Practice Proper Healthcare

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, June 7, 2022

JTA urges members to prioritise physical, mental conditioning

WITH SEVERAL of Jamaica’s teachers having died in the last month under circumstances attributed to the education sector’s increasingly stressful work environment, the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) has sounded a fresh reminder to its members to ensure that they prioritise and maintain their physical and emotional health.

The call was made by Jasford Gabriel, the JTA’s immediate past president, and Clayton Hall, the JTA’s deputy secretary general for member services and industrial relations, while addressing Friday’s annual general meeting of the JTA’s St James Parish Association at the St John’s Methodist Church in Montego Bay.

In his address, Gabriel emphasised that educators must balance their personal well-being with their duties, even as he expressed condolences to the families of the recently deceased teachers.

“I want to pause and join with the association in expressing our sincere condolences to the families of so many of our colleagues who passed during the month of May. There was a wave of deaths that shook the teaching profession, and we want to continue to pray for the families of the bereaved, and also to use the opportunity to remind us, as teachers, that it is extremely important that we take care of ourselves,” said Gabriel.

“We must practise proper healthcare as we balance that with our schoolwork. We have to create a balance as teachers, and it is extremely important that we do that because the reality is, unless one is in the teaching profession, one will not understand the challenges that we have to confront on a daily basis, especially after the COVID realities,” Gabriel added.

During his address to the meeting, Hall said that lifestyle diseases and emotional ill health are often contributing factors to teachers’ deaths.

“Too many teachers are succumbing to lifestyle diseases. We eat too much salt, too much sugar, and we do not do adequate physical activities, and as such, I am imploring you this morning to pay special attention to your physical health,” Hall told the educators.

“Also, oftentimes we do not stop to take stock of our emotional health. Many times we get upset because when we walked into the staffroom and said good morning, ‘Ms Jones’ did not answer. The emotions you are harbouring are bad for you, because when you ‘have up’ (malice) Ms Jones, Ms Jones don’t even know that you have her up; and when you have up somebody, it’s like drinking poison and expecting them to die,” Hall noted.

Among the teachers who died last month were Gregory Williams, lecturer at the Portmore Community College (May 11); Antoinette Banton-Ellis, principal of Vere Technical High School (May 12); Ann Marie Johnson Lindo, vice-principal of Duncans All-Age School (May 13); Carlos Gordon, teacher of One Way Preparatory School (May 14); Donnalee Wright of Tarrant High School (May 16); Amosy Tomlinson, business teacher at Black River High School (May 18); and Jennifer Gidden, vice-principal of Charlemont High (May 18).

News also emerged on the weekend that two other educators died: Deloris McFarlane of Discovery Bay All-Age and Infant School, and Shirley Pinnock vice-principal, Excelsior Primary and Infant School.

Concerns about the effects of the teaching profession’s high-stress environment on educators have been raised by the JTA from as far back as 2016, when the organisation warned teachers not to overwork themselves, after three teachers died in less than a month.

Those teachers, who died between October and November 2016, included Christopher Gayle, an instructor at Kingston College; Nadine Trail, a teacher at Norman Manley High School; and Shenoria Hemmings Lee, a teacher at the Spanish Town High School.

At that time, then JTA President Howard Isaacs called for measures to be instituted to help teachers cope with their work in the classroom, including increasing the number of guidance counsellors in schools.

In the meantime, Dr Delroy Fray, the Western Regional Health Authority’s clinical coordinator and the keynote speaker during Friday’s meeting, outlined several components for everyone, including teachers, to manage and maintain adequate health and lower stress.

“The onus lies within us to manage our lifestyle. Genetics might play a part, but it is our lifestyle that determines what happens, and our lifestyles has to do with healthy eating habits, the diet people should have, proper water intake, and sleep. You need regular exercise, relaxation, meditation, work-leisure balance, realistic expectations, reframing of situations so you do not get stressed by it, and good family systems,” said Fray.

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