I love being a teacher. I enjoy almost everything about it - the interactions with my students inside and outside the classroom, the comradery of the staff room, my involvement in school sports, drama & other extracurricular activities. I love my subject (science) and learn something new about it everyday. I love the opportunity my job gives me to explore new ways to teach and I enjoy collaborating with my colleagues to ensure we provide the best education possible in our school. I also enjoy collaborating with like minded teachers on twitter, ensuring my approach to teaching doesn't stay stagnant and constantly keeps evolving to keep up with new technologies and philosophies. In my role as guidance counsellor I get a great sense of satisfaction when speaking to young people about their future careers and helping them develop the tools to deal with personal troubles when they arise.
I'm not rich and I'm not poor. The past number of years have been tough for everyone in Ireland and I am very lucky to be working full time in a wonderful school. However, I have endured a pay reduction of around 15% in that period, through the combined effects of pay cuts and pension levies, and like everyone else things have become much tighter of late.
But this compares little to the plight of newly qualified teachers - who have endured a cut in pay close to 33%. I simply can't believe that our government has allowed the introduction of this two-tier system through these drastic pay cuts (10% on top of our 15%) as well as the removal of allowances for newly qualified teachers. The starting wage for a full time newly qualified teacher is now just over €27,000. The average industrial wage in Ireland in 2011 was just shy of €36,000 (CSO).
Let's put that in perspective. Teachers are highly qualified individuals. All must have a three or four year primary degree and a post graduate diploma in education (which will be two years long from 2012). The cost fee alone for the five or six years could top €15,000 and of course there are living costs involved too. (Trainee teachers do not get paid in Ireland). Then, on completion of their training they begin their working life on €27,000. Well not exactly.
Only a tiny percentage of newly qualified teachers will find full time employment in their first year of work and most take up to four years to secure employment. Permanent employment might take even longer. So after five or six years in university studying to become a teacher, the likelihood of secure employment is practically zip. I know many newly qualified teachers have no choice but to travel abroad this year (their work abroad will not be recognised by the DES on return and will start on the bottom of the pay scale).
Oh, on the pay scale. After 10 years of full time employment these highly qualified teachers will still earn less than €40,000 and after 25 years will reach the peak of the scale, €53,423 - not a bad wage, but compared a similarly qualified individuals it doesn't compare.
But of course there is promotion? Well, no. The moratorium on filling posts of responsibility currently prevents any teacher from gaining promotion (paid promotion anyway) so currently more work will lead to no extra pay. The pay scale will remain as is, unless a teacher is appointed as a principal or deputy principal.
Of course, pay is only one small element of job satisfaction and, yes, teachers have a considerable perk in their substantial holidays. This seems to be the focus on most discussions on the teaching profession yet whenever I ask people "why don't you do it then?" most quickly back down. Teaching is a tough job which involves far more than just teaching.
I am greatly dismayed by the devaluation of the teaching profession (not just in terms of pay) within society - reflected within Irish press in particular. There is a real danger that young graduates will simply ignore the teaching profession for more financially lucrative jobs - which is worrying considering the demand for teachers will rise in the coming years. Even the perpetually silent Teaching Council has warned the government about the abolition of allowances for newly qualified teachers.
And personally, I wouldn't blame them. Honestly, if I were graduating this year I wouldn't think twice about sacrificing the once legendary job security of teaching for more financially rewarding jobs in industry. I'd travel, gain experience (which would be recognised on my return) and look to increase my work portfolio. In my role as guidance counsellor I am quick to let my students know the facts about the teaching profession - which hurts a little.
Is the work of a young enthusiastic highly qualified teachers worth more, than say a cleaner in a hospital? Not to devalue the work of cleaners in hospitals but I might point out that the starting wage for a HSE contracted cleaner is just over €26,000 - and I doubt many would be as qualified as a 23/24 year old teacher with a degree and post-graduate diploma? Is this what teachers mean to our government?
Of course the current focus on teachers is on their allowances. These are grossly misunderstood amongst the public, the media and sadly our Minister for Education & Skills. Teacher allowances are not comparable to those of the Minister and his governmental colleagues - they are based on how qualified an individual teacher is, their extra responsibilities, where they teach (in the case of Island dwellers or teachers in Gaeltacht areas) or for their years of service (only after 35 years mind you). Full details of teachers allowances here. By removing these allowances for newly qualified teachers or by reducing them as is being suggested for the remainder of teachers, a number of consequences ensue.
Firstly, one removes any incentive for further education or continued professional development amongst teachers. One might question spending €10,000 completing a Masters or PhD when the work is not rewarded (even if they can afford to)? It also means teachers will be less likely to update their skill set or keep up with current trends in technology or educational philosophy. Secondly, one removes any hope of promotion within the profession thus teachers have no incentive to take on extra work or more challenging roles (no year heads, TY coordinators etc) or indeed removing any incentive to move to our country's islands to teach in schools there. The work that year heads and form tutors do in our schools is vital for their smooth running and is undervalued. How could our schools run effectively without teachers taking up these extra roles and responsibilities? Of course, one might argue that teachers should do this work for free!
Well the reality is that teachers do a lot of extra work already - taking sports teams, directing plays and concerts, organising debating teams, organising excursions, coordinating charity projects and other extracurricular activities. One can only expect so much work for no rewards.
What saddens me more is that the government's, and indeed the public's, perception of the teaching profession is having an effect on my own job satisfaction. I get greatly disheartened by the devaluation of teachers in Ireland and wonder if anyone is on our side. I am seriously considering my future in a role that gets little or no respect outside of the profession. I am a hard working highly qualified teacher. There are lots like me. Losing enthusiastic hard working teachers isn't an option for this government. In ten years time I envisage Ireland will be in an educational crisis - not enough teachers to teach in our primary and post primary schools and no young graduates willing to take on a role that isn't rewarding financially or personally. This potential crisis needs to be addressed today - not in ten years time.
I wish I could tell young graduates that they have a great future in the teaching profession but sadly I wouldn't be telling them the truth. I will be telling them that they will be asked to do so much more for so little.
Some might say I'm not in touch with the reality of the situation and if that's the case please let me know. But I see the value of teachers in our society and I am worried that the devaluation of a highly skilled profession is being eroded simply to balance the books.