The upcoming Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) election for president- elect has not generated as much buzz as in former years. There have been whispers in education circles as to a possible reason/s for this rather dull and uninspiring campaign among the candidates vying to become leader of the 20,000 plus teachers in the public education system.

Two possibilities have emerged to explain the lack of interest generated thus far in the election which is less than two weeks away. Is it possible that the 2014 candidates are not as imposing as in former years? Secondly, is it that voter apathy which affects the general voting population has now caught up with the eligible voters in the upcoming JTA election? Regardless of the answer there has not been a clear favourite among the candidates vying to win this most coveted position. This occurrence is rather strange and disappointing especially since the Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) is celebrating its fiftieth year’s anniversary.

The Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) serves both as a trade union and a professional body for the over 20,000 teachers in the public school system.

A number of issues have once again emerged as the candidates enter the final two weeks for the June 16-20 president- elect election of 2014. One troubling issue is the facts that principals have a clear advantage over classroom teachers in the annual JTA president- elect elections. The history of past JTA presidents clearly supports this. In many quarters the debate rages on as to whether the JTA should represent both principals and classroom. It is reason to argue that once one becomes a principal or vice principal his/her concerns/interests/needs change from that of the average classroom teacher.

Campaigning in any election is financially burdensome. It takes cash to launch and conduct a successful campaign. Therefore each candidate must be in a good financial position to do so.

Each candidate is expected to travel around to all 14 parishes to speak to teachers at various schools in order to get their support; in fact, such an exercise is rather costly. In quite a number of instances the classroom teacher does not own a vehicle, while in most instances principals do. Principals also receive travelling allowance which clearly puts them at an advantage over the classroom teacher. The elections would be more balanced if the Jamaica Teachers Association were to set aside some sort of travelling allowance so that candidates who are in need of such support could benefit. This intervention would undoubtedly would put the elections on a more transparent and fair platform for all candidates.

Additionally, classroom teachers who are candidates in JTA elections need time off from school to campaign. This classroom teacher in this regard is also at a disadvantage. A principal has the privilege of taking the time off from school while this position of privilege does not extent to the classroom teacher. Some special leave entitlement should be afforded to classroom teachers who are candidates in these elections.

Historically males are privileged regarding the presidency of the Jamaica Teachers Association. The country is woefully lacking in leadership. We are in need of transformational leadership at this time in our country’s development. Our leaders have a significant role in play in the development and progress of our society.

The Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) needs to move ahead with the times and organize and implement debates among all candidates. We need to hear all the candidates articulate their plans and vision to move JTA forward. We need to hear their plans for education in general. Debates would be quite useful in that all the stakeholders involved in education could judge for themselves the suitability or lack thereof of candidates.

Let us be reminded that the most popular candidate is not necessarily the best to lead. In voting for the next president I urge educators to search themselves thoroughly and vote for that candidate who is best suited to represent their interest and the image of the teacher in the 21st century.

Wayne Campbell