Ode to our teachers

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It is the mother of all professions – pedagogy, and here in Antigua and Barbuda, pedagogues are not remunerated nearly enough for their sacrificial work in imparting knowledge and other invaluable life lessons to our children. Theirs is a labour of love. Especially now in these Covid-19 times fraught with so many challenges – hybrid classes, mask-wearing, social-distancing, staggered sessions, internet difficulties, transportation travails, and so on and so forth. This school year will indeed be one for the history books, and we certainly wish all the parents, students, Ministry of Education officials, school transportation officials, and all the support staff, a safe, healthy and productive one.

Of course, there must be cooperation on the part of all involved. Parents must work with teachers and the education officials and vice versa. These are unusual times. Students must adjust quickly to the new normal. We have been hearing reports of students, especially the young, returning home with a mask that was not theirs. We have also heard reports from Mr Arif Jonas, the school transportation head, of students flouting the mask-wearing rules on the school buses. He has made it clear that any student not wearing a mask will not be allowed on the buses. We can also imagine that students who fail to abide by the policies and protocols designed to keep everyone safe, will also be dealt with firmly by the teachers and principals.

Interestingly, on this day when we are paying special homage to our teachers, we cannot help but remember some of the extraordinary teachers of yore. They were a special breed – devoted to their sacred calling and imbued with the requisite forbearance, good work ethic (they often went above and beyond the classroom), and great imparting skills. And yes, while they allowed a certain amount of levity, they were, for the most part, no-nonsense types.  They moulded us into the contributing men and women of society that we are today.

But the times, they have a-changed. Moulding and shaping is not what it used to be. And the duster across the knuckles, or the comb through one’s head, or a leather strap (soaked in a pungent liquid for more efficacy), or a few solid strokes with a tamarind whip, or 500 lines of ‘A DISOBEDIENT CHILD IS WORTHY OF DEATH,’ or an hour in detention, or a smack upside the head, are very rarely applied. Some are even frowned on. For example, it is doubtful that many teachers mete out the punishment of having a child stand on one leg with his or her face to a wall, with eyes closed. Or how about this doozy – having a errant child stand on a chair with his or her hands above the head. Good grief! Just thinking about it makes this writer dizzy. (Smile)

Actually, in this peculiar time of Covid-19, after-school detentions and other grueling forms of discipline might not be such a good idea. Not with social distancing challenges, transportation issues and the wearing of masks. In fact, we suggest that they are a no-no. Even sporting activities have been suspended at the schools (see the Ottos Comprehensive School), as have the other extra-curricula activities (See the Antigua Grammar School). It stands to reason.

We here at NEWSCO certainly wish to join hearts and hands in saluting our teachers – from Teacher Mildred to Teacher Maxwell to Miss Martin and Teacher Beulah, they of folklore and calypso fame, to the greats of the past, and those of the present, we say thanks!

And speaking of the greats of the past, we would like to pay special tribute to Teacher Ada May Elizabeth Sheppard Johnson OM, possibly our oldest living retired teacher, who taught many generations of students at a number of schools, including the famed Foundation Mixed School. She was also the handicraft coordinator in the Ministry of Education for many years. She is 99 years old, and still very much alert and jolly. Many of her students have risen up to call her blessed, as have her outstanding children, Carol, Lenworth, Costayne, Michael and Patrick. She is a national treasure.

All hail our teachers – “they affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops.” [Henry Brooks Adams]

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