The teaching profession is commonly considered a noble profession in Liberia. However, I have two important questions to ask regarding this statement. If this job is indeed a noble one, then why does the job find itself at the rock bottom of the professional strata? And why do many people view it with disdain? It is no secret that teachers are the least paid and least respected of all professionals in this country.
By: Kenneth G. Harding
If you compare the salary of someone with an undergraduate degree in education with another person with the same degree in engineering or accounting, etc., you will observe that the earning of the latter is far more than the former. You will agree with me that because of the low salary, the living standards of many teachers are relatively low. Consequently, they do not enjoy the respect that the other professionals get. And you will also agree with me that in our society, those with wealth or who are well off can quicker command respect than those who are financially disadvantaged. Anyone who is not financially potent and is not assertive enough to rid himself/herself of said impotency is likely to develop low self-esteem.
I am reminded of a story a colleague of mine told me some time ago. He said before the civil war he was working as a teacher in one of the mining concessions schools. Whenever they took pay at the end of each month, their counterparts in other professional areas of the concession would make mockery of them because the teachers’ salaries were far below those of the other workers.
Apart from the issue of salary, there is the misguided belief that many of those who go into the teaching profession are not academically astute. Therefore, many of the schools are flooded with mediocre teachers because the profession is a dumping ground for people who do not have the acumen to find better jobs elsewhere.
This assertion is far from the truth. Teachers are highly skilled and qualified people. If they weren’t, they would not have contributed so enormously to the human resource needs of this country. I am not saying that there are not mediocre teachers. There are, but when it comes to the case of the teacher there is the tendency for people to blow it completely out of proportion. As a matter of fact, mediocrity cuts across all professions and it should in no way be seen as being limited to the teaching profession alone.
As a result of the misconception that people have about the teaching job, they usually use the adjective “little” to describe the job? For this reason, it is not uncommon to hear questions like these relating to the job. “Hasn’t he/she found even a little teaching job?” Or are you still teaching?” The meaning of the latter question is “Haven’t you gotten a better job?” Let me be quick to point out here that teaching is not a little job. It is a very BIG job. It requires time, effort, and ingenuity. That is why it takes a lot of training and mentorship to do it. Therefore, it is foolhardy for people to believe that anyone can be grabbed from the street and placed in the classroom to teach.
Despite the negative trappings that are ascribed to the teaching profession, people still expect so much of the teacher. Therefore, whenever the teacher slips and falls, the public begins to describe that teacher in the severest of terms. This is where they use the adjective “whole” to describe the teacher. But in this instance the adjective is used in a more derogatory than constructive sense.
If a student fails in school, the teacher takes the blame. If the reverse occurs, it is the student, not the teacher, who takes the credit. If a school administrator fails to do his job properly, he is quick to put the blames at the doorstep of the teacher. If a riot occurs on the school campus, the teachers are usually accused of inciting the students to riot. All in all, the teacher always gets the lion’s share of the blame for every rotten thing that goes on in the schoolhouse.
Even in the community the situation is the same. If a child misbehaves in the home or in the street, the question that is often asked is, is that what you are being taught in school? Those who ask such question to seem not to have the least thought that teaching first begins in the home. And if parents renege on their responsibilities the teacher can go so far and no further. Unfortunately, many parents are so pre-occupied with coping with the economic hardships of today that they have very little time to be with their children. Consequently, they see the school as the possible substitute for the home. The fact of the matter is the home, and the school are two different settings. And those responsible for managing either of these settings have their respective responsibilities to fulfill.
Teaching is an intricate job. It takes up lots and lots of time and effort. After going through all the hurdles associated with it, and all you get in return is ridicule, it discourages you from remaining in the profession, and it also discourages those who are contemplating on venturing into it from doing so. Therefore, those who are into the profession should be commended for being there, instead of reducing or branding them as complete nonentity.
The way and way the teaching profession is being treated is making a lot of young people to shy away from it. I recall some time ago I went to a high school graduation program; as I looked through the souvenir program, I observed there was a list of the graduates with their corresponding ambition, and not a single graduate wanted to be a teacher. And what was most amazing was that there was a graduate whose ambition was to be a football star. I strongly believe if one were to take a survey of high school graduates all around the country the results would be the same.
Similarly, if one were to take a survey of student enrollments at the various higher institutions of learning, you will observe that teachers’ colleges rank the lowest in term of enrollment. If enrollments in most of these institutions are swelling today, then it’s probably because many of the students there are on scholarship.
In other words, many of them are there not because they have passion for the job; it is because they want to use it as a steppingstone to higher education. Whether they will go into the classroom after graduation is one question. If they do get into the classroom eventually, the issue of retention is yet another question. Why, all because the profession is less attractive in terms of salaries and related benefits. Therefore, very limited number of people would want to venture into it.
Education is a cardinal pillar in the development of any country. But if this pillar is weak, then the prospect of moving that country forward becomes very, very grim. Whatever gains that were made in education in this country were eroded significantly during the war years. Presently, the international community has and continues to do a lot to help improve education. However, there is a Liberian adage which says, “If someone is helping you to wash your back, you should also try to wash your stomach.” A lot have been done by development partners in education which are visible. Some of these include refurbishing and construction of schools, teacher training, logistical and technical support among others.
How much is the government doing in helping itself? We laude the government for restructuring the salaries of teachers; but we think more need to be done in the wake of the rising cost of living. Apart from salary, there is a need to provide other incentives to make the job more attractive. After all the teachers are the ones who are supposed to keep the wheels of education turning. If teachers continue to be treated in the like and way they are being treated, then I’m afraid that Liberian education will sooner or later be in a state of crisis. If education is to make headway in this country, then the teaching profession needs to be placed on the right path to nobility.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kenneth G. Harding is a former employee of the Ministry of Education. He also worked with several international NGOs including World Vision Liberia, Creative Associates International Incorporated, Concern Worldwide and Research Triangle Institute.