Education in Belize: From Vulnerability to Growth!
by Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant /

Since I started publishing short articles to describe, not define, past and current Education systems in Belize, some educators claim that I seem unfair and ungrateful to them, and that I should criticize/blame no one other than students themselves for their failures at school and during the learning process. I have stated before, and now loudly repeat: I highly admire and respect all teachers who devote their professional lives to helping educate others, especially young people. Anyone who chooses to pursue the teaching profession as a career deserves the maximum respect and appreciation from every member of every community throughout the world! Teachers in Belize and throughout the world: you have my utmost respect and admiration!

Now, having said that, where I see an impenetrable wall of confusion being perpetuated by many Education policymakers and educators, especially in Belize, is through the adamant refusal to change and/or adapt to 21st Century times. That wall will continue to grow, as long as educators refuse to be seen by others, especially by students, as vulnerable. No one is perfect, and that applies to each educator, parent, student, or community member. Yes, it is vital and necessary for each teacher to be well-prepared and qualified in whatever subject(s) he/she teaches, and in all areas of classroom management. However, it is human and acceptable for professionals to also be vulnerable. We educators, therefore, should be willing to accept that we may not know everything (i.e. technology) or be able to handle every single situation that arises, inside or outside the classroom. After all, there is no law (written or unwritten) that says educators must “know it all”. It takes great courage for us, as professionals, to accept being vulnerable. However, in the same way that students can/should learn from their vulnerability, we too can learn from ours. What a great example we set for students when we show them that we too are vulnerable, but we can and will learn and grow as a result of it.

I recall how vulnerable I felt (and was) while working at a new job, on a small island, at a school that was located thousands of miles away from my wife and teenage sons. Nonetheless, the more I reached out to students and staff, and showed them my vulnerability, i.e. working with a computer that never could do what I wanted it to do, or simply in learning how to send/receive texts on a cell phone, the more at ease I noticed they seemed while working with me, the school guidance counselor. I realized that even if I had a vast amount of Education experience and knowledge to share with the school's teenage students, and the staff, they at the same time also had so very much to teach me, another human being, in my role as counselor and administrator.

Guidance Counseling is a fairly new area to many schools in Belize. Few Primary schools, if any, have school counselors. Thus, when students reach high school, they may view counselors rather suspiciously; why, even some teachers do likewise. So, when I worked as a counselor at a high school there, I realized that my first hurdle was to gain overall acceptance from students and staff. How else could I offer them any emotional support, or helpful lessons in coping/dealing with stress, or understanding the changing role of a school today, if I did not feel accepted, or that I was an integral part of the school?

Vulnerability can be described as “openness to being wounded” or “acceptance of imperfection”. I feel strongly that one of the main reasons why many educators and school policymakers in Belize are hesitant to consider change, and/or adapt the Education process to meet the needs of students in today’s 21st Century world, is perhaps because they do not want (may be afraid) to accept or show their vulnerability. However, adapting to change in various areas or fields does not indicate nor suggest that we change because we are/were weak or wrong. Rather, a willingness to change merely signifies that there may be a better way to accomplish what we want, and we are willing to investigate or try it. The entire “successful” Industrial Revolution of the previous century, and current continuous Technology advancements, blossomed from a simple premise: let’s try a new way, and if the change is advantageous and leads to increased productivity, then let us pursue it, and not stop there.

It is only natural that young people are drawn to investigate and explore all things new. (Young babies when they first learn to craw will go any/everywhere if not controlled.) Perhaps, that is why most young people today are always “ahead of” older folks (like me) in areas of using technology. But, that’s only normal -- so what? Although many young students may be ahead of older educators like me in the realm of exploring and accepting technology, students will always look to us, especially while they are in school, for acceptance as well as academic and emotional support. They need us to teach them “how” to think, not “what” to think. So, no matter how vulnerable we educators and teachers may be and/or seem to our students, they will always need us to show them how to build on their strengths and overcome their weaknesses. Let us, therefore, not be afraid to accept our vulnerability, and show the world, especially students, how to learn and grow from our openness or acceptance of imperfection.

I am most grateful that, vulnerable as I was/seemed as guidance counselor at my last job, my school’s staff and student body allowed me to address, and help them explore, their emotional safety; and, in so doing, they allowed me to contribute to the positive emotional climate of the school. Our mutual acceptance of each other encouraged us to explore and grow in many areas, including, conflict resolution, coping with stress, drugs, bullying, violence and abuse, and in many other areas. Notwithstanding the many discipline issues that surfaced (“Brownies Time”) our school was able to keep its strong sense of community and explore many other instructional strategies to help the educational institution grow, change, adapt, and continue to learn.