Teaching offers ‘many and varied’ career pathways

Teachers are responsible for imparting knowledge and skills that are essential for people to succeed in life

Teaching is one of the most important professions in society. So much more than educators, teachers are role models, innovators, and inspirations to the many young children they see every day.

A number of studies by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in recent years have highlighted just how valuable teachers are.

In 2021, the State think-tank reported schools as being more important than neighbourhoods in influencing adolescent behaviour.

According to Professor Charlotte Holland, deputy dean of DCU’s Institute of Education, learning takes place in homes and communities across the country and globe, and is “not just a process that happens within schools and institutions”.


“Within formal settings, teacher educators are uniquely placed to foster the intellectual, social, and emotional development of learners, and enable them to develop competencies that enhance their own and others’ agency, and to enable broader re-orientations towards more peaceable and sustainable futures for all,” she said.

“Powerful teachers not only enable learners to learn about the world, but encourage self-discovery, personal growth, creativity and cultivation of values such as empathy, resilience and integrity.”

But teaching is not a case of one size fits all. There is primary and secondary school teaching, but there is also early-years education as well as education for those with special or additional needs.

Professor Holland said as a result of this, there are “many and varied” career pathways for those who study education.

“The most common pathway is that of teaching. You can undertake studies to become an educator in early child and care contexts, in primary and post-primary schools, or in further and adult education settings. The majority of those who qualify as teachers are employed in education settings within Ireland,” she said.

“After several years, qualified teachers may work in professional learning support teams (for teachers and school leaders), or may undertake postgraduate studies to enable them to take up school leadership positions, such as deputy principals or principals, or to evaluate work of schools for the Department of Education or Inspectorate.”

Professor Holland said opportunities to teach abroad also exist “as Irish teaching qualifications are highly valued in many jurisdictions across the globe”.

“Educators are also sought after in other sectors – graduates have found work in voluntary organisations, development agencies and large multinational corporations. For example, graduate teachers have been employed by multinational companies as subject matter experts/instructional designers for educational software,” she said.

Newly qualified primary schoolteachers earn a salary of €40,635, according to a 2023 circular from the Department of Education. The 27-point salary scale shows this salary can grow up to €75,871.

Secondary schoolteachers can earn €40,512, with the 25-point pay scale showing salaries can rise to €72,950.

For those who are interested in teaching, there are many different pathways you can take into the profession, and they don’t all rely on achieving high points or certain grades in the Leaving Cert.

For primary teaching, there are two main ways to begin your career journey: a four-year Bachelor of Education course in one of the universities and colleges offering the course, or, if you have already undertaken a non-teaching Level 8 undergraduate degree, you can pursue a Professional Master of Education (PME) in Primary Teaching.

There are Leaving Certificate minimum entry requirements in Irish, English and maths for entry to primary teaching programmes and you need to demonstrate competence in the Irish language before entry to the primary PME.

For post-primary teaching, there is no requirement for competence in Irish, unless you want to teach the subject. You can become a post-primary teacher by pursuing a four-year initial teacher education degree, which includes your chosen subjects and teacher training.

Or another route is for an individual to undertake a Level 8 undergraduate degree in curriculum subjects followed by a PME. However, the undergraduate degree must satisfy the Teaching Council requirements in at least one curricular subject to register as a post-primary teacher.

As another alternative pathway, some universities and colleges across Ireland provide special access courses to support access to Initial Teacher Education courses.

But how does one decide if they want to teach primary or secondary education? First, a prospective student should look at the differences between the two streams. While they are both about educating our youth, there are distinct differences.

Professor Holland said both primary and post-primary teachers have deep knowledge of developmental theories and integrate a wide range of processes to foster learning.

“Primary teachers need to weave multiple disciplinary areas in their practice, so have very well-developed interdisciplinary knowledge. Post-primary teachers tend to have deep disciplinary knowledge in two or three subject areas,” she added.

But studying education encompasses more than just the subjects they intend to teach. A successful teacher learns about building appropriate relationships with students and staff, about ethical practices, creativity and innovation.

Professor Holland said: “Transferable skills include but are not limited to: communication and collaboration skills, critical and creative thinking, global citizenship and sustainability literacies, futures literacies, digital literacies, and research competence.”

These skills are fostered through various areas of study, including: psychology of child and adolescent development, philosophy and history of education, sociology, curriculum development, assessment and evaluation, education policy, digital learning, global citizenship and ethical education, inclusive education, research, and education practice/ placement.

“Teacher education programmes may include specific language specialisms, for example Gaeilge, or specific subject knowledge associated with broad disciplinary areas such as natural sciences, humanities, arts, social sciences,” Professor Holland added.

And so, in reality, choosing to study education means the opportunity to learn so much more than just the subjects you might choose to teach.