By Elesha George
Recognition of a few outstanding teachers by the Governor General on Wednesday has raised fresh calls for educators to have their pay reviewed and for them to be better respected.
The call came from Tourism Service Ambassador, Denley Millette, Aircraft Technician Ian Joseph, Attorney Ralph Bowen and Principal Foster Roberts, who heaped praise upon one of the awardees for being a disciplinarian and believing in their potential to excel.
After working for almost 40 years at the Bethesda Primary School, Miss Marion Lucinda Payne received the Governor General’s Faithful and Meritorious Service Award for Faithful Service to Education and Community Development.
The award is a decoration in the honours system of Antigua and Barbuda which was established by a warrant issued by the Governor General in 2015 to recognise persons who have given faithful and meritorious services of the highest degree to Queen Elizabeth II, the Governor General, or to the twin island nation.
Principal Roberts said the accolade was “well deserving” but “it is 10 years late,” given the extensive influence Payne has had on thousands of children who resided in the Bethesda/Christian Hill community.
The men remember their teacher as a disciplinarian who molded the lives of many students who would have otherwise taken a bad road.
“I did my work whenever I felt like doing it. Not because I wanted to, [but] whenever I felt like, and Miss Payne would have none of that because she said that you have greater potential and I’m expecting the best and nothing less,” Roberts, who has been an educator for 38 years, said.
He and the other three remembered her greyish-white strap that she soaked in sea water overnight and brought to school with her in the mornings.
“When that stuff goes over your back you see all manner of stars, but at the end of the day, all of us are grateful for the kind of leadership that she displayed to all of us. She is the person who made us the gentlemen and ladies that we are today,” Roberts recollected.
Attorney Bowen referred to it as “the rod of correction” that had been passed down for generations.
He recalled a time that he was going to be denied entry into secondary school after he qualified to go at the age of 10. Back then, he was seen as being too young to attend a secondary institution, but he explained that Miss Payne encouraged the transition.
“I was nine years old going on 10, and the ministry did not want me to do the exams because I would be going into secondary school at 10. Miss Payne was having none of it.
“Miss Payne literally put her job on the line to say I am taking the exam or basically she is walking.
“My own mother also had concerns, not that she didn’t think I could do it, but perhaps she didn’t want her 10-year-old son to be in secondary school … Miss Payne even defied my mom and said, not even you are going to get a say in this matter.
“So, I will forever be grateful to Miss Payne because outside of my family, and even within, there is no singular person who would have demonstrated that level of confidence in me of such a nature that it made me have confidence in myself,” he told Observer.
The men joked about their attempts to retire the teacher’s belt, but confessed that no one had the guts to go through with the plan when the time came.
“It was about five of us, and we had the plan, but when it was time to execute the plan none of the five wanted to go to get the belt… We tried to get the belt once, but it didn’t work because we chickened out because we knew if the plan failed, the leather will not fail to do the work,” Joseph joked.
It is stories like this and many others why they all agree that teachers should be better compensated.
“The meagre salary that teachers are being paid, they need to look at it seriously. Teachers should not be living from hand to mouth and that is how we are living as human beings that are affecting lives for eternity,” declared Principal Roberts.
“I will always advocate for teachers to be well paid, to be well respected, to be given all the accolades in society because a society is only as good as its teachers,” attorney Bowen stressed.
“When we look at teaching as if it’s just a teacher, that is the foundation of the academic and knowledge base of a community and it’s time for us to stand up as a nation and give accolades to all our teachers, give them respect, ensure that after their teaching days are over that they can financially stand on their own,” he continued.
“While many of the lawyers and doctors who they would have taught, the engineers, are able to easily finance their children’s education, you have teachers struggling because they’re so poorly compensated to deal with their day-to-day expenses.”
Payne entered the teaching profession soon after completing her secondary education at the All Saints Secondary School. Her career as a teacher, and later a principal, spans almost 40 years.
Her service was not exclusively focused on education but also on general community development and the church.
She was awarded alongside Atlantic rowers Joseph ‘Jojo’ Nunes and Travis Weste who both received the Governor General’s Faithful and Meritorious Service Cross for meritorious service in sailing, and Irving Edwards who received the Governor General’s Faithful and Meritorious Service Medal – Gold, for faithful and meritorious service in business and community development.