An­other teacher dies, JTA blames be­ing over­worked, ex­pert says not so fast

Jamaica Gleaner - - FRONT PAGE - Jo­van John­son Staff Re­porter jo­van.john­son@glean­

SHOCKED AT the death of a third pub­lic school teacher in a month, the “ex­tremely con­cerned” Ja­maica Teach­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion (JTA) is warn­ing mem­bers not to over­work them­selves, while call­ing for the Govern­ment to find ways to re­duce the “high stress lev­els” in class­rooms.

How­ever, psy­chol­o­gist Dr Leachim Se­maj said that teach­ing “has al­ways been stress­ful”, and link­ing the deaths to stress with­out any as­sess­ment of the sit­u­a­tion is a knee-jerk re­ac­tion.

Sheno­ria Hem­mings Lee, an English teacher at the Span­ish Town High School in St Cather­ine, died yes­ter­day af­ter col­laps­ing at a work­shop.

She col­lapsed al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter she made a pre­sen­ta­tion at a Na­tional Stan­dards Cur­ricu­lum work­shop at Cen­tral High in Claren­don, a par­tic­i­pant told The Gleaner. “It’s so shock­ing. She had just pre­sented. I can’t be­lieve it!”

Hem­mings Lee is the third teacher to die in less than a month. Thirty-nine year-old Christo­pher Gayle died last month af­ter col­laps­ing at Kingston Col­lege where he worked. Nor­man Man­ley High in Kingston was also left in mourn­ing fol­low­ing the death of Na­dine Trail.

JTA Pres­i­dent Howard Isaccs said some­thing needs to be done im­me­di­ately to help teach­ers cope with their work in the class­room.

“As an as­so­ci­a­tion, we have to re­spond as best as pos­si­ble to our mem­bers and to the teach­ers of Ja­maica to em­pha­sise to them that they can do so much and no more, and to fo­cus on their own health and well-be­ing as they work in the class­room,” he told The Gleaner.


Isaccs said one of the ways to re­duce stress lev­els is to in­crease the num­ber of guid­ance coun­sel­lors in schools. “The work­ing con­di­tions for our teach­ers is quite chal­leng­ing. The stu­dents that we deal with, in many cases, are ex­cel­lent stu­dents, but we have chal­lenges in deal­ing with some. More sup­port sys­tems need to be put in place for some of our schools [be­cause] the teacher can’t fo­cus on what he or she does best, which is teach­ing.”

On the is­sue of the guid­ance coun­sel­lors, Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Ruel Reid said the co­op­er­a­tion of the JTA is re­quired to re­as­sign teach­ers from over­sup­plied schools to ones that need more staff.

He has ex­pressed sad­ness at Hem­mings Lee’s pass­ing.

“We have to get all the facts be­cause I don’t know if they had pre-ex­ist­ing med­i­cal con­di­tions, but, cer­tainly, based on pol­icy di­rec­tives we have ar­tic­u­lated, we are com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing ad­di­tional re­sources to schools. In the area of guid­ance and coun­selling, we’ve iden­ti­fied about 2,400 teach­ers that are said to be in over­staffed schools, and one of the man­dates I’ve given to the min­istry tech­nocrats is to look at that co­hort to see how we can re­train those per­sons [for re­de­ploy­ment],” Reid said.

Se­maj, how­ever, is cau­tion­ing that any re­sponse to the is­sue must be in­formed by proper anal­y­sis.

“Teach­ing has al­ways been stress­ful – by our class­room size and by what teach­ers are asked to do, so I would not jump to that con­clu­sion. It’s a knee-jerk re­ac­tion. We need to look at the sit­u­a­tion much more care­fully be­fore at­tribut­ing any such con­clu­sion,” he said.

“As a psy­chol­o­gist, the rule that I fol­low be­fore you can treat some­thing (is that) you have to as­sess it, clas­sify it and di­ag­nose it. None of this has hap­pened. This is just a re­ac­tion to some events. I can’t think of any job in Ja­maica which is not stress­ful.”


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