Column: Smith On Education, Teachers & More

February 14, 2021

Ben Smith Bermuda February 2020[Opinion column written by OBA Senator Ben Smith]

We have all heard of the fundamentals for Education being reading, writing and arithmetic. I believe we need to look at the real fundamental which is good teachers working with engaged students. At the heart of a strong education system will be passionate teachers that are respected by their community for the important role they play. We have high expectation that the person standing up in front of the child’s class has passion for teaching and has the skills, training, and tools necessary to develop our young people. If the teacher provides the passion for educating the children have they been provided the necessary training and resources to complete their important job?

Good teachers rise early in the morning to arrive at school to make sure that they are prepared for their class. They stay late to plan for the next day, to grade work and analyse the performance of their students. Most of us can think back and recall those good teachers that we remember from when we were children. Those good teachers that care about education that are working CEO hours with nothing close to CEO salary. There will be people that read that line and quickly say that they made a choice to be teachers knowing the low salary and they have lots of vacation time each year. It is important that we think about how vital the role of a teacher is and what our expectations are of teachers. We have doctors, lawyers, accountants, CEO’s, electricians, plumbers, and any other occupation that all were educated by teachers. That should mean that teachers hold one of the most important positions in the community. The extra vacation time is to recharge with new energy for the next term and many teachers will be working at camps to supplement their salary.

There is a proposal being consulted on for wholesale change to Bermuda public education, but the starting focus should be on our teachers. Do the teachers have the equipment and supplies needed to get the job done? The answer to this basic question has been no for far too long while we spend millions on education. We have teachers that store paper like a squirrel storing nuts for the winter, while many hope for donations of supplies, books, laptops etc, if not they pay out of their own pocket. When the pandemic hit, and they went to remote learning they had to scramble for equipment because many did not have operating computers or tablets and their students did not have access. Those teachers relocated to their homes where they had to use their home internet, electricity and supplies as they often do. Teachers have made a choice to do the important job of educating and moulding our future, but should they be responsible for the supplies to get their job done?

Teachers are not normally the group to speak out and that is why these issues of needed support have gone under the radar for so long. They want to do what is best for their students, so they do not rock the boat and get on with the job. During the zoom calls for consultation, we would expect that the teachers’ voices would be the loudest and most critical to give feedback and input on this major shift in Education. The kind of shift that may change their job forever or may push them out of the field entirely. How many people would be willing to speak out on a zoom call when their boss is on the screen and others are taking notes?

The reality is that we have some very good teachers that have passion, work hard to challenge their students, and cover the cost of supplies without complaint. These teachers are buying food, clothes and taking time to nurture and guide children. These teachers should be supported and compensated properly. There are teachers that are not performing well that need to be trained and developed if they have the ability to improve. Bermuda is an expensive country in which to live as we all know. There should be an analysis done on the compensation of teachers in Bermuda factoring in the cost of living. We want to attract the best and brightest teachers to create the best learning environment possible, but we will have to make sure those teachers are supported and compensated. We need to have assessment of our teachers, schools, and students. The assessment cannot be one off and must be maintained with structure so that we can gauge weaknesses and improvements. The accountability is important, so those results need to be provided to parents so that parents gain confidence in the schools.

Bermuda does not have the money now to build new school buildings or spend on lots of bells and whistles but we need to improve our education now. If we focus on the fundamentals of good teachers working with engaged students that should be the start of any plan. I hope that more teachers speak up so that they can start to get the support and we elevate teachers as a priority in our community. Let’s give them the skills, the supplies, the compensation and accountability for success. Our future depends on it.

- Ben Smith


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