanently, yet given the post of a deputy principal in a secondary school still temporary?"
WTD 2023 was held under the theme: The Teachers We Need for the Education We Want: The Global Imperative to Reverse the Teacher Shortage.
"Studies and one-on-one consultations show three main reasons teachers lose interest in the profession: 1. remuneration, 2: respect, and 3. recognition," he said. "Additionally, many see the profession as being stressful, and they are not valued."
The DAT President was also prepared with solutions to improve the employment climate for teachers.
"I suggest to policymakers to one analyze the main challenges faced by teachers and the system to make it more attractive; two present promising practices to ensure educators remain in the profession and grow; and three teachers are teachers whether government or private, they are governed by the same Education Act and should be treated equally when it comes to salary vis-à-vis qualification," Alexander said.