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Our teachers ought to be sure examples

Your task as teachers will not be an easy one. Teaching is by its very nature a difficult profession.

–– Colin Cumberbatch, principal of St Stephen’s Primary School.

Ironically, Mr Colin Cumberbatch was addressing 50 Ecuadorean students on Tuesday night at the graduation from their seven-month programme Teach English In The Caribbean at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus. Mr Cumberbatch’s counsel would have been equally relevant and more appropriate to Barbadian would-be teachers themselves –– even more so many current ones.

The St Stephen’s Primary head took pains to itemize some of the “many problems” that make the profession of teaching “complicated” and at times “overwhelming”. He alluded to issues of students’ behaviour, learning challenges, lack of materials and resources, difficult parents, and not to be left out: difficult colleagues too.

And, as Mr Cumberbatch rightly advised the graduating class, teachers however have to find a way around these challenges and overcome the attendant adversities. Truth be told, teachers must be held to a higher level of accountability for their personal and professional conduct and example.

After all, as Principal Cumberbatch made clear, teachers have the power and influence to ignite curiosity, feed the society with informed, caring and engaged citizens, thus enhancing the capacity to inspire throughout the community life-long learning and that passion for knowledge, understanding and innovation. Surely, teachers who are careless, wanting, lethargic, inefficient, nine-to-three-minded
and addicted will do our nation no good whatsoever.

And those who do not take their training seriously –– in the interest of their subjects and students and beyond having some certification or degree paper to flash around –– will do our country and region even worse.

Principal Cumberbatch himself complained that too often teachers underwent training merely to achieve certification, subsequently dismissing what they were taught to do, because they had come to deem it all tedious and time-consuming. Of course, the assumption here by us is that all which was delivered at training was relevant, pertinent, of substance and integrity, and worthy of disseminating.

Sadly, not all which is thrown our way these days is worth our welcome. Everywhere now, for example, almost everyone has moved on to the information technology platform. Once there is access to a table computer, laptop or the seemingly ubiquitous cellphone and iPhone, people will immerse themselves in the joys of the Digital Age. They are constantly being reminded this is the way to go.

If we would be honest, it is one sure step to take, lest we are left lagging. But we must use to the benefit of selves and country –– for pleasure, education and business –– the information technology and world connectivity that surround us. But constraint must be the watchword.

It isn’t every new set of wares thrown at us by the techie innovators and marketers we need blindly grab up, at the expense of the unique intervention of the old analytical human mind. To miss this caution is to plunge ourselves into the abyss of confusion, ignorance, sub-literacy and despair.

Already, we are seeing elements of the younger generation being adept at computer games and social media, but grossly incompetent in natural social skills and severely challenged in traditional educational pursuits, even unable to carry on any in-depth conversation. This bodes danger and disaster for our society.

A fallout of this obsession with –– nigh addiction to –– Twitter, Facebook and the like, and the continuous texting, is the destruction of the English language and its spelling as we have known it. Then we are flummoxed when even people with degrees cannot write a proper job application letter.

Oxymoronically, advanced information technologies have brought with them some very serious setbacks; and we will have to tread carefully in our attempts to steer our young threatened generation of the Digital Age back on a sensible course.

This is where our responsible teachers must keep instilling into their students that they should be self-critical; that they should read, read, read (outside the texts on the cellphone), and think as they do so.

Which brings us to a point of contention: the usage of words. Tight writing, yes, beats any rambling essay. This brevity is not be confused with producing banal shorts with simplistic and vague words like “nice” and “mmm”. That is the practice of a lazy mind that is in a comfort zone with limited urban language vocabulary. Those myriad spurts of communication on the cellphone via “thk u 4 d invite” simply wouldn’t do.

If we will have efficient teacher and student writer, there must be expansive vocabulary which will only be acquired by extensive reading.

The verbally fickle switch attention to another article or book if they butt on a word they do not know or understand the meaning of. An enquiring mind they do not have, except when it comes to other people’s private business!

Our teachers, the intended sculptors of our children’s future, need to mull over Mr Cumberbatch’s concerns; for in the end the true victims will be said children. Their present school dilemma is not only of their making; they do deserve better.

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