Education 101: Address disciplinary issues first

During the budget debate in the Legislative Assembly, Education Minister Tara Rivers spoke at length about the Cayman Islands government’s initiatives to deal with behavioral problems in schools – a topic that has gained much public attention since March, when a 15-year-old John Gray High School student physically assaulted a teacher.

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.


  1. As education minister I believe Mrs Rivers is in the best position to gather the investigative intelligence necessary to make an informed decision. For a teacher to respond to a student in such a manner, points to the teacher being at his/her wits end. No student should be able to outwit a teacher to a point of dysfunction. Let the minister cure what ails.

  2. Where I grew up there was a special school that unruly kids went to when they could not co-exist in the normal school system.
    I believe they got 2-3 warnings and then were expelled from their current schools and moved to the special school.
    Why deprive the teachers and students of teaching and learning? Who wins in this current system?
    This special school was not a bad place, it was just designed more to deal with unruly students, and the stigma of that school whipped potential candidates into shape because they would be removed from their friends and possibly a school that had a great sports program etc.
    Also, the parents need to be on the same page as the teachers and faculty. If your child is in theirschool, they must abide by theirrules.

  3. It is without fail that I read the stories as compiled by the editorial staff. I have never seen an article that gets to the core of a situation better than this one. Very, very well done.

    I would be interested in knowing a little bit about Ms. Rivers, such as her classroom experience, educational background, etc. She is a public figure which makes this public info.

    To say what she has actually said or inferred in any way that the teachers are an issue tells me all I need to know. She is inappropriately placed in her present position.

    At Levy: The ship has sailed sir and youre not on it.

  4. Matter of fact I am impressed with Mrs Rivers approach to addressing this problem. Most would have made a straight on frontal attack, and to hell with the causality. I for one would insure my forces had the best tools and know how to use them in order to win. A win/win in this case, with education the objective, and discipline a means to the objective. Teaching the teachers how to better react to any given situation sounds like a leader helping a leader to lead. Proper use the three leaderships styles in the correct combination is essential in getting someone to do what you want them to do. We don’t want anyone to jump ship. Lets give the captain and crew the tools and expertise necessary to deal with this Cayman crew, with no one left behind, Mr King.

  5. Mr. Levy

    Your comments sound like they are from a text book or Wikipedia. They are almost an echo of Ms. Rivers.With some effort I might be able to see the common thread.

    So lets have a look at the problem here. Students have little or no respect for teachers. Teachers are a bunch of foreigners coming to take another part of our island. Oops, maybe those in authority have the same line of thinking.

    There’s a bottom line here and that is, we MUST have a no tolerance for physical assaults on teachers. I have witnessed too many of them to not understand that the problem is never dealt with. It is simply shifted ( mostly the teachers actually in some way shape or form) and on and on it goes with the philosophy or quotes from text books. Putting the theory to practice seems to be a stumbling block

    So Mr. Levy, sand does not have to be a stumbling block. It can be done if you try.

  6. An impediment to solving this problem is the country wide mentality where accountability is thwarted in one form or another and responsibility is subverted.
    How can the children be held to a standard that they see avoided on almost a daily basis?

  7. As a general rule: School is an adolescent replication of adult life! When you graduate from school and embark on your carrier, you observe all of the same personalities in people as you witnessed in school. The class clown transitions into the office jokester. The teacher’s pet transforms into the executive suck-up. Those that would not comply with the rules in school are later observed violating the rules of society. The few that excel become tomorrow’s leaders. Another interesting observation is that all of these different personalities tend to gravitate and coalesce. Those that excelled live in the nicer neighborhoods and interact with those of like mind. Those that had a problem with authority tend to occupy the lower end of the economic scale. They tend to fill the labor market that requires hard physical labor with low cognitive skills. They occupy the low end neighborhoods and sometimes are housed together in prison.
    Several observations can be concluded from this reality:
    1.) The coalescing of the groups is critical to achieving the goals or functions of the assembly. Example: A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
    2.) Each person leaving school is jubilant in distancing themselves from the personality dissimilarities. Example: The high achievers no longer are frustrated by distractions of those that have little interest in the academic environment. The low achievers no longer are frustrated by having to comply with a regimented, rule infested, atmosphere that has anticipations of expectations.
    3.) More work can be accomplished and greater goals achieved when likeminded individuals come together for a common purpose. Example: A well-oiled machine vs. the theory of attempting to fit a square peg into a round hole.
    In conclusion: The theory of the rich get richer while the poor continue on that path perpetuates itself because; those with wealth generally came from the ranks of the schools higher achievers. These people understand the importance of education and will take their children out of these public schools and place them in private settings. The wealthy will spend lavishly with private tutors, summer educational vacations, etc. While the poor, which generally occupied the lower portions of the class rankings do not put as much importance in education. Their children tend to play and interact with children from the same neighborhoods. The result of this is that you have some kids that hunger to escape the insanity of the poorer neighborhoods but can’t because; the public schools they attend have to teach to the lowest common denominator. The teachers desperately want to help but get little to no assistance from the parents because; once again the parents didn’t want to go to school when they were young and have raised their kids to follow the path of less resistance as well. The only way public schools can help the children is by separating them. The children that have shown a true disinterest in education must be removed from those that desperately are attempting to better themselves. Those that attend school just because they have to be there tend to reflect the attitudes of a prisoner of war. They disrupt services and create distractions. These children can and do reduce the overall ranking, and recognition of the school in general. The only alternative the public is left with is an alternative school. The children in that attend alternative schools are much happier. The expectations are much less. They are with other children of like mind. The study material is basic and not too challenging. The teachers are much happier because; they do not have to attempt to teach to such a wide spectrum of abilities. My favorite illustration is that of the educator that characterized the issue by stating: Teaching these unmotivated children is reflective of trying to teach a pig to sing. It frustrates the teacher and it annoys the pig.

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