A pattern of lack of discipline in Cayman’s classrooms, administrative dysfunction and overall job frustration permeates exit interviews from teachers who have left the school system over the last three academic years.
The note-form transcripts from the interviews were released to the Cayman Compass under the freedom of Information Law. The names of the teachers and the schools were redacted in the FOI response. In all, 18 exit interviews were released.
Among the more disturbing comments:
“There are still assaults occurring on staff and students [and] persistent behavior issues with certain students in lessons and around the school.”
“I think it is of great detriment to not have an alternative education building that is large enough to house the students on island that need such a thing. This resulted in students that had absolutely no business being on property due to repeated drug and violence violations, and no interest in pursuing an education, wandering the grounds, disrupting the learning of others.”
“Despite what the statistics may be saying, any teacher at [school name redacted] will tell you that these students are far, far behind their international peers in literacy and mathematics, and that isn’t an issue that can be pretended away with political speeches and new-age school structures.”
“The students feel that they have the run of the school and teachers are second-class citizens. I thought that I would be sad to leave but all I feel is relief.”
Several teachers, apparently from Clifton Hunter High School, said the open-plan layout of the school made teaching and classroom management, in particular, very difficult.
One consistent theme in the interviews is frustration at the workload and the amount of cover lessons some school teachers are required to do, beyond their own lessons. Several
teachers complained that this additional work was not distributed equitably.
Others suggested the lack of a fair, transparent and equitable system of pay and promotions affected their decision to leave.
The ministry in the past year has introduced a new literacy intervention program for the youngest students, and a new behavior management system was brought in this year to help ensure a more consistent approach to school discipline.
While some said new policies on behavior management in schools had made an impact, several commented that the training and resources were not supplied to back it up.
“Having one special needs teacher for a case load of over 200 is the definition of failing our most vulnerable students,” said one teacher.
The Ministry of Education announced last month that it had been given funding for 40 new posts, many of them classroom assistants.
One teacher had experience working in primary schools but had been given a high school class after arriving in Cayman. Others felt the ministry had not leveled with them about the behavior issues in schools and the academic level of some of the students.
Many of the teachers encourage the ministry to be more open with candidates about difficulties in the school system and suggest that publishing the inspection reports will help ensure new teachers do not arrive with false expectations.
Another source of frustration for some school teachers was the level of training and expertise of the classroom assistants.
“Teacher assistants are working with the students who have the most needs and in many cases, the teacher assistants are equally in need of guidance and support. In one of my schools, the teacher assistant stated that she could not work with a group of [elementary level] students because the material was too difficult.”
Another educator recommends “Retrain classroom assistants and provide a certificated course for them all to undertake.”
There were too many officials and not enough teachers, an educator at one school stated.
“The school structure needs overhauling. For a school of approximately 800 students, there is no need for 10 senior managers earning a massive salary, most of who don’t teach, and have very little accountability for the jobs they should be doing,” the teacher said.
Despite assurances from education officials that there is plenty of paper and other basic resources to go round, several school teachers echoed concerns reported from Parent
Teacher Association meetings that this was not the case.
“On a regular basis there was no paper for photocopying. The machines often needed service or ink. I would have friends donate pens/pencils and stationary supplies or I would purchase items myself,” said one.
Some of the comments from departing teachers in their exit interviews:
“There is a lot of tension between certain members of staff which sometimes spilled over into the classroom in a display of utter unprofessionalism in front of the students.”
“There seems to be no repercussions for teachers when, year after year, their students don’t show satisfactory progress.”
“Many enjoy being sent out of lessons … many also do not view after school detentions or the in-school unit as a punishment as they are not expected to work in silence.”
“Thank you for hiring me. This has been an amazing experience, to return to the Cayman Islands and serve as a teacher. I have no regrets and I am full of gratitude.”
“It is challenging and can be highly frustrating, but if you can learn techniques to cope with this it can be very rewarding.”
“Ultimately I have not settled on island and between working in the [redacted] class without experience or training, I have found the last few months the most stressful of my teaching career.”
“Half-term was set too late in the term. By definition, it should be halfway through the term.”
“I found the job to be demoralizing. As a new-to-the island teacher, I was given mostly low set classes and the self-esteem and self-belief of these students was a tragedy.”
“One of the most welcome, friendliest places I ever lived and worked.”