Departing teachers highlight school troubles

Violent behavior from pupils, lack of backing from officials and changes to pay and contracts are among the reasons highlighted by teachers for quitting Cayman, according to transcripts of “exit interviews” seen by the Caymanian Compass. 

Shock at the low literacy and numeracy levels of pupils is also highlighted by some departing teachers who, in the interviews, advise the education department to be more upfront with teachers hired from overseas about the challenges in Cayman’s schools. 

The Compass reported last year that Cayman had a high turnover rate of teachers. Around 80 teaching professionals – just under 20 percent of the entire teaching body – left the public school system in the last academic year.  

High turnover rates have been a perennial problem in Cayman, as in other island nations that rely heavily on expatriate staff. But the figures for the last academic year represented a significant increase on the norm.  

Note-form transcripts of exit interviews, which are conducted with some but not all departing teachers, were released to the Compass following an open records request. 

Student behavior 

Behavior of the students is a recurring issue in the interview transcripts. One teacher claimed to have been physically assaulted by a pupil. Details are not given in the transcripts, which are the interviewers’ notes on the responses from teachers. 

In one case, the paperwork simply records, “Physically assaulted by child, no recourse.” 

In a response to the Caymanian Compass on the assault allegation by the teacher, and other issues that arose in the exit interviews, education officials described the assault as a “highly unfortunate but very rare” incident.
The ministry stated that the school and the Department of Education Services followed established guidelines and policy on the reporting of serious incidents, and that the student in question was subsequently charged and convicted, and was ordered by the court to undergo mandatory medication and counseling.  

“The student, having received an extended exclusion and subsequent ongoing counseling, was not returned to the teacher’s class. The teacher received additional support from the school to address their class management issues,” according to the ministry. 

The ministry confirmed that there is a “small number of students” in the school system with behavioral and mental health issues, some of whom exhibit “very challenging behaviors at times.” 

“Ensuring our schools are safe learning environments is a top priority and a key goal within our national strategic plan. A significant amount of work is in action to effect changes at a school level,” the ministry said. 

Other teachers also had issues with student behavior, with one complaining that aggression by pupils is rife. 

Another teacher noted, “A special unit for hardest-to-reach kids is needed. We can’t cope with them. We don’t have the skills or the training.” Another said, “Achievement is impacted so much by behavior.” 

Several expressed frustration about a perceived difference between what they were told at interview and the reality of schools. 

One said, “Be more open about what the school is like. Behavior of pupils, so poor.” 

Another wrote, “Shedding light in the interview on the behavior challenges within the school would have been useful to prepare us.” 

The Ministry of Education said in a statement that during the recruitment process it went to “considerable lengths to be very clear to candidates about the strengths and challenges in our schools and our current strategies for improvement.” 

The ministry said it strongly encouraged teachers to “research about our islands and our education system, to prepare for their arrival and to fully understand our educational context before they arrive.” 

Literacy and numeracy levels 

Teachers also emphasized the level of the students as a major issue in their decision to leave and warned teachers were often just “fire fighting” or “trying to get through the day.” 

One teacher complained that 10 percent of kids are “not in the mainstream.” Another points out that the exam pass rates are surprisingly low.  

Literacy and numeracy levels were listed by several teachers in response to a question about what they found most challenging or frustrating. 

One argued that the curriculum is “not thorough enough” and more cohesion is needed between primary and secondary schools to ensure pupils are better prepared. Another suggested teachers should be given samples of pupils’ work before they arrive. 

‘Pay cut’  

The exit interview transcripts also suggest government’s decision to abandon a promised 3.2 percent “cost of living” pay raise was an issue. 

Several teachers highlighted a “pay cut” at the start of their contract as a factor. It is understood that some teachers were recruited with the expectation that the increase, which one points out would have amounted to $350 a month, would be part of their starting salary, only to have that decision reversed before they started work. 

The ministry acknowledged that the 3.2 percent pay cut across the Civil Service occurred just after the arrival of new teachers on island.  

“We have had a lot of feedback that indicates this has had an impact on the morale of the new teachers who arrived in 2012, as well as on longer-serving teachers. Given current budgetary limitations, this is an issue being faced across the entire civil service,” the ministry said. 

Cultural and racial issues also appeared to be a problem for a few foreign teachers, with some suggesting they were not listened to or that their opinions were not respected. One claimed, “A comment was made in a staff meeting that I only got the role because I was white. I then left the meeting.” 

Another pointed out, “Being an international staff member makes it difficult to change things as you are not heard.” 

Some teachers suggested local teachers and pupils are favored over them when there is a dispute. Others expressed frustration with the teaching assessment process, while others had specific issues with certain school policies, such as the amount of religious devotions. 

The Department of Education says it is using the interviews to help hone its recruitment process. Asked why, of the 80 teachers who departed the system last year, records were provided for only around 10 teachers, a department spokesman said the process was currently voluntary. 

“Unfortunately, exit interviews are not currently conducted as part of the standard exit procedure from the department, but rather undertaken if requested by individual employees or where a specific need is identified.  

“We recognize the valuable information/feedback provided about an organization from this source, and are working towards implementing a procedure which will have exit interviews offered to a statistically significant number of leavers.” 

11 COMMENTS

  1. Why don’t we privatize all our schools since the private schools are not having this problem.
    This violence with children cannot be allowed why don’t we change back the laws? We never had this problem in the past. The bible gives us the answer, spare the rod and spoil the child.
    When are we going to have a place for problem children or adults?I’m sure the private sector will help just ask.

  2. Has anyone ever wondered why is this only taking place at the Government schools. I have never heard of this taking place in private schools such as the Adventist School or International schools etc. on the Islands.
    Most instance we want to blame the students, and some may blame the teachers, however; I believe it is the approach with how we deal with a student that will earn us the respect needed.
    Do the education department and we as parents really believe that every teacher who is employed at the schools has our children’s achievement at heart?. Come on folks, this is nothing new. Fifty years ago there were students who were able to pass exams and got to the top, and there were those poor little ones who were Left behind. No different today; and its because if you were not capable, whether by brains or physique you were left behind.
    The schools today has many students who are diagnosed ADD, but 80% of them are very smart and only need medication and shown some love, instead of angry words and a frown.
    What we do not realize is that one day these same children will grow up in our society and become a nuisance just because they were Left behind, unless we decide today that they too can be somebody. To end my comments I say this, an adult will forgive and forget, but a child will always remember you when you do them wrong or treat them unkindly. Let us give all of them a chance to be somebody.

  3. I am a teacher. Yesterday I was told by the Education Dept. that when a teacher, Caymanian or non-Caymanian becomes licensed, that licence belongs to the employer. In my opinion that is totally wrong. If I am licensed, I should be licensed to teach anywhere (within the scope of my professional qualification, i.e. elementary, secondary or tertiary) on any of the three islands. I should have responsibility for the cost and maintaining of said license. A school has a due diligence to verify their teachers are licensed, but the institution should not possess the individual teacher’s licence.

  4. This article highlights the true issues within our current educational system. Why are children graduating without basic literacy and numeracy skills; yet the government it telling us that the number of students passing has increased. Could this be because simpler exams have been implemented and students now have the ability to sit exams multiple times to achieve a higher mark.

    Behavioural issues do not only occur in our public schools they are just publicised more frequently. Students find it difficult to relate to international teachers and often lack respect for them, but this is a cultural issue caused by lack of exposure.

    I have been through the public and private school systems; and I would not trade my experience with either. I also mentor on a weekly basis and our public schools and although I agree that much improvement is needed, I have found that you must give respect in order to earn it.

    Early Childhood Education and Primary School are the foundation block for successful high school leavers; we have to ensure that no child is left behind. This may require an old remedy of not allowing a child to advance if they have not met the minimum requirements for their current grade.

    We may have bad seeds but they did not get that way on their own; I remember growing up here being raised by a village now I see children being left to raise themselves and sometimes their siblings. We cannot blame the government and our school for all the issues some of them are due to lack of nurturing.

    My question to you is what have you done to make an impact? Do you ignore the problem because there is no direct impact ? or Have you given your time to make a small change? If you are not a part of the solution, then you are a part of the problem.

  5. Stuff like this is a result of what I call the Time Out generation where parents stopped being parents and started being friends to their children. Kids need their Mothers and Fathers to be parents not their friends. A lot of the stuff going on with kids these days is due to a lack of discipline at home which is where the education is supposed to start. You have to teach your kids respect for authority and an appreciation for education and hard work to get what they want or they will never do anything with their lives but become a burden on society and cause their loved one sorrow.

  6. Editor is on the mark with this report. Why the high teacher turnover has been researched and answered. Further I must say this newspaper seem very much in tune with what ails Cayman.

    Cause and effect; spare the rod and spoil the child, it is a worldwide trend. In Cayman our parents would cut a temirine switch and whale out bottom for any infraction in school. Now our all knowing officials have doctors and nurses, school teachers looking for the telltale sign of the switch. Physical scars now replaced with ritalin mental switch, uneducated children, gangs and babies having babies.

    I also agree with the teachers point to the need for a supplement to address children with bad behaviour. Kicking out unproductive students need to have a relook, reform schooling comes to mind. If you don’t behave yourself they going to send you to Jamaica reform school is still in my memory bank.

    Separation of church and state in Cayman?.. do you want to be burnt at the physiological stake.. Devotion, Keeping in good self preservation form said by a teaching who was leaving. Aristotle had to keep the idea that the world was round to himself.

  7. This is what happens when we have lawyers and accountants running the Education Department!We have enough veteran teachers in Cayman who can be put to work to solve some of the problems. We are forever hiring consultants from every where in the world, except here. Hire a schools superintendent that is/was a teacher. I am pretty sure every teacher in Cayman can tell anyone what the basic problems are. In the last 6 months I have seen some things that are so pitiful, I am in shock! We are headed straight for hell in a handbasket if we don’t get this problem sorted out and rectified ASAP! Time outs may work on some children, some need some biblical intervention! When a six year old tells an adult that they are going to punch them in their ******* face, this is a PROBLEM! How can any teacher, foreign or local, work under those circumstances? When two or three disruptive students attempt to take over the classroom, no amount of classroom management is going to help. It will only be a matter of time before we have to adopt some policies similar to the US’s attempt to end the classroom and school grounds violence! How are we going to arm teachers, when cops here aren’t armed? Privatize the schools? All of them? Where are these millions of dollars going to come from? Where my kids went to school in the US, the PTA was so strong at that primary school, that it really made a difference to the teachers’ attitudes about their school and what was being taught and how it was being taught. I have seen so many children in the past few months whose level of literacy and numeracy is so lacking that I am wondering and asking how can I help. This is going to need to be addressed really soon or we are going to be forever dependent on foreign labour because we are not going to be able to read or do basic math! God, please help our Island! The powers that be, need the blinders off, no more lip service but some serious action from all of us!

  8. My mother could not read or write english at all. But she made sure my brother and I studied everyday after coming home from school. She would sit us down at the dining room table and study multiplication tables from 1-12 times table. When we went to school we participated in a game of flash cards . You stood next to a class mates’ desk and the teacher sitting in front of the class would flash the next card . The student who answered first would then move to the next student. At the end of the game who was still standing would win a price . Our price was a brand new pencil. It was the fourth grade.

  9. There are many issues with the schools here, and this article hits many a nail on the head.

    We have a government that cannot keep their end of a bargain, with something like a contract. If a teacher cannot trust them with a signed legal document, what can they trust them with?

    We have some woeful senior staff, who cannot be moved on or got rid of because of who they are. Having untouchables who are obviously not up to scratch will have a terrible impact on teacher retention, morale and the attitudes of students.

    We have schools falling down in a state of disrepair, yet we have shiny new buildings laying around unfinished, a monument to stupidity.

    We have a spoon feeding culture of learn by rote. No independent thought going on here!

    We have absent/imprisoned/deadbeat parents who see school as a day car opportunity.

    We have a Dept. of Education that gives schools very few real solutions to the issues being faced.

    We also have some great staff, great students and excellent managers – but they are battling away and being a success in spite of everything thrown at them.

  10. As a student myself attending a public school i can admit that this is true. Yes the majority of the students attending public schools are hard to manage and the abuse is high towards the teachers. They say it is ‘rare’, I laugh at that. Teachers at John Gray are put through a lot and I’m not surprise most of them left. Yet students and parents complain about the teachers. Teachers are tormented most of the time and only the teachers that don’t do the job right by making us students just use the computer to get our work done instead of actually standing in front of the class and EXPLAINING, are being treated the best. Majority of the students who attend the schools love those teachers but I actually like those teachers who give the homework.
    In the environment of the public schools it is almost in possible for a student like me to learn. There is always ‘drama’. All I can say is I just wished they would make a school for the students who want to learn, who want to achieve, who want to get somewhere in life.

  11. Tara Rivers is in charge of education. She has done absolutely nothing and Alden won’t even call her out. Perhaps Tara’s handlers are on a higher pay grade than Alden’s?
    Alden and Tara, your performance in the arena of education up until now has been shockingly poor. Do you intend to do anything about it?

    Perhaps there’s another overseas trip coming up for you to get some answers for us?

    While you play politics and primp and preen for television, the future of our islands are being buried in the morass of your indifference.

    If you two would put in half the effort into bettering the country as you put into being elected, this place would be thriving.

    Alas, no. Alden and Tara, you are not the ones we have been waiting for. Next!

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