Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Want to be a teacher? Why bother!

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. 


  1. I so want to write a rant in reply to this but as a subbing teacher and who will be looking for job in a few weeks again, I cannot put anything online that may go against me


  2. Nice summary sir! Let's end the allowances myth and create a real sense of ambition within the profession! New teachers need something to aim for rather than 10 years of penury

  3. I completely agree that Ireland will face an educational crisis in years to come because of what is happening at the moment. It is very frustrating to hear talk of a smart economy while everything is being done to plunder the education system that we currently have. Calling the economy a smart economy doesn't make it one - work has to be done to make a smart economy and that starts with the education system. A huge part of this is attracting people in to the profession on an ongoing basis which sadly is not happening at the moment.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with your piece Humphrey. It seems that many people feel qualified to pontificate about the teaching profession with their only real knowledge of it being that they went to school. It seems we have become the easy target.

    The problems that exist are complex and cannot be fixed with broad strokes of the minister's pen. Professionals should act as such, but they also deserve fair pay and the opportunity of promotion as incentive for further training and education to provide the best outcome for students.

  5. Great post! Captures everything a lot of us, your colleagues, have been thinking.
    I think the most important words you used. Humphrey were I love my job. When this goes from teaching, students and education is in trouble. I am a teacher and I have always loved my work, but like you I find myself less inclined to recommend it to indecisive youngsters now. It is getting more difficult to develop respect and trust in classrooms where teachers are less and less respected and trusted (i.e. valued, and seen to be valued) by the paymasters. And where there is less respect and trust, there is less long lasting useful education for students.

  6. '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). '

    The evidence from America says that extra postgraduate qualifications and extra experience (beyond the first three years) has little to no effect on the quality of teaching.

    Why should you get paid more for something that doesn't improve your skill at a job? May more to good teachers not to people who happen to be older?

    1. I hadn't seen that research before so let me have a read. But, it should be noted that some roles require further education and training e.g. guidance counsellors, principal etc. I take the point that ones basic qualifications (those required to teach) shouldn't warrant extra pay as the current allowance system outlines. The fact is those allowances should never have been outside the basic pay.

      It should be noted that most teachers partake in in-service training several times a year (unpaid and mostly out of school time) in order to keep up to date with syllabi, new technologies, methodologies etc.

      Thanks for contributing Dave - always good to hear the perspective of non-teachers.

  7. This certainly is a great post that gets to the heart of the problem we face as teachers. I personally have no problem with anyone having a negative view in terms of our profession,what I do have a problem with is when this view is based on misinformation! How can we expect the future of teaching to be in safe hands if its becoming more and more unattractive due to the way we are being treated?!

  8. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. First off my brother is a teacher and I have discussed his pay and conditions with him many times so I have not been brainwashed by anti ps propaganda.
    You are rich and when you retire you will be even richer.
    You have not had a 15% paycut - the pension levy was not a paycut.
    I do agree newly qualified teachers have been shafted by their union and any newly qualified teacher who joins a union is a fool.
    €27000 is a great starting salary for a qraduate with no experience and no I dont count the HDIp as experience and if you were honest neither would you.
    No one has the right to a job, I have a degree and I am doing a second one now after been unemployed for years. I was builder/engineer, you could argue we need shelter, sewerage, water and roads - all things I have either built or designed - more than we need teachers. But that would lead to nonsense, I would argue we need both. But rational arguments have no place were teachers are feeling sorry for themselves.
    Part time teachers earn about 55 euro/hour, correct me if I am wrong but it is near to that figue. Not a bad rate. The fact that they cant get work just might be sone to how expensive their older permanent collegues are. Lower pay for more teachers should be the way forward.
    You mention a pay scale but forgot to mention that you probably started out on point 3 and are paid huge allowances for your degree/masters and HDip. These are things you needed to have to be allowed teach in the first place. Why are you paid more for them?
    Point 10 as you mention is 53,423 there are plenty of accountants on 60,000 for a lot more hours and that is after a business degree (usually 4 years not the 3 years for an Arts degree) and professional exams taken over a number of years. That is just one profession I can refer to others with about the same pay.
    My own pay when working was 42,000 for a 8 - 6, Monday to Friday and sometomes work on a Saturday week. With 21 holidays. from that gross pay I made a 5% contribution to my pension and this was matched by my employer.
    The HSE may pay a cleaner 26,000 I would suggest that maybe we pay the cleaner too much.
    I do agree that TDs and ministers are paid too much, maybe the teachers unions should protest against this.
    You mention the devaluation of your profession, I would think the teachers unions behaviour over the last few years would have a lot to do with it. Seeing people who act in parents place during school time acting like children is of course going to devalue your profession. I would also think if you add in huge increase of people with a third level qualification over the last 20 years you will now find that teachers are not any more qualified than Mr or Ms average. Maybe you havent devalued others have risen up to your level.
    I will finish with the extra sports supervision you do. Of course you do it, you have the option when the school day is over,we dont finish until 5 or 6. There is also plent of coaching done on Saturday and Sunday. The men who coached my rugby team in school were not teachers they did it for the love of the game. As does the men who coach my sons football team. a friend of mine was a scout leader before he had to emigrate for work. Should we pay all of the above because their work is no less than teachers do. Or is it just teachers who get paid for coaching teams.
    If disapline is a problem in the class room that is really something that shoul have been taken care of years ago, instead teachers went for pay and not improving their conditions, again another failing by your unions.
    You have a well paid secure job stop moaning because some of us can see through your spin

  9. Thank you for taking the time to write this article. An insightful piece that I recommend all teachers and parents should read. As a teacher, I feel that we should be able to speak about maintaining our pay and conditions without feeling that we are being selfish and unreasonable. It is a mistake to allow the conditions of new entrants to teaching to be worsened as this will ultimately cause divisions within staffrooms and undermine the trade union principle of protecting the weakest link.

  10. As a non-teacher I am surprised to hear that teachers feed devalued by society. It seems that this is not because of the pay changes but that you feel it is a change in attitude?

    I am a software engineer and have a business also and I know that whenever I tell anyone my sister is a teacher, they are very impressed with this. In fact they are always asking if I am the teacher or the vet (my other sister)! This despite the fact that I don't go into any technicalities about what I do. In fact, I recently had a conversation with a few older ladies who were talking about a girl that works with me - one said to the other that she was very intelligent - as she has a masters but more than that she had done the HDip - so she could be a teacher if she wanted!!

    So am surprised you feel society doesn't have the same value on it..People have always commented on the holidays teachers get and it is a great benefit. But this is not a new thing for people to say it. I took a 3 months leave of absence (unpaid) 2 years ago in my job but that's it now I can't take it again. Whilst if I was a teacher I'd have 3 months or whatever it is every year. I do appreciate that good teachers put in a lot of extra work outside of school hours tho. Then again I was in work yesterday evening till 9pm.

    I do think the differences in pay are bad tho and I hope that those decisions are reversed.