‘The time has come for reciprocity’ – Teacher’s Union on World Teacher’s Day 2022

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By Orville Williams

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“We have sacrificed so much of ourselves over the years and we are continuously called upon to give and give with little in return…at this point, we’re saying we’re not taking any more licks, it’s not going to be business as usual.”

That message of defiance was delivered by the General Secretary of the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers (A&BUT), Sharon Kelsick yesterday, as the body commemorated World Teacher’s Day 2022.

It comes during a period of heightened tension between the government and the union over the welfare of the nation’s teachers, specifically where the safety and security of the public-school campuses are concerned.

Several primary and secondary schools across the island – some more often than others – have been victims of an escalation of break-ins, vandalism and theft over the past couple of months.

In the majority of these incidents, school offices have been ransacked and valuables stolen, while others have also been desecrated, with lewd graffiti and even faecal matter.

This, according to many of the affected educators, piles onto the pressures they already have to deal with, including a lack of adequate resources and less-than-favourable compensation packages.

“If we look at the situation that we’re in now [regarding] the security, we’re told that we are unreasonable by the powers that be, that the teachers are overdoing it. But, how many of us would like to go to work and meet faeces on our desk? How many of us would like to go to work and meet urine sprayed all over our staff room?

“How many of us would like to know that we contributed to buying a fridge or a microwave to make our environment a little more comfortable and thieves are able to come in and just [steal] them? And then when we stand up, we’re told that we’re being unreasonable?

“We are not being unreasonable. As far as I’m concerned, we’re not fighting hard enough and we need to fight harder. We bring too much to this society for persons to look at us and say we’re being unreasonable because we want a safe environment,” Kelsick declared on Observer AM.

All public schools were ordered closed on Tuesday to allow the ABUT to meet with its membership to discuss the way forward, after the union threatened last week that teachers could temporarily withhold their services if 24-hour security was not provided for the schools by Monday of. this week.

That threat prompted the Education Ministry to request an urgent meeting with the union on Monday in an apparent effort to avoid any type of strike action.

In Tuesday’s internal meeting, the union applied its membership of the government’s proposal for improving security, solicited feedback from said membership and gathered information to support the proposal.

Now, the union has apparently set a deadline of this Friday for the proposed measures to be implemented, with unconfirmed reports suggesting any failure on the part of the government will be met with industrial action.

President of the union, Casroy Charles, responded to scrutiny about the timing of their actions, particularly ahead of yesterday’s recognition of World Teacher’s Day.

“Why not now? We could have done this prior to the commencement of this new academic term because the truth is, when we returned to school in August, there was no security on the plants. However, we were in discussions with Cabinet and the Ministry and we knew they were trying to come up with a solution.

“They gave us a proposal [and] we accepted it, however, at least two weeks after the implementation should have been in place, still no results. So, what are we supposed to do? Continue like that?”

The theme for this year’s celebration of World Teacher’s Day is “The transformation of education begins with teachers,” meant to bring recognition to the important role teachers play in developing the potential of young people.

Speaking on that theme, Kelsick urged the nation’s teachers to adopt a sense of self-worth, rather than wait for applause from anyone else.

“These are things that have been happening for years…on World Teacher’s Day, you might get a little note saying ‘thank you’ or somebody might go on the radio and say teachers are valuable…our society knows how important. [and] valuable we are, but nobody is willing to stand up with us and for us.

“So, my message to my teachers today is to value themselves, to understand that you are important to this society, and for you to be able to give of yourselves, you have to take care of yourselves first – don’t wait for anybody to appreciate you, you appreciate the work that you are doing,” she said.

Among the proposed solutions to the security challenge at schools is after-hour patrols at select school plants by the police and the defense force, until more permanent measures like the installation of CCTV cameras are fully implemented.

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