Young teachers take the pain


MY EDUCATION WEEK:Helen Bullock Newly-qualified teacher, Limerick


School starts tomorrow. It’s strange to think that this year I’m among the masses getting ready for “September 1st”. When I was a child I used to hear “September 1st” with dread. I hope the children I teach this year don’t feel that same anxiety going to school.

Being a substitute teacher means I’ll be in and out of various classes and levels. Preparing for the new school year as a substitute teacher is very different to what it entails for other teachers. It’s tricky to know exactly what supplies are needed or what to prepare, but I’m gradually starting to gather my books and resources. I have loads of lesson plan ideas and things I want to teach. I feel like I’ve been gathering lesson plans and ideas all my life if I’m honest.

I’ve always wanted to teach and I find it very hard to pass a bookshop or anywhere where there might be school resources. I can’t imagine being anything other than a teacher. I love being at the top of a classroom and watching my pupils as they learn and work hard to understand something new. I feel very satisfied knowing that what I’m teaching them is something they will need and hopefully remember for the rest of their lives.


I’m subbing in a 5th class this week. Standing in front of the class today was amazing. I began with Gaeilge, a subject within my comfort zone. Not every everyone loves Gaeilge but I do and I love teaching it so it was a fantastic way to start the day. I try to bring a little drama into the subject as much as possible. I want the pupils I’m teaching to learn to love it as I do so I try to make it a fun experience. I even incorporate it into my PE lessons so that Gaeilge becomes part of the norm.

The staffroom can be a little daunting, especially if you don’t know any of the other teachers. Everyone I met today was lovely. It was great to hear how other teachers work in their rooms and their many experiences. We chatted about various subjects and the ones we like to teach in comparison to the ones we feel less comfortable with. I was afraid I would be the only one who felt weaker in some subjects then others, but I was completely wrong. Every teacher finds some subjects harder to teach than others and it was very comforting to hear that. We don’t have to be experts on everything we teach. I will never be a great historian but that won’t ever stop me teaching my classes about the Famine, the Celts or the history of our locality.


Today in the staffroom we had an awkward discussion about inequality between the newer, younger teachers and the older teaching staff in regards to pay and conditions. It’s not a topic I love talking about. It can be really difficult to get my point across when I know that other teachers the same age as me, but who maybe qualified a year or two before me, will be higher paid for the rest of my professional career. Teachers starting their careers now will be paid around 34 per cent less than those who started in 2010. It’s heartbreaking if I’m being honest. I’d even go as far as saying it is soul-destroying. That kind of money would make a huge difference to my life and the lives of other young teachers.

It’s hard to talk about these issues and it can be difficult not to let it affect me when I go back into the classroom. Today I was pointedly asked what I thought and I felt uncomfortable explaining how the wage difference would affect my working life, that in every staffroom across the country there would be teachers who are equally qualified to do the job, but because the rates of pay are so different, they will never really be equal.

Add that to a chat about the Croke Park agreement and lunch seemed to go on a lot longer than usual. The part of the Croke Park agreement that gets to teachers the most seems to be the extra school hours. Every teacher spends additional time planning and organising lessons as well as doing extra CPD. I’m not sure the Croke Park agreement takes this into account.

We’re depending on the INTO to help us fight our corner and ensure that newly- qualified teachers and young teachers aren’t taken advantage of. So far there’s so little evidence of our union supporting our plight; it’s incredibly frustrating to know that so many of our colleagues are willing to let this issue slide. I learnt a lot today just by talking about it all even though it wasn’t easy and I was glad to get back to the classroom.


I had so much fun today teaching science. I set the class into groups of four or five and asked them to work together to design a boat. This is a part of the science curriculum that I really love. ICT in the classroom is a huge advantage to any teacher. There’s so much more I feel I can add to lessons because I have the extra resources. In college we were told to integrate subjects and I think maths and science go very well together. We had so much fun making Play-Doh boats with the maths aspect sneaked in so it didn’t feel like a maths lesson for the children. I love it when a lesson I’ve planned comes together so well.

Preparing for hands-on lessons is rather time consuming, but well worth it. After today I feel like I can do anything I put my mind to and can plan it out properly. I really feel like I’m ready for this and cannot wait to get to my own class in the future.


We heard today about second-level schools which had to send their first and second years home early. The cuts in the education department have been taking their toll on students for a long time but only as soon as pupils are sent home then people begin to react. Everyone seems to be going mad because first years are being sent home 40 minutes early four days a week and second years go home early twice a week.

It’s not ideal, it’s not what any teacher or school wants to happen, but large class sizes, losing teachers and the loss of resource hours can be detrimental too, yet nobody made a fuss of these issues. It seems we’re more than happy to accept such cuts but not the loss of 40 minutes teaching. I don’t see what good it does to blame the teachers and schools.

No matter what schools do to try to make these cuts easier to bear, it isn’t good enough. Schools and educators all over Ireland are trying their hardest despite of the issues faced. I just wish everyone could see that.


Wow! A week done already and I enjoyed every moment of it. It wasn’t all smooth sailing (those Play-Doh boats) but I think I handled any issues that arose really well and my classroom management worked out the way I had planned. I used the traffic light system so it was easy to follow and very clear for the pupils as well as me to keep track of.

I think as a teacher I learned a lot about myself. I can handle myself in the classroom and I’m ready for any challenges that come my way. I feel so lucky to have had work for five days straight, but already I am starting to worry when I will get work again. It could be next week but just as easily it could be next month. I could struggle to find even one day a week for the next few months. It’s not easy never knowing when I will get a call to work; it’s stressful trying to budget my income and make sure that I can survive the month.

Helen Bullock blogs at anseo-a-mhuinteoir.comand tweets on @AnseoAMuinteoir.

Listening to:children’s classical music, looking for lesson plan ideas.

Watching:clips from Curiosity Rover (right) on mars and RTÉ’s Back To School documentary series.

Reading:blog posts from seomraranga.comand

Visiting: primaryscience.iefor science experiment ideas and cesi.iefor ICT techie ideas. Through twitter I’ve been following #edchatie discussions on the importance of edtech in schools.