Oct 25, 2021 Letters
One Dennis Balgobin recently penned a letter captioned “All teachers need to be certified …” (Oct. 19). I concur! During my time as a student in Guyana during the 1960s and 1970s, teachers needed not to be formally certified. One became a teacher with a minimum attainment of GCE with the stress on subjects passed as opposed to ability to delivery knowledge. Most ‘uncertified or untrained’ teachers were good educators.
The system gradually changed with some educators being ‘trained’ at the Teachers College on delivery of instruction, as well as in acquiring knowledge in a chosen field. The Berbice campus also trained teachers.
If not already being done, I suggest that all teachers be ‘certified (minimum credentials)’ as is done overseas for their competence in the classroom, and/or be trained on how to deliver instruction to kids. Teachers must have a minimum amount of knowledge and training on how to impart instructions. Globally, teachers and supervisors must undergo some kind of educational rigours and training that qualify them to be educators. In the US, they have to be licensed to teach in a particular subject area – pass a battery of tests including writing skills. In NY, they must have minimum educational background (taking courses in psychology and education), if the degree is not in education. Almost every one of New York City’s 1100 schools has Guyanese teachers, some with years of experience in Guyana. In NY, they pass exams and obtain their teaching licences, as well as Supervisory licences. One can also obtain a temporary licence with a BA degree, while being given five years to attain the requirements. In NY, some educators, including a handful of Guyanese, pursue two licences although only one is needed.
In the US, as is also the case in Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, India and, indeed, in virtually every country, teachers are certified by a national agency that tests teachers. During my time in NY, teachers must pass standardised tests in varied subject areas, minimum three hours of writing exams and another lengthy exam in a subject area. In recent years, the test rigours softened as ethnic minorities complained that the tests were racially biased causing failures. Guyanese teachers had virtually no problem passing the tests. Licensing rules keep changing in the US – at one time oral tests were also required, as was a minimum 30-minute video in NY of the teacher delivering a lesson to a classroom that is assessed. Requirements keep changing to meet current needs.
To be a teacher in the US, a person must have the minimum Bachelor’s degree, and if not in education they must take a minimum of four courses in the school of education, plus, attendance at a number of workshops (of a minimum number of hours with certificates of passes) having to do with alcohol abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, suicide, class management, multi-culturalism, and a number of other areas. In addition, a teacher must also have police clearance (including finger printing) and no criminal or drug background; permanent licence mandates a MA degree. In NYC, a teacher with a Bachelor’s degree can obtain a temporary licence, but is given five years to complete all other requirements. Anyone who does not complete a MA within five years is decertified and removed from the classroom. The school system provides financial assistance or incentives to complete the MA or even a second MA.
In addition to teacher’s licence, the NY State system also has licensing for Administrators. NY City has its own requirements for supervisors, such as Principals, Assistant Principals, District Administrators, Superintendents, and the like. A Supervisor must have a MA Degree in School Administration and be certified by NY State as an Administrator by meeting other minimum requirements besides the MA degree in School or Educational Administration. Several Guyanese have Supervisory licences including this writer.
If a teacher or supervisor or any school staff is charged for a crime, or even is accused, or makes unsuitable comments to students or staff, he or she is removed from the classroom, pending an investigation. Affirmation of accusations or allegations leads to immediate dismissal or job termination. Several Guyanese and other Caribbean teachers were placed before a disciplinary panel. As the union head in the building, I had to defend them as a lawyer would in a court setting.
Teacher or Supervisory licensing may not produce a perfect educator as I observed during my lengthy experience in NY having taught for some 40 years. There are several rotten apples in the system that are unfit to be teachers. But at least licensing or certification sets some minimum standards to be an educator.
I should note that in NY City and throughout the US, teachers receive additional pay for credits earned in university beyond the BA Degree. That is an incentive to seek further training and knowledge. There is also a pay increase for credits earned beyond MA and for having a second MA or a doctorate. As an example, a teacher with a BA degree would start with about $58K, while those with a MA earn a minimum $65K annually, while one with a doctorate will earn more. After 22 years of teaching, the teacher with a PhD or two MAs would earn close to $120K a year. The median salary is $71K. Guyana can’t afford that kind of salary but should offer financial incentives for educators to upgrade their skills.
As Mr. Balgobin advises, Guyana should consider some kind of certification for educators, setting some minimum standards, uniform and universal.
Vishnu Bisram (PhD)
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