President of the St. Maarten Academy School Board,
Wow, where did time go? It feels like it was just a few weeks ago, that I stood here, addressing many of you and welcoming you to the new academic year and welcoming several of you to our new country Sint Maarten.
Once a teacher, ALWAYS a teacher, they say. I know this to be the gospel truth, at least, in my own case. As some of you may already know, I have been a teacher most of my life; actually, I dare say, all my life.
And although politics has consumed most of my time and energy in the latter part of my still rather young existence, I can say without doubt that nothing gives me more satisfaction than to run into one of my former students and be called “Meneer Marlin”.
Just yesterday in the evening I ran into one of them with not only her daughter, but with her grandchildren as well.
I am sure some of you know that feeling. Maybe one or two of you might have even been my former students. I can assure you, however, that nothing is more satisfying, not a huge pay hike, (although none of us, including me, would turn that down); not fewer or the brightest students to teach; not an ultra-modern classroom with the latest technological gadgets; not a beautiful school building in an upscale neighborhood… not any of all these things that we sometimes clamor for - and I am the first to admit that teachers really need some of these to enable them perform to their best ability – but not any of them individually or collectively can be as satisfying to a teacher as the success of his or her students in society.
The single most important reward that we as teachers seek is to see our students excel in whatever they eventually become in life.
This is because, as English playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.”
We all agree, I think, that as the popular saying goes, “knowledge is power.” Imparting knowledge to our students means empowering them to face the rigors of life.
This is not an easy task. In fact, it is perhaps one of the most difficult things to do in life. Teachers, good teachers, are everything to their students, particularly the teenage students that you have to deal with.
I single out this group because they are at the age of rebellion, of self-discovery, and of knowing it all without any need for advice or counsel from their elders.
The modern teenager may even be more challenging not only to teachers at school, but also to their parents at home. But which one of us hasn’t been through that stage in our lives?
It is precisely at this age that students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, to put it in popular parlance.
Caring is an essential attribute of a teacher. Maria Montessori put it like this: “…what really makes a teacher is love for the human child; for it is love that transforms the social duty of the educator into the higher consciousness of a mission.”
However, let me hasten to stress that it would be unfair to heap all the burden of education on the shoulders of teachers. I totally agree with American author and three-time Pulitzer winner, Thomas Friedman when he said:
“There's no question that a great teacher can make a huge difference in a student's achievement, and we need to recruit, train and reward more such teachers.
But here's what some new studies are also showing: We need better parents. Parents more focused on their children's education can also make a huge difference in a student's achievement.”
In other words, for us to achieve that excellence that we all desire, that we all aspire to, we must view our mission as a collaboration between teachers and parents, between the classroom and the home.
As government, I can tell you that we are committed to doing all in our power to facilitate that partnership. We know as well as you do that the new St. Maarten we have begun to build since 10-10-10, October 10, 2017, can only be achieved by all of us working together.
As that African adage says, “it takes a village to raise a child.” I would go one step further and say that it takes a whole people, working together, to build a nation of excellence because according to Warren Bennis, a pioneer in Leadership studies, “excellence is a better teacher than mediocrity.”
We cannot condone or, worse still, entrench mediocrity and expect to be among the best in the region and the wider world.
It takes a culture of excellence to achieve that. We cannot, as teachers, throw up our hands at the slightest challenge or give up on that one student who may be learning at a different pace than the others and expect our own attitude not to rub off on our students.
At the end of the day, the statistics that really counts is how much have we been able to help that one student achieve, who couldn’t learn at the same pace as his classmates, rather than how many of the bright students in our class were able to pass their CXC examinations.
Don’t get me wrong, success at those exams is very important for all the students in your care. But as Bill Gates noted, “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose.”
We should not fall for that seduction. Rather, we should be reminded always that teaching is not just a profession that creates other professions, but more than anything else, it is an art.
In the words of someone who should know, John Steinbeck, Nobel Prize in Literature, teaching “might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”
Great teachers, like great artists, have a big heart. That is what is required to mould and shape the young minds entrusted to you. That is what is necessary to transform our society and indeed the world in which we live today.
I am sure I need not tell you that great teachers are great learners as well. They learn from their peers as well as from their students. They know, better than anyone else, that education is life itself, not a stage on the journey we call life.
They also know that although ours is the Age of Technology, Bill Gates himself, an icon of the technological age, said “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.”
Allow me to state here that it was the realization that technology, information technology in this digital age, is what will drive future progress, which prompted me to launch the idea of transforming St. Maarten into a smart city.
As I indicated then at this year's Governor's Symposium, a smart city can only be achieved by smart people. Forming and inspiring that new generation of smart St. Maarteners is a task that constitutes part of your responsibility.
As you prepare to start the new school year, I want you to know that you are important not only in the lives of the children you teach, but also very important in the life of the new St. Maarten we must build together.
I cannot emphasize enough how much I appreciate your work, your commitment, your dedication and your love. Even when it is not always obvious, let it be known that I am proud of you and proud to be called a teacher, like you.
On behalf of government, I wish you a most successful new school year.
I thank you.