Feature Address by Dr. the Hon. Karen Cummings Minister of Foreign Affairs at the Guyana Teachers’ Union Annual Teachers’ Awards Ceremony 2019
Good evening ladies and gentlemen and Season’s Greetings to each and every one of you. Forest Witcraft, a scholar and a teacher said this about teachers and I quote “A hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much money I had in the bank, but the world may be a better place because I made a difference in the life of a child.” Unquote. As I acknowledge the profundity of such a statement and the significant truism embodied therein, I am moved to express how very humbled I am to be here with you, as we celebrate and honor our teachers. This auspicious occasion is a fitting one that bestows the much-needed affirmation our teachers deserve, for the hard work they do each and every day, molding the young minds of this nation and making a difference in the world. This evening, I wish all teachers to know that your altruistic service is recognized and highly appreciated. On behalf of the government and people of Guyana, I would like to sincerely thank all our public-school teachers for their commitment and dedication to delivering the best quality public education to our nation’s children. We salute you!
The theme for this evening’s event is: “Consolidating for greater success in the future.” This theme is most appropriate today as Guyana is poised to become a major player in the oil and gas industry. Only last week, His Excellency (Brig. Rtd.) President David A. Granger in delivering his address at the CPCE graduation underscored the growing importance of science education in preparing Guyana to become a green state in this digital age with the strategic use of technology, more so with information and communication technologies (ICTs) being the driving force.
Teaching in the 21st century and beyond, requires a new approach because of changes in the economy and changes in technology. As you move your teaching methods from teacher-centred to student-centred, from talk and show to inquiry, you will be able to leverage on each student’s abilities, interests and learning styles. Technology allows the modern teacher to discover solutions to problems, collaboratively.
Teaching as a vocation
The teaching profession is one that requires a true desire to make good children better, through the skillful delivery of curricula. While we have institutions like the Cyril Potter College of Education and the University of Guyana, that are responsible for professionalizing the teacher, the individual who decides to become a teacher, must first have an innate yearning to establish positive learning experiences and outcomes for children. Ladies and gentlemen, teachers tap the fertile minds of young children and plant the seeds of curiosity in them. As a consequence, teachers affect eternity, since we can never tell where that influence stops.
The very nature of the teaching profession means that a teacher spends most of his or her time teaching inside and outside the four walls of the classroom. This situation occurs because even when he or she goes home, teaching is always in his or her mind. Unlike many other professions where the activities of the professionals start and end mostly inside the four walls of their offices or in their places of work, the work of teachers never stops because of the need to prepare for the activities of the coming days. In order for teachers to competently deliver their curricula, careful preparation must be done at all times. Preparation of lessons is an essential part of teaching as much as the delivery. To ensure that the teaching and learning process is the success that we desire, I want to refer to the theme which is so relevant to the vocation. Teachers have to create a whole community to guarantee that our students have successful and meaningful futures. Thus, I ask that you consolidate all your efforts to bring about Guyanese students who have the potential to lead Guyana on the transformational trajectory upon which we have embarked.
Sadly, teaching has become an alternative career for many. Some see teaching as just another job. Many see teaching as a job one does because there is no other available at the moment. In too many instances, persons treat the profession with scant regard. Teaching is a professional job and should be treated as such. In fact, teaching can be considered as one of the hardest jobs in the world. Personally, I do not think that any random person should be allowed to be a teacher. That person must have that passion to teach, inspire, and be able to uplift the spirit of students in every way possible. Teachers must use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross, after which they encourage their students to build bridges of their own.
As teachers you are expected to be the source of inspiration and motivation for your students. You have a long-term impact on the minds of students. Therefore, as teachers, you must be a role model to your students. Who you are is more important that what you teach. Teachers create lasting impressions in the minds of their students. Persons do not really remember teaching strategies and techniques, they remember their teachers with all of their idiosyncrasies, their influence, and their impact. As teachers, you must strive to create the right kinds of memories, experiences and life lessons for the young minds with whom you come into contact.
The Importance of Teachers in Society
Children carry what they are taught at a young age throughout the rest of their lives. They will use what they have learned to influence society. The youth of today will become tomorrow’s leaders, and as teachers you have access to educate the youth in their most impressionable years — whether that is teaching in nursey, primary or secondary schools.
As teachers, you have the ability to shape our leaders of the future in the best way for our society to build positive and inspired future generations. In reality, you have the most important job in the world. When you have a positive impact on the children of society, you have the power to change lives. Not just for those children themselves, but for the lives of all.
The teacher-student connection is invaluable for some students who may otherwise not have that stability. I know some of you have experiences of students who sometimes come to you and rely on you for positive advice. Great teachers always have compassion for their students, understanding of their students’ personal lives, and appreciation for their academic goals and achievements. Hence my earlier reference to teaching being more than a profession because some of your greatest impacts on students are outside of academics.
An appreciation for the hard work done by Teachers
The selfless nature of teaching requires that you function at optimum levels consistently to achieve the desired results which is learning. Through the planning and careful delivery of your subject areas, you engage in the transfer of knowledge that stimulates and broadens the minds of your students.
Today we pause to recognize and congratulate all those teachers who toil day in day out in our country to deliver the best education to our nation’s youth. The 34 of you being honored today congratulations. May others follow in your footsteps as superlative teachers. We know that we can never adequately compensate you for the hard work you do. If teachers were compensated handsomely for every hour of work that they do, they would all be millionaires easily. The work that you do as teachers does not have a real dollar value. However, we can continuously work to make life a little easier for you through various means of compensation. Hence, it is imperative that the ministry, union and government as a whole find the right strategy to come up with the correct package and necessary support structure which will entice our own teachers to remain in the profession, particularly here in Guyana.
As a government, we are committed to finding the right approach and policies which will address the various issues within the education sector, which when dealt with will allow us to take education in our country to the next level. Collectively we must find workable solutions to the various challenges which are negatively impacting our schools. Now more than ever, we need to work collectively at ensuring that the teaching profession is preserved and has a supporting structure that enables teachers to benefit considerably from compensation packages that are reasonable and practical. Again, we must consolidate our efforts for greater success in every sphere of activity in the education system.
Staying the course
The role of teaching is demanding. It’s relentless. The stress often outweighs the fulfilment that comes from the job. Let’s recognise the colossal responsibility our teachers undertake, as they continue in their quest to nurture and develop our nation’s future leaders. Let us work alongside them, value them and respect them for the professionals they are. Let us thank them for accepting this high calling amidst the growing demands of their profession.
And let’s not make it a tokenistic gesture on one day; let us commit to the long-term appreciation of our cherished quiet achievers. This is the best way we can offer them a hand.
Those of you who have remained in Guyana and continue to contribute towards the development of the sector; I thank you. Though things may not be perfect, you stayed and faced the challenges with a firm commitment and an unshakable determination to make a positive difference. Teachers, I want you to note that you weren’t born to just teach students. You are here to motivate others, to change the lives and minds of young people, to never give up on the seemingly worst of your students, to never give up even when faced with challenges that seem unsurmountable. Remember that in your job, you get the opportunity to change a life for the better, to inspire hope, ignite imagination, and instill the love of learning.
I want to leave with you the words of US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in his statement to honour teachers. Secretary Duncan said and I quote, “Every day, teachers come to school ready to tackle a job that is critically important, extraordinarily complex, often joyful, and at times, heartbreaking. In essence, teachers help others to become their best selves and I cannot think of no more important work.” Unquote. I urge you to continue to make a difference. Be that lamp that gives light to others. Be teachers!!
I would sincerely like to exhort the sagacious leadership of the GTU to continue to work along with government so that together we can truly consolidate for a greater future together for our teachers. We are better when we work together.
On behalf of the APNU+AFC Government, I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Blessed and Prosperous New Year with renewed commitment and dedication to this noble profession of teaching.
I thank you.