Anderson: Teachers not equipped for war zones

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Anderson: Teachers not equipped for war zones

BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
Staff reporter
hendrickss@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, February 23, 2020

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On the heels of several reports last week of administrators grappling with violence in schools, the question of how teachers are being trained to handle students in the modern-day classroom arises.

Dr Garth Anderson, dean of the Teachers' Colleges of Jamaica, addressed the issue of teacher preparedness when the Jamaica Observer spoke with him on Friday.

“We have a curriculum that seeks to prepare teachers to respond to the varying needs of students, to look at the behavioral challenges of students and how to treat with student's learning needs. To that extent, we try to give students the kind of theoretical background and the knowledge that they need to respond to students who we will appear in the system with maladjusted and deviant behaviour,” said Dr Anderson.

He, however, stressed that the training provided in teachers' colleges cannot and should not be expected to equip teachers to handle the level of deviance and aggression that students are displaying in school.

For example, Dr Anderson said that while pre-service teachers are exposed to real-life situations that may arise in a classroom setting, and are also sent on practicum examinations as part of their training, these standard training methods are not sufficient.

“What we are seeing is that schools are increasingly becoming war zones and I am not sure that our programmes are so equipped to prepare our teachers to deal with the kind of crisis that we are seeing in our schools and to deal with the kind of security breaches and issues that we have to be discussing,” Dr Anderson said.

“It is beyond our expectations, and what we are finding is that a lot of the social issues in the communities are spilling over into schools,” he added.

Anderson, who is also the past president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association, raised the issue of two time-out facilities that were established in Mandeville and Montego Bay, to deal with the behavioral challenges of students.

He said that these facilities needed to be properly resourced with trained personnel who can give students the psychosocial help that they need, while continuing their education.

“The issue around time-out facilities is something that the ministry needs to look at carefully. I don't think they are effective as they are now.

“Much work needs to be done to bring these facilities up to a standard where students who have posed a challenge to discipline in our schools being taken out for a period of time, they continue their education while getting the psychosocial support that they need, and then reintegrated into the normal school system when their behaviour is under some control,” he said.

Attempts to reach minister with responsibility for education Karl Samuda on the matter of these time-out facilities were unsuccessful.

However, Dr Anderson indicated that already, some pre-service teachers have expressed concern about continuing in the teaching profession.

“I have had practising teachers going out to the schools and have come back expressing deep concern about the level of aggression that they are seeing, and some even reflecting whether or not this is really the profession that they want to remain in because students have absolutely no respect for those who are put in charge of them.

“Teachers are not being trained to become security guards and to be involved in these kinds of hostile environments. They are there to teach, and students are there to learn. The level of aggression is really beyond what I think teachers should be engaged in,” he stressed.

As it pertains to the curriculum and teacher training, Anderson conceded that some improvements might be needed.

“This is something we do constantly. We are in the process of revising our curriculum and there are things we are adding in there to let our teachers fully understand more about the Child Care and Protection Act and their responsibility as it relates to their duty of care to students.

“There is room for improvement but we can do so much and no more. We can prepare the teachers as much as we can but the students are coming to us not prepared to respond to the guidance being given,” he said.

Dr Claudette Barrett-March who is the vice-president of administrative affairs at the Shortwood Teachers' College, told the Sunday Observer that while teacher training includes case studies which present pre-service teachers with various scenarios that could arise in the classroom, these are not sufficient.

“The truth is that things change so quickly and by the time the teachers go into a real-life classroom some of the issues they are faced with may not been addressed in training.

“We need to make adjustments given what currently pertains in the school. We will have to make some adjustments in our programme in terms of the discussions that we have and the case studies we use.

“But we don't ever prepare for this level of aggression in schools because we don't expect it. These are not situations that we want our teachers to be dealing with because it takes away from their core functions,” said Barrett-March.


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