***Editor’s Note: The Office of Education Standards has completed its one-day ‘thematic visits’ to Cayman Islands schools. This is the second in a series of stories looking at the OES reports from a comprehensive perspective.***
Teaching in the Cayman Islands during the COVID-19 pandemic has been, in a word, ‘exhausting’.
Many of the country’s teachers say their current workloads are simply not sustainable, according to reports from Office of Education Standards inspectors.
For example, Chief Inspector Nicholas Sherriff wrote about St. Ignatius Catholic School, “During the visit staff reported feeling burnt out, exhausted, and requiring counselling support.”
Although the issue was particularly acute at St. Ignatius, similar sentiments were expressed by staff at many of the schools that inspectors visited from January to March 2022.
Out of those 31 schools (plus UCCI, where inspectors looked at the Dual Enrolment programme with CIFEC), St. Ignatius was the only one where inspectors forwarded a ‘Notice of Concern’ to the Ministry of Education, highlighting concerns about staff well-being, the principal vacancy and governance arrangements.
Educators across the islands have been taking on additional duties related to COVID, including teaching online, holding extra classes to address learning gaps, covering for colleagues and administrators who are absent, or even packaging and distributing lateral flow tests.
In the meantime, they have been trying to improve their technological skills and implement school-level improvement initiatives, while focussing on their students’ mental wellness. And many teachers have been dealing with illnesses of their own or within their households.
The past 2 years has taken a mental toll on local teachers in both public and private schools, despite the best efforts of principals and administrators.
At Clifton Hunter High School: “Staff felt well supported by the senior leadership team but expressed that they were feeling exhausted.”
At Joanna Clarke Primary School: “Some teachers reported feeling exhausted and felt as though working longer term without additional staffing could prove to be unsustainable.”
At Red Bay Primary School: “Staff reported feeling exhausted. Few staff expressed that working through to the end of the school year in the manner that is demanded of them at this time could prove to be [sustainable]. Only 33% of staff who completed the survey felt that the school had sufficient staff to deliver the curriculum effectively during the pandemic.”
And at the specialist Lighthouse School, teachers told the inspector that they were “beyond exhausted”.
At Cayman Brac’s West End Primary School, some teachers said they were “overwhelmed and disheartened” by the rate of change happening at the school.
“Staff reported that they felt as though their well-being was the cost of the rapid introduction of initiatives and they therefore were not always able to be fully effective with their students,” an inspector said.
Staff at George Town Primary School said the country needs a “national parent association” to relieve teachers of the pressure to provide support to their students’ parents and families during a pandemic or other crisis.
Many schools said they had trouble recruiting new teachers, whether it be on a temporary basis to cover for staff absences, or on a permanent basis to fill vacated positions.
Leaders at Village Montessori in Camana Bay said it was increasingly difficult to attract qualified Montessori teachers to an island with such a high cost of living.
“The Senior Leaders expressed concerns regarding the apparent lack of consideration for education and infrastructure regarding the formulation and implementation of some Covid-19 national initiatives, regulations and policies. An example of this was the Global Citizenship initiative where they did not feel availability of spaces in schools was considered,” the inspector said.
Not all schools had issues with exhausted teachers or difficulties recruiting new staff, however, whether that was due to management, resources or circumstances unique to the individual school.
At Sir John A. Cumber Primary School, teachers did not report feeling “over-stretched” by additional duties.
At Footsteps, teachers said school leaders were supportive of their well-being. The private primary school has had few absences due to COVID and did not have issues recruiting new staff.
And Island Montessori also had success recruiting new teachers through the pandemic, and is looking at expanding its primary education provision to a new location next year.