One of the country’s leading education professionals, Dr Renee Rattray, has urged teachers to acknowledge themselves as “superheroes” as they carry out their daily tasks both inside and outside of the classroom.

“When you step into a room, people know, or when you open your mouth, people ask: Are you a teacher? If that doesn’t happen, it should,” Rattray underscored to nods of agreement from the roughly 1,000 educators attending the one-day Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) Helen Stills’ Professional Development Day seminar at the Hyatt Ziva in Rose Hall, St James, recently.

Noting the significant impact teachers continue to have on the society, Dr Rattray, director of education programmes at the JN Foundation, charged educators to hark back to the days when students reverred teachers, arguing that they ought to fiercely protect the brand of the profession.

“I’m on a mission to rebrand the profession. We have to ensure that today’s students look up to us in the same way our parents looked up to their teachers,” she charged.

Dr Rattray, who manages the comprehensive school leadership programme, iLead, administered by the JN Foundation, said, as superheroes, educators must pay attention to and work on developing their image and never be afraid to ask for help.
“It’s very important for us to represent. And, if we don’t know how to do something, we should find out. And if we don’t know and that’s not our thing, then we find the right person to do it,” she advised.

“We must always present ourselves on the basis that: only the best is good enough.”

She advised educators that as superheroes, they should be confident and not afraid to criticise their colleagues when they fail to meet standards; and, similarly, should not fear being criticised when they are not meeting the minimum professional criteria. She noted that teachers must raise expectations for themselves and their colleagues constantly, and that they must always be learning by observing each other and sharpening their skills set.

“That’s what superheroes do,” she said.

“What you were yesterday is not good enough today. Therefore, you always have to be doing more, learning more. Your colleagues must know what you stand for and you must always be striving to ensure that every single thing that we do as teachers is excellent that way the brand will remain high,” she underscored.

Within that context, she called for teachers to also raise the expectations of their students to improve their performance and, to rubbish the concept of failure. She said educators must develop zero-tolerance for underperformance and should not accept excuses.

“This thing about that is ‘so dem stay’ and is ‘so di thing set’… or, they are not academically inclined…we have to mash down that lie!” the JN Foundation education programmes director exclaimed.

“As superheroes those ‘weapons of mass distraction’ should not overtake us!”

Acknowledging that a lack of resources does create serious challenges that affect school performance, Dr Rattray went on to note that it is important for educators to learn basic project management skills so that they can prepare good proposals that will attract investors and funding.

“The scarce resources will not change overnight and students need our help. There are people who want to donate; but sometimes we don’t ask for what we want, or we are not prepared for what we want,” she stated. “We have to market ourselves and behave like we are a ‘big school.’”

Using the story of the National Mathematics Teacher of the Year, O’Neal McLeod of Godfrey Stewart High in Westmoreland, to make her final point, Dr Rattray charged teachers to motivate each other. She urged them to begin to tell their own stories, to drive excellence, and promote professionalism and good standards as well as, to ensure that the stories about the teaching profession are positive.

“He is a living superhero,” she said of the former barber and sugar worker who, through motivation from colleagues, his wife and teachers, pursued his secondary education as an adult and then his tertiary qualifications. He was recently recognised by the Ministry of Education and Jamaica National Building Society as the 2016 National Mathematics Teacher of the Year after entering the profession less than four years ago.

“Each of us sitting here can do those things. We can all help each other to develop our super powers,” she closed to a standing ovation.