We keep hearing people talk about the well-used term "best practice," but do we know what it really means and how it applies to the Jamaican teacher?
According to education.com, best practice is a teaching or instructional method that has been demonstrated by research to be an effective learning tool. How does this apply to the Jamaican situation? This question I will attempt to answer and I hope at the end people will begin to understand the plight of teachers in Jamaica or, to put it in another way, the perils of teaching in many of the classrooms across the country.
The typical classroom in Jamaica, especially in the primary schools, is that of a standard four walls, or large class with chalkboard partitions, well-used desks, chairs, worn cupboards and tables. Unfortunately these are usually defaced by the very same students who use them. To add to that, the lovely 45:1 student-teacher ratio certainly makes the one-to-one interaction with a mixed-ability class virtually impossible, and limits the ability of a teacher to utilise teaching styles that can make a positive difference with students.
With such a ratio, in many of our Jamaican primary schools with limited class space, is it possible for the Ministry of Education's Building Officer to be creative by adding two or more classrooms to each overcrowded school? While he is at it, have the MOE employ two trained teachers who have never been employed for each overcrowded school, giving ease to the high student-teacher ratio, and give equal opportunity for teachers to utilise their best practices in ensuring that students learn in a more conducive and productive learning environment. This way, more students would have a chance to get quality individual attention.
I am not trying to create excuses for teachers, but how can a grade one teacher design intervention strategies for students when many of the very same parents object to it because it may cause personal embarrassment because their child cannot read well? How can a teacher create miracles when government keeps saying that there is not enough money available to assist, and when they dare to ask for help outside, that in itself opens a can of worms?
I do not think that many of the consultants of the Minister or Ministry of Education are truly aware of this because if they had informed the minister, then I think that the approach to remedy the education deficiencies would be effectively different. The minister must also note that many of the primary and high school graduates who do not perform well have serious learning disabilities and that has nothing to do with the competency skills of the teacher.
The teaching style of a Jamaican teacher cannot only be taught in colleges and universities. It is also developed, and many of our teachers have done miracles in stimulating the minds of students in many of the well-worn classrooms. Teachers, let us force the Education Ministry and the Jamaica Teachers' Association to create an easily accessible Best Jamaican Teaching Practices Data Base. This will allow teachers to use other strategies relevant to their unique situation so as to better arm themselves with how to encourage students to be better learners and be more effective in the classrooms. Let us show the non-educators what true best practices are all about.