Featured Remarks by Immediate Past President of the MUT, Denise Silcott, from the MUT's 2019 Convention

Today, I stand before you a proud member of this organization which continues to transform the Trade Union Landscape on island.

Featured Remarks by Immediate Past President of the MUT, Denise Silcott, from the MUT's 2019 Convention

Immediate Past President of the Teacher's Union, Denise Silcott

The 2019 Convention of the Montserrat Union of Teachers was held on Friday, October 4th, 2019 at the Lookout Primary School Auditorium on Montserrat. 

Immediate Past President of the Teacher's Union, Denise Silcott, delivered remarks as featured here today via MNI Media. 

Read her full speech below:

Honourable Deputy Governor, Mrs Lyndell Simpson, Honourable Minister of Agriculture, Lands, Trade, Housing and the Environment, Mr Claude Hogan, Chief Human Resources Officer, Mrs Cheverlyn Williams - Kirnon, Permanent Secretary, Education, Mr Colin Fergus, Director of Education, Dr Gregory Julius, Education Officers, President, Montserrat Civil Service Association, Sis Nyota Mulcare, Heads of Schools, our featured Speaker, Mr Mario Lyn, Brother and Sisters a most pleasant Good morning to you all. Before I begin I wish to convey heartfelt gratitude to you all for taking time to gather with us for our 2019 Convention. 

Today, I stand before you a proud member of this organization which continues to transform the Trade Union Landscape on island. I am also extremely proud of the progress which the Union has made in its quest to not only advocate for its members but also to create opportunities for teacher growth and development. As we look ahead to World Teachers Day 2019 which will be celebrated under the theme,“Young Teachers: The future of Professions”, I am grateful to be in the company of young teachers such as our featured Speaker as well as others who are playing key roles in today’s proceedings. The future of professions to include our teaching profession depends on our young teachers be it by age or by years of service and so does the future of the Montserrat Union of Teachers.

The Montserrat Union of Teachers has much to celebrate over this concluded year. Our Unit continues to represent its members in the regional and international domain at Executive Meetings, the 39th Annual Conference of the CUT in St Vincent and the 8th World Congress of Education International in Bangkok, Thailand. During these sessions, the needs of teachers continue to be at the fore with efforts geared at reaching resolutions for the advancement of teachers and their causes. Our Unit has benefited from attendance as it is through a partnership with the Canadian Teachers Federation that several of our Primary and Secondary School Teachers were able to participate in a Professional Development In-Service Workshop over this past summer which from all accounts was a resounding success. We anticipate that this partnership will continue with the support of the Ministry of Education so as to provide meaningful opportunities for teachers to upskill and garner useful strategies to develop their daily practise. As the Education Sector continues to compete for scarce resources, initiatives such as the CTF -MUT partnership create priceless opportunity for teacher development without placing any additional burden on already scarce resources of the Government. In addition, our Unit has partnered with Sister Units in the region to provide tokens over the past years. This year is no different. However, as a result of Hurricane Dorian and the fact that several Units have diverted resources to assist teachers and their families in the Bahamas, some plans for World Teachers Day 2019 have been temporarily delayed. We anticipate that our partnering with the Guyana Teachers Union will bear fruit before the end of the year and our members will be able to receive their shirts and teachers islandwide will receive their tokens. In effect, the Union has built strong networking links which can only further bear fruits beneficial to the fraternity on island. Our teachers and students were asked to contribute to the Hurricane Relief which will be sent to the Caribbean Union of Teachers. Sincerest thanks to the teachers, students and Schools which have contributed to date and thanks in advance to those who will make their contributions today.

Other notable successes include training opportunities for members which were sponsored by the Caribbean Union of Teachers and Education International as well as the continued staging of the Junior Calypso during the St Patrick’s Week of Activities. Next year, it is envisaged that the Unit will host the 21st edition of this show and wish to encourage members to actively support this venture by coming out and encouraging others to do so. Afterall, this is the biggest fundraiser for the Unit and it is these funds which have helped to finance activities of the union to include visit to teachers who were ill for somewhat lengthy periods, contributing to the In-Service workshop etc, awards.

The most noteworthy success of the MUT was the peaceful protest which was the result of pent up frustration of teachers at the MSS and the resulting actions which were taken. We are pleased to inform that the school was treated for termites, access to new toilet and staff room facilities for teachers on the field, covering of the drain has begun and just last evening, I saw an announcement that the contract for the construction of the new classrooms has been awarded. The Union expresses kind gratitude to the teachers who came out on 3 September 2019, the President of the Montserrat Civil Service Association who stood in solidarity with us and to the Government and Ministry for swiftly acting to remedy the less than favourable conditions which maintained at the Secondary School. Going forward, the MUT expects that as the body responsible for teachers that matters of teacher wellbeing, working conditions and terms of service will always be involved in the dialogue.

As we prepare to celebrate with Education International and partner organisations, UNESCO, ILO, UNDP World Teachers Day 2019, let us reflect on their joint release which states, “Today, following the lesson of Albert Einstein, we celebrate the expertise, energy and passion of teachers, who are the cornerstone of the education systems of the future. However, they are also central to the regeneration of the profession itself. Without a new generation of motivated teachers, millions of learners will miss out, or continue to miss out, on their right to a quality education. With teachers being underpaid and undervalued, attracting and retaining talent is a challenge. Attrition rates are rising rapidly worldwide, due in part to precarious employment and scarce opportunities for continuous professional development. Furthermore, there is a lack of resources for children with special education needs and disabilities, refugees and multilingual pupils.” In the context of Montserrat, these very daunting statement should cause all parties involved in the recruitment and retention of teachers particularly new entrants to have pause and reflect. Why? As stated, teachers are undervalued and underpaid; there are scarce opportunities for effective continuous professional development; lack of adequate resources as well as lack of adequate resources to cater to the needs of children with special education needs and or those whose first language is not English when added to less than optimum teaching learning environments all add to the stresses which plague teachers on island. In the grand scheme of life, teachers bear out these inadequacies for the sake of their students however, many eventually choose to leave for different pastures.

Today, we celebrated with those teachers who have given an entire lifetime to the profession having spent 20 and 30+ unbroken years. It stands to reason that these teachers entered as young, eager, motivated young people and stayed. In order for the cycle of a teacher to be complete, Principals, Parents, Ministry officials, other teachers have a responsibility to the fledgling teacher to create a work environment which nurtures, which allows for shared experiences, coaching and mentoring. Government has a responsibility to ensure improved employment and working conditions as well as reaffirming the value of the teaching profession thus making it a first choice for young people.

As I prepare to close, I wish to make a call on the powers that be to not only create avenues which retain young teachers but also to develop adequate Induction Programmes for new and young teachers to Montserrat. Furthermore, I would wish for the powers to as a matter of great urgency take swift and corrective action as it pertains to the most vexatious issue of non completion of Performance Appraisals for teachers. This matter has been spoken to for years and continues to feature. It is unconscionable, unfair, unethical that any Manager can continuously suffer their staff through flimsy excuses as to why these needed assessments cannot or will not be done. There continue to be teachers who have yet to see an increment. The GoM Performance Management system not only seeks to pay increments but also to guide the training and personal development needs of staff therefore to continually deny workers their assessment is tantamount to punishment of the most inhumane nature. The excuses must stop; they must no longer be entertained and persons must be held accountable for non compliance.

I wish to sincerely thank the Members of the Executives which have served with me as President of this esteemed body of teachers. I wish to thank the teachers who have trusted me to act on their behalf and who have unequivocally supported our Union. Our Union is stronger because of its members. Today, we are scheduled to have Bi-Elections and I wish to convey to members all that this work of Unionism is voluntary and time consuming but at the end of the day the positive results make it all worthwhile. Putting yourself forward means committing to the cause, advocating for and standing up for justice for our members, seeking out avenues to develop teachers and the profession. Choose wisely.

At the end of today’s proceedings, I will demit this Office which I held for exactly three years for very personal reasons. I came out today not feeling at my 100% and being placed on leave but felt duty bound to address you all and turn over the reigns. I am proud of where the Union is presently and pledge my unwavering support to future activities and initiatives.

Long live the teachers of Montserrat!! Long live the Montserrat Union of Teachers!