‘Ireland will not welcome you back. Talk of jobs is fake news’: Emigrant teachers have their say

Teachers needed to fill the gap but tax-free pay and lifestyle abroad can be decisive

Paul Cunningham: “What reason do I have to leave my comfortable apartment in Ho Chi Minh City?“

Paul Cunningham: “What reason do I have to leave my comfortable apartment in Ho Chi Minh City?“

 

Minister for Education Joe McHugh is due to travel to the United Arab Emirates in the coming months to try to convince Irish teachers working in the Middle East to move back to Ireland, in an attempt to address teacher shortages here. This follows a recent trip to China, where the Minister also spoke to Irish teachers  about coming home to work.

Irish Times Abroad asked teachers who had emigrated for their views. Do they see opportunity? Have they already moved home, or are they considering it? If not, what’s keeping them away? Here’s what they had to say.

Fiona Hartley, Ireland

I taught in the UAE for three and a half years. By the end of my second year I still couldn’t understand why anyone would want to leave – the lifestyle, pay and weather - to move home to Ireland. I didn’t see myself returning for many years.

Come September 2018 the homesickness hit me like a tonne of bricks and I moved home in December. Its been challenging, petrifying and frustrating. I haven’t regretted my decision but my advice to anyone would be dont move back until you are 100 per cent prepared.

If you  decide to move home make sure you’ve ticked off your bucket list. Leave with no regrets

Ireland will not welcome you back, and the talk of “jobs” is fake news. All that schools are short of are teachers to cover a day or two of sick leave. If you do decide to move home make sure you’ve ticked off your bucket list and have saved enough money to assume you wont have a few months of work. Leave with no regrets.

Aoife Meaney, Denmark

After I completed my degree and masters in Trinity College, I went to Liverpool for the teacher training. I went there as the course was more affordable than the Irish teaching course. After Liverpool I moved to Kuwait and taught in a secondary school. I absolutely loved the lifestyle in the Middle East but missed the luxuries of Europe. So after three years I moved to Denmark where I got a permanent contract immediately in a secondary school. I have now been here three years, so in total have been teaching outside of Ireland for seven years. I would love to come home but I cannot afford to.

If I return, it may be five years of insecure job prospects, which I cannot afford. At the moment I am pregnant with my first child. The child care in Denmark is absolutely perfect for working families. It is subsidised by the government and tax breaks are given. But it pains me that my children will not learn Irish. I often get frustrated at our Government’s lack of effort when it comes to promoting the language. But seeing as permanent jobs are rare in Ireland these days it’s financially pointless for me to come home.

Diane Hennessy, Sydney, Australia

I currently live and work in Sydney, having spent last year in Luxembourg teaching in an international school. I am lucky to be on a career break. I love Ireland, and I love teaching in my fabulous school in Ennis, but since I have left, I have seen what other countries offer, and what the Irish education system lacks. It lacks funding, support, trust and security. In the case of security, this is in particular for young teachers.

Even though I am a permanent teacher on a career break, I received a phone call recently saying my school had lost a teacher, and that I was back on the panel. Even when 17,378km away from home, my sense of security was rattled. My school needs the teachers as we are a disadvantaged school, but due to numbers of intake, and being one child short, a staff member was lost. It is rare that this happens overseas.

Diane Hennessy: “As an Irish teacher abroad, we are seen as gold dust”
Diane Hennessy: “As an Irish teacher abroad, we are seen as gold dust”

It’s the children that suffer, and Ireland hasn’t come to that realisation yet. As an Irish teacher abroad, we are seen as gold dust. The training we get is second to none, and this is globally common knowledge. But it is not only the training. We are viewed as having been thrown in the deep end, and that we can handle any situation. This is because when placed in a school in Ireland, newly qualified teacher will do whatever they can to make a good impression.

A principal of a school in Sydney recently said to me that he sees a “difference” between Irish teachers and Australian teachers, because we are not “afraid” of the children. We welcome every child with open arms, regardless of where they come from, or what special educational needs they have. l am extremely proud that Irish teachers have this reputation. I love Ireland, and I will definitely come back, but it will be with a sense of nostalgia.

Paul Cunningham, Vietnam

I am an ESL teacher currently based in Vietnam. The cost of living and particularly rent in Ireland is far too high (even in my time in Hong Kong I found better deals than in Dublin) and unless the housing crisis is sorted, what reason do I have to leave my comfortable apartment in Ho Chi Minh City? On top of that, taxes are still unattractive to anyone returning to Ireland. LPT and USC are the obvious ones, but there are a slew of tiny charges that build up that make saving money in Ireland very difficult indeed.

Being an ESL teacher, opportunities are understandably limited in an English speaking country such as Ireland. Job security would be an incentive to bring me back, instead of heading home to a language school that could collapse at any moment, leaving wages unpaid. Lately they have got a bad rap. I do wish to return eventually, but I have found the quality of life as a teacher in Vietnam to be great, and being able to actually live, rather than work paycheck to paycheck, is what separates this work from any I have had in Ireland.

Ailish Donnelly, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

I’m from the North. I trained as a secondary teacher in England and moved to the UAE in 2015. While teaching in Abu Dhabi, I met my now fiancée who is from the Republic. We looked into applying to the Northern and Southern teaching councils in preparation for coming home. It’s very straightforward for him to register his southern qualifications in the North. I however, have found registering with the Teaching Council in the south very difficult. Living in the UAE for the past four years has been great. I work in a top British international school with every facility under the sun.

Ailish Donnelly: “All in all, I would love to move back to Ireland when the time is right in a year or so”
Ailish Donnelly: “All in all, I would love to move back to Ireland when the time is right in a year or so”

Teaching in the UAE is tougher than what you would have in Ireland, the parents pay very high fees so you are very aware that it is a business you work for. The opportunities to travel and to save have been amazing. There is a thriving Irish network throughout the Middle East so it was very easy to settle in. The sunshine and the endless array of activities certainly helped as well! All in all, I would love to move back to Ireland when the time is right in a year or so, I just wish the registeration process for teachers educated outside of the state was easier and that experience in private schools is recognised. It’s hard to fathom that I could be teaching the British Curriculum in a school that is “outstanding” by local and British inspectors and sends pupils to Oxbridge and the Ivy League, yet the extensive experience I gained there doesn’t count on moving home. 

The only reason I would not return to Ireland is that my experience abroad would not be recognised by the Irish teaching authorities

Simon Hall, Lebanon

I live and work in Lebanon, for far less money than those who chose to teach in Saudi Arabia or the Gulf countries. Although I never taught in the Irish education system, the conditions at home seem attractive. Those who move to the Middle East to teach do so largely for the tax-free money, the weather, and the experience abroad. I doubt many are driven abroad due to the conditions at home.

Adam Hannigan, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Adam Hannigan: "
Adam Hannigan: "I am preparing to make the move back home, but I worry about what is ahead of me"

I left my native Donegal in 2013, in the midst of the doom and gloom of the economic crash. Instant full-time work along with a tax-free salary, accommodation and the opportunity to travel and experience the world drew me to Doha, Qatar where I spent two successful years before moving to Abu Dhabi to take up a role teaching Geography and History.

Four years later and with a broad range of experience teaching in a top international British Curriculum school, I am preparing to make the move back home, but I worry about what is ahead of me. Although my experience abroad has been overwhelmingly positive, the lack of job security in Ireland and ability to plan for the future are my main concerns when I move home in July.

Vinton Shine, Saigon, Vietnam

I trained to teach in England and graduated in 2000 as a teacher of Economics and Business Studies. I taught for four years in England, 10 in Borneo and I am in my fifth year in Saigon. The only reason I would not return to Ireland to teach is that my years of experience abroad would not be recognised by the Irish teaching authorities, and this would leave me with an inadequate income.

Johnny Lawlor, Bangkok, Thailand

Despite my ever-growing desire for more regular quality time with family and friends at home, I am passionately against any form of religious patronage of the education system. The very concept seems oxymoronic and I would loathe to have to consider having my son baptised just to assure schooling options. Unfortunately, the status quo seems very much entrenched in this regard and despite massive shifts in public opinion against this form of discrimination there seems to be a distinct lack of political will to act on it.

Johnny Lawlor: “Life is about priorities and mine are to provide a healthy multi-cultural and nondenominational education and lifestyle to my third son”
Johnny Lawlor: “Life is about priorities and mine are to provide a healthy multi-cultural and nondenominational education and lifestyle to my third son”

For me, this is pretty much the final piece of the puzzle in terms of how well I feel I could fit in back home again. This, along with the basic fact that, as much as I dearly love my connection with Eire, I love the world more. Life is about priorities and mine are to provide a healthy multi-cultural and nondenominational education and lifestyle to my son, while enjoying the privilege and perpetually enriching lifestyle akin to that of a professional nomad. In the meantime, visits home are precious, perhaps more so than if I were ever to relocate there. That preciousness is something I will always hold dear.

Eoin Quane, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

I would like to return and not be penalised for going abroad in the first place. I was a pre-2010 entrant, but as I didn’t work in Ireland for more than 26 weeks, I was put on the post 2010 pension scheme, which is ridiculous. How can the Government lure teachers home if it won’t give equal pay for equal work?