Certainly not a calling / by Alan Strathman

On Tuesday I went with three Grade 3 students, who I know well because I worked with them in Grade 2 last year, to the District 7 Grade 3 Spelling Bee.  Justin was our speller and Jaden and Sayid were supporting.  All are very nice boys and we had a good time, despite the fact that our speller did not correctly spell any of the words he was given.  In Round 1 each student was given 10 words to spell.  Alas, Justin struggled.  In a funny twist, the spelling bee is sponsored by the dental association (dental health on the island is atrocious) so all the words were dental in nature. It's funny hearing little kids spelling words like temporomandibular and apicoectomy.

Anyway, we traveled to the bee with the students and teachers from Banse-La Grace Combined School, which is up the hill from us, and Laborie Girls' RC Primary School. During a break, Doug, the PCV at Banse-La Grace Combined, wished happy birthday to one of his teachers.  She is a young-looking woman and when I asked how old she was she said she was 21. Not just young-looking, young-being.

On the way home I sat next to her on the bus and asked her what she had done before beginning as a teacher this year. She said that she had worked at Coconut Bay Resort, first as a waitress and then at the front desk.

So, in sum, she graduated from secondary school at age 17, worked at a resort for three years, and then began as a primary school teacher.  When I asked how she liked it she said it was okay.  I suggested that it must be better than working at a resort and she seemed ambivalent, remarking that the children are often difficult. In her defense Doug says the children in her class are extraordinarily troublesome.  The class comprises only 9 students but Doug says each student displays five-students'-worth of troublesomeness.

My point, though, is that primary and secondary education must be a calling. No one can go lightly into a teaching career and hope to remain for very long. There are teachers in the village for whom teaching is a calling. They genuinely care about the students and cannot imagine doing anything else. And this is what St. Lucia needs. Reforming the education system is such a significant task that it must be undertaken by people who have the children's best interest at heart. Without this kind of passion little change will result.

On this island, teachers are still hired for mysterious reasons. Teaching is not a calling for the new teacher at Banse-La Grace Combined.  It is certainly not a passion.  In fact, from my conversation, it is not even clear that it's an interest of hers.

Coming away from my conversation with the new teacher left me wondering about her motivation to teach. We could have an equally frustrating conversation about her ability to teach. She graduated from high school. There are no education courses in high school. She did no student teaching. She simply has no idea how to teach primary school. She can only rely on what she learned going through an education system in need of a major overhaul.

Sadly, hiring teachers who are not passionate about teaching and who have no experience teaching is not a recipe for child-friendly education reform.