EDITORIAL – Excellent teachers: The secret to excellent schools

Without fresh water, gardens are doomed to shrivel and die. In the absence of excellent teachers, young minds face a similar fate.

The saga of the “teacherless” East End Primary School children (seemingly resolved, at least for now) is only one anecdotal example of the teacher shortages plaguing the Cayman Islands government school system.

A front-page story in Tuesday’s Compass contained some basic figures that sum up the problem from a quantitative angle. During the government’s 2014/15 budget year, about 20 percent of public school teachers left their jobs (greater than the total turnover rate in the civil service of 14 percent). Teacher turnover dropped in 2015/16 to 10 percent (which was still greater than the overall civil service rate of 9 percent).

Put another way, in the past two years, education officials had to scramble to fill 127 teacher vacancies. As any Cayman Islands businessperson knows, that is a formidable human resources endeavor, particularly considering the academic credentials and professional certifications required of teacher applicants.

Compensating for high teacher turnover is not a one-off phenomenon, either, but more of an annual exercise for government. For example, during the 2012/13 school year, about 20 percent of teaching staff left the public school system.

First, let us state that a high turnover rate, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing – that is, if there were evidence that local education officials were systematically culling low-performing teachers from the ranks. We hold good teachers in the highest regard. They should be handsomely compensated, treasured as invaluable assets and held in high esteem among the rest of the community.

As for bad teachers … well … let’s just say the more that leave, the better. As the saying goes, a bad teacher multiplies his or her ignorance by the size of the class.

There is no room in a superior school system for subpar or “clock punching” teachers who are not driven by the desire to help their students achieve.

Culling low-performing teachers requires tough, principled management – descriptors which unfortunately do not seem to fit Cayman’s educational administration in recent times.

Indeed, throughout the civil service, departures are overwhelmingly due to resignations (“I quit!”) rather than dismissals (“You’re fired!”).

We do not purport to understand exactly why each of the 127 educators left government schools in the past two years, but in general there are two main reasons why teachers quit:

1) Unprepared, unruly students;

2) Overbearing administrators.

Documents reviewed and reported on by the Compass last year back up those observations. We will share again just two of the many telling excerpts from teachers’ exit interviews:

“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 they have the run of the school and teachers are second-class citizens. I thought I would be sad to leave but all I feel is relief.”

Government could spend (and has spent) decades emptying, refilling and re-emptying taxpayer coffers on school buildings and school consultants without supplying the basic ingredient of excellent schools – excellent teachers.

Like a good businessperson, a good teacher desires only a couple of things: First, adequate resources. Second, for government officials to get out of their way, and allow them to flourish in their chosen vocation.

In the case of teachers, that is, of course, to teach.

1 COMMENT

  1. I am a college graduate living and working in Grand Cayman for the past 34 years and have worked with the youth of West Bay all these years. What has always bothered me is that all student graduate even if they do not make the grades in simple math and reading skills.

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