Ms. Rivers, we believe, is correct in highlighting and attempting to focus on this core issue. After all, nearly no one would argue that any serious amelioration of education standards in the classroom is possible before behavioral issues are dealt with.
No amount of money, such as the $100 million spent on Clifton Hunter High School, can even begin to generate its potential return on investment if there is disorder in the classrooms which, after all, should be sanctuaries of safety, discipline and decorum.
Common sense tells us that the unruly actions of even one student can negate all of the resources – and best intentions – of education ministers, school administrators, and even the finest and most well-meaning teachers.
Therefore, we were somewhat chagrined by Ms. Rivers’s remarks on the floor of the House that appeared to suggest a politically correct rough equivalency between the misbehavior of students and, of all things, the misbehavior of teachers.
Ms. Rivers announced that she was introducing a new policy to deal with complaints – against teachers! She suggested that “it is not acceptable [for teachers] to say that our children are dumb, that they can’t learn, or ‘I’m just here for a paycheck whether they advance or not.’”
We couldn’t agree with her more; if there really are teachers making a practice of insulting students in the classroom, it is Ms. Rivers’s responsibility to investigate, identify the malefactors and, most likely, fire them.
But honestly, does anyone seriously believe that the real behavioral issues in the classroom are teacher-based, not student-based?
By even suggesting such a notion, Ms. Rivers is publicly undermining what should be her main message, namely, “I support our teachers.”
In any dispute that arises between taking the word of a student over the word of a teacher in a disciplinary matter, the assumption must be that the teacher is telling the truth and the burden must fall to the student to prove otherwise.
We hear far too many tales from teachers in the Cayman Islands public school system who have attempted to discipline unruly students, but when parents complain, they do not receive support from principals, administrators and politicians. This must stop. Is it any wonder that nearly 20 percent of our teachers left their jobs during the 2012-2013 school year? Based on their exit interviews, they had had enough, and we can’t blame them.
We do not envy Ms. Rivers when we contemplate the enormous task and responsibility she took on when she accepted the position of minister of education. The neglect of our schools has been generational, and it is likely to take at least one generation to remedy it.
A good place to start would be to focus on recruiting and compensating generously the finest teachers we can attract to our beautiful islands.
Once they get here, we should honor them, support them, get out of their way, and let them teach.