Student set to be one of State’s first Traveller primary teachers

Teaching initiative endeavours to diversify what is a ‘white, middle-class’ profession

Temera O’Brien, who is studying to qualify as a primary school teacher at Maynooth University, pictured with her mother Sarah Connors. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Temera O’Brien, who is studying to qualify as a primary school teacher at Maynooth University, pictured with her mother Sarah Connors. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

As a child, Temera O’Brien dreamed of becoming a teacher. By the time she approached her Leaving Cert, however, the 17-year-old Traveller didn’t think it was going to happen.

“The points were too high and I didn’t have higher Irish. I also thought no one of my background would get into teaching, anyway,” she says.

Now, thanks to a new access programme, she has been admitted to a third-level teacher-training course.

It could see her become one of the first ever primary school teachers from the Travelling community in what research shows is a mostly “white, female and middle-class” profession.

She is taking part in Maynooth University’s “turn to teaching” programme, which aims to dismantle barriers faced by marginalised students such as migrants, lone parents and students from disadvantaged schools in entering teaching.

“I’m hoping I’ll be a role model for other Travellers,” says O’Brien, from Bray, Co Wicklow. “If I can do it, then other Traveller children will think, ‘why can’t I do it as well?’”

Achievement

Simply getting this far has been an achievement in itself. Travellers are up to 50 times less likely to complete secondary school than the wider community. But for Temera, education has always been seen as a vital stepping stone.

“It’s down to my mother and father. Education always came first,” she says.

Maynooth University lecturer and former access student, Dr Katriona O’Sullivan, said the programme, along with others, can help “change the face of the Irish classroom”.

“While [current teachers] do a great job, we need to ensure our schools reflect the diverse nature of Irish society,” she says.

“Kids dream when they’re four or five. If you’re a young student from a migrant or Traveller background, or go to a Deis school or live in Ballymun, you don’t see anyone like yourself in the classroom. It limits what you think you an do. It’s really important that students see people like themselves.”

Evaluation process

Entry to the programme involves what Dr O’Sullivan describes as a “rigorous evaluation process” which explores candidates’ academic potential, capacity to communicate, as well as their resilience and motivation.

“Everyone that comes on this course has demonstrated high potential and great motivation,” she says.

Entrants must complete a year-long foundation course before they take on the four-year primary teaching degree.

O’Brien is one of a group who has also completed summer-long grinds in Irish.

The road to qualifying as a teacher will be long and challenging – but O’Brien feels she is up to the task.

“I’m excited... I’d like to change how teaching is done,” she says. “If there are students from Traveller backgrounds or other minorities, I want to make sure they enjoy school and make sure no one is left behind.”