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Day in the life of a school teacher: Some students work after school packing groceries…

“Any incidents of violence in schools, society is always quick to say that the teacher is never there. Teachers have their plates full. Society doesn’t understand that we have no support [and] limited resources. Half the schools in Trinidad and Tobago are dilapidated, hot, do not have fans, water is an issue and teachers come day after day in these conditions for the sake of the children.

“I think we aren’t treated fairly. Of course there are bad ones in the system but the majority of teachers who stick it out with the children we have now, they should be appreciated.”

Care to try on someone else’s shoes?

Wired868 continues its journey into the daily challenges of everyday Trinbagonians with a chat to a secondary school teacher who is a bit overwhelmed at her daily obstacles but desperate to make an impact in the latest instalment of our “Day in the life…” series:

Photo: A school teacher prepares to deliver her lesson.
Photo: A school teacher prepares to deliver her lesson.

How many years have you been in the teaching service?

I have been teaching for ten years and I’ve been at this school for three years. I teach Principles of Business for form four and five students.

How does a typical day start for you?

I get up at 5.00am to leave home at 5.30am. I cook and prepare everything the night before. When I get up, it’s just to bathe, get ready and leave home. I live San Fernando and I teach in the north, so I face the traffic that goes into Port of Spain. I have three kids so I hire someone to get them ready for school as my husband starts work at 6.00am and also leaves home very early.

What time do you go to bed?

Most nights about 11 o’clock. I try to get to bed by 10 but I am usually asleep by 11.

What is your typical school day like?

I am usually in school by seven o’clock. I would have breakfast, go to the bathroom and compose myself for the start of the day. When the bell rings at 8:20am, there is morning assembly over the school’s PA system and they say the school prayer. I am the form teacher for a form five class, so I take role and interact with the students during that 10 minutes. Classes start at 8.30 am, so I would leave to go to my class.

There are two classes before the break, two between break and lunch and three more before school dismisses at 2:40 pm. I leave immediately as I am here early. There isn’t much traffic at that time and I also have to see about my family.

Photo: A school teacher on the job.
Photo: A school teacher on the job.

How many classes do you teach per day?

It varies. The Ministry mandates 27 per week and I currently have 24, so I am almost at my max. If I have any free period on some days, I use that for planning for the students’ lessons or correcting papers. I have eighty SBA papers to correct.

Some teachers carry papers home to grade however I make it my business not too. I already live so far and I also have to be there for my children—one of whom is writing exams this year. So I try to get it done during the free periods and also while the students are doing assignments in class. I just do it throughout the day even in the lunch hour.

Sometimes I use the free periods to figure out how to fill the gaps because students learn at a different pace. Some might understand what I taught while others may not grasp it as quickly. I try to figure out how to help them understand. I use examples that they can relate too.

What do you find the most challenging about your job?

A lot of these students come from home with issues. Some come from homes where a parent died as a result of violence, their parents might be in jail, there are victims of incest and some self-cut. It’s really sad. It’s the situation that the students are in. I was actually surprised by the amount of students that come from broken homes and or have issues.

I grew up sheltered, so in my mind we were rich. It’s not until I grew up that I realized that we were poor. Parents today aren’t sheltering their children. They actually depend on their children for financial support which is so sad. Most of these students start working by the time they are 14 to take care of themselves and sometimes siblings and relatives.

They come to school, then go to work—sometimes in supermarkets packing bags. Some get home at 9 o’clock. They have a full day then we expect them to perform.

Some of them come to school without anything to eat. They may ask for money to get something to eat until they get paid at the end of the week. That is the hardest part of the job. The fact that students have so much to deal with beyond what they should have.

Photo: Two Arima North Secondary students take it easy during a 5k against school violence and bullying on Friday 12 February 2016. (Courtesy Arima North Secondary)
Photo: Two Arima North Secondary students take it easy during a 5k against school violence and bullying on Friday 12 February 2016.
(Courtesy Arima North Secondary)

Are there any social programs to assist these students?

We have a guidance counsellor that comes in three times a week. She also has other schools that she’s responsible for.

How do you cope with it emotionally?

Well sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t. There are many days we cry as teachers. Some of my students tell me that I am the only person they can speak to. Some teachers prefer not to know as it’s something additional to do. In cases of incest they are obligated to report it and the police get involved.

How many students come from broken circumstances or have personal issues?

The school has 900-plus students, so I would say about 800. You know any incidents of violence in schools, society is always quick to say that the teacher is never there. Teachers have their plates full. Society doesn’t understand that we have no support [and] limited resources. Half the schools in Trinidad and Tobago are dilapidated, hot, do not have fans, water is an issue and teachers come day after day in these conditions for the sake of the children.

I think we aren’t treated fairly. Of course there are bad ones in the system but the majority of teachers who stick it out with the children we have now, they should be appreciated.

What do you find rewarding about the job?

It’s about the students understanding [what we are paid to teach them]. Being able to help them grasp a concept is amazing.

I like interacting with them and I try to show them a way out of their situation. Sometimes it’s painful to hear the stories but once you understand their background you know how to relate to them.

Photo: A scene from the movie "Dangerous Minds."
Photo: A scene from the movie “Dangerous Minds.”

What was the most weird or awesome experience?

Something that stood out to me the most is not something awesome, it’s actually negative but it stayed. Children are pure, it’s the adults that have problems. When I was teaching primary school, a student came up to me during lunch and asked me if I’m a Negro. I asked her what she meant by that and she asked, “What are you?” I told her yes I am a Negro and she said her mother doesn’t like Negro people. Her mother told her not to play with Negro children and not to come home with a Negro boyfriend.

Parents pass on their prejudice, their bias and ill habits to children. We were close so I had the opportunity to tell her if she goes through life based on her parent’s utterances she would miss out on a lot.

What advice would you give to other teachers or aspiring teachers?

Teaching is beyond the academic curriculum. The hidden curriculum is more important for today’s students as it’s a reflection of society. It’s those things you don’t intend to teach but you do. It’s how you dress, social graces, the inspiration you give them and the attitudes and values you portray.

I also recommend that the Ministry do a review of the system and place teachers closer to where they live. Many teachers’ are working far from where they live [and] I believe you wold get the best from them if they are placed closer to home.

What is your favourite quote?

Let not what you can’t do, detract you from what you can do.

Photo: Students at Belmont Secondary School smile for the cameras during a visit from two-time Olympian Jehue Gordon. (Copyright BBC.co.uk)
Photo: Students at Belmont Secondary School smile for the cameras during a visit from two-time Olympian Jehue Gordon.
(Copyright BBC.co.uk)

About Clarissa Pantin

Clarissa Pantin
Clarissa Pantin is a final year student at COSTAATT pursuing her BA in Mass Communications and is currently an intern at Wired868. Clarissa believes in maintaining her personal integrity at all times and her pet peeve is people who take advantage of others. Her advice to young persons is “do everything to the best of your ability, even if you don’t like doing it”. People are judged by their actions; choose what you want to be remembered for.

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12 comments

  1. It is high time the government place teachers as close as positive to their homes…i can understand a placement close to home might not be available right away.but it’s something worth looking at….it’s tough..

  2. To counter this teacher’s negative racist experience, today in the Std. 1 class I work in as a Teacher’s Aide, we were discussing ” East Indian Arrival Day”. When our teacher, who is of East Indian descent, mentioned that this group of people made great contributions to our nation, one of our students said, “Like you Miss!” And all the other students chimed in with, “yeahs” and other words of agreement. We were both in awe and Miss was very touched. Lol
    So your interviewee was right, hidden curriculum, even more than the academics, does and will continue to impact students, even long after they’ve moved on from your class.
    Working in a school has made me very reflective and nostalgic about my own school days and the many wonderful men and women who “poured” into my life.

  3. You sure right. Even after sea u can’t rest cuz u have to plan and prepare for graduation.

  4. Let us not forget for a single moment ‘school violence’ is but a reflection of the wider culture of violence that is the dominant currency for social exchange..As the people stranded on the Tobago ports, those whose problems of water and road are referred to the Police Force or those who assemble to address matters of industrial relations are met with squads ‘dressed in riot gear”….The teacher cannot address these issues in a bubble .i.e..just the classroom.

    • People forget that on the whole when we discuss children. Considering the society that gave birth to them, we are fine ones to point fingers at them for being violent, sex-charged thieving so and sos. Lol. They are old enough to read the papers or watch the 7 o’clock news.

  5. Shalisha Khan they aint know the teachers struggle

  6. Tasliymah Hassanali Laura Ballack Reemal Maharaj Yuva Roopchansingh

  7. Maybe teachers should be zoned as that would help with the long hours spent getting ready for work, the travel and organizing the home etc. .

  8. The woman is an inspiration. What she has described is an understatement of the pressure educators must endure. Professional autonomy is undermined and as much as we talk about the hidden curriculum and differentiated instruction, teachers are managed like the rest of the civil service. I often wonder how the MoE decides which schools are overstaffed because my impression is that if you truly had an interest in allowing teachers to be more than the instrument of formal curriculum delivery you would realize that this needs to be factored into considerations of management. Teachers at different levels of the education system have vastly different responsibilities and would therefore need a dynamic and flexible management system that is as open as the idea of education that educators are expected to model. Right now teachers are constantly expected to do more and to be more with less. A punitive approach to educators and using the few teachers who may be underperforming as a proverbial “big stick” will also affect colleague relationships. Much of the success of the education system also rests on the understanding that educators and administrators are faced with duties that are heavily emotional and places significant psychological strain on them. A cohesive staff that can work together and an administration that balances empathy, flexibility and good work ethic makes a huge difference. Using a “pass the buck” approach to managing problems in the system and blame assignment will undermine the integrity of staff cohesion.

    • That’s a comment very rich in information itself. I think our structure doesn’t serve us well throughout government. Power is consolidated at the top. It needs to be spread through the system better for those different cases you mentioned and that the teacher identified.
      Clearly teaching at certain secondary schools are a different kettle of fish to say a QRC or St George’s College.