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Teachers union marks 100 years of service

  • “You do what you have to do”: Shannon James, the president of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, gives a speech on the steps at City Hall
  • Hundreds of teachers and community members march to City Hall to celebrate the BUT 100 Year Anniversary (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
  • Hundreds of teachers and community members march to City Hall to celebrate the BUT 100 Year Anniversary (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
  • Hundreds of teachers and community members march to City Hall to celebrate the BUT 100 Year Anniversary (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The head of the island’s first trade union yesterday called on teachers to keep the flame lit by its founders alive as the organisation marked its 100th anniversary.

Shannon James, the president of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, said: “Today is a day to rededicate ourselves to this profession — the noblest profession — the profession that birthed all other professions.”

Mr James said that modern teachers should remember those that came before them.

He added: “Let us not forget those who have helped to keep that flame alive.”

He was speaking at a City Hall event as part of celebrations to mark the island’s only teachers union 100th anniversary.

Hundreds of teachers and members of the public took part in the morning’s events, which started with a service to honour the union’s founders at the St John the Evangelist cemetery in Pembroke.

Participants then marched from the church through the City of Hamilton past significant union landmarks to hear a proclamation read from the steps of City Hall in Hamilton.

Mr James highlighted Edith Crawford, Matilda Crawford, Adele Tucker and Rufus Stovell, who launched the BUT on February 1, 1919.

Mr James told the crowd at City Hall that the founders were visionaries, but also teachers.

He explained: “Teachers do things because they have to be done.”

Mr James said that the founders were not thinking 100 years down the road when they created the organisation but that “they just said something has to be done”.

He added: “When you are in your class and your computer is not working, when you go to write on the board and your marker doesn’t work, when you say ‘OK, I don’t have lab equipment but I’ll show them a YouTube video’ and the YouTube link does not work, you still do what you have to do because you love what you do.”

Mr James said that people often talked of the BUT “as if it’s some building, or some logo, or something”.

He told the teachers at the event: “But you are the union — and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Diallo Rabain, the education minister, said the anniversary was a “momentous occasion”.

He added: “I commend you for your staunch dedication to our country’s future, through education of our future generations.”

Mr Rabain admitted that the relationship between the BUT and the Government had not been “smooth sailing at all times”.

But he added: “Differences can be expected when such a high-priority topic as education is being discussed.

“Despite our sometimes difference philosophies, the fact undeniably remains that all of us, together, form an important partnership — a partnership that is needed to move Bermuda forward. Our children deserve nothing but the best.”

John Rankin, the Governor, said the union had played a “central role ... in breaking down the obstacles that prevented proper public education for all children regardless of race”.

He told teachers: “It is the young people of Bermuda who are the future of Bermuda — and you play a key part in building that future.”

Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier, added: “Education is liberation — and you teachers have been the path to liberation and freedom. You have been the layers and architects of that freedom for every citizen.”

Craig Cannonier, the Leader of the Opposition, told the teachers that “what you are doing in Bermuda is affecting the Earth”.

He added: “I want to say thank you for your time, thank you for your dedication, thank you for your commitment to Bermuda, to making it a better place.”

Lovitta Foggo, the Minister of Labour, Community Affairs and Sport, said that the creation of the BUT “provided the start of an organised effort for the much needed institutionalisation of education for the black population, which eventually helped break the obstacles that prevented proper public education for all Bermudian children — regardless of race”.

Charles Gosling, the Mayor of Hamilton, added that teachers were “the greatest asset of any community”.

He said: “They are shaping our young people — they are shaping them to prepare for life.

“If we want to invest in our children, we have to invest in teachers.”

The BUT will celebrate its anniversary with a black-tie gala event at the Fairmont Southampton tonight.