My daughter in fifth year has had two changes of geography teacher so far this year. She had nine changes in her teachers over the three years of her Junior Cert. It is chaotic and damaging to her education. Why is this happening? Who is responsible? Surely allowances should be made for students in State exams for this kind of disruption?
There is currently a huge crisis in the recruitment and retention of teachers. The reasons are many and complex and range from demographics to the housing crisis, along with the cost of teacher education and the fragmented nature of jobs available to new entrants.
During my teaching career the profession has moved from one where religious taught alongside lay men and women in their schools to one that is predominantly female.
This demographic profile means many who enter the profession alternate periods of teaching with child-rearing during their teaching careers. Unlike in nursing, which has a similar demographic profile to teaching at second level, it’s not a simple case of replacing a departing teacher with a qualified replacement given the subject-specific nature of the sector.
In the Education Training Board (ETB) sector, employers can co-ordinate staffing across a number of schools in their geographic area. However, in the voluntary sector – which makes up the majority of schools – each is managed separately. To date, there is no culture of co-ordination of staffing across such schools. A departing maths and physics teacher has to be replaced by a similarly-qualified substitute.
As a result, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of teachers who do not have qualifications in the subjects they are teaching. In some cases, substitutes have no teaching qualifications at all. Many schools have removed subjects from their curriculum as they cannot find suitably qualified teachers.
Another factor in these teacher shortages is the fact that schools in many urban areas cannot hope to retain the services of young teachers once their thoughts turn to buying a home.
Why live a precarious existence in rented accommodation in Dublin, Cork or Galway if you could, based on two salaries, purchase a substantial home farther afield?
The costs of becoming a teacher for many – a four-year undergraduate degree, plus a two-year professional master’s of education – are significant. In addition, many schools only have part-time employment opportunities to offer.
Your frustration is understandable – but it would be administratively impossible to build into the correction process of the State exams allowances for the chaotic nature of how many students experience the delivery of specific subjects.
Are there solutions? We could move all schools to an ETB model, pay an urban allowance for teachers or make teacher education more affordable for trainees. Either way, the problem will not be solved overnight.