Teachers-in-training are stressed-out before they enter the classroom

Opinion: Following the onerous process of qualifying, the career path of most new teachers is frustrating and poorly remunerated

It is time that we re-examine the role of teachers and the contribution they make to the formation of our young people

It is time that we re-examine the role of teachers and the contribution they make to the formation of our young people

 

Newly qualified teachers are speaking out about the lack of pay parity for those who have joined the teaching profession since 2011. This gap in pay is all the more regrettable considering those now in training will be educated to master’s level: the first cohort of such graduates will qualify from University College Dublin at the end of this academic year.

For many of these students, graduation represents the culmination of six years’ engagement in higher education. For this group of soon-to-be teachers, signing up to a master’s level teaching qualification has been a huge investment, financially, professionally and personally.

The recent move to master’s level award reflects the widely accepted view that initial teacher education – or teacher training, as it is commonly known – is considered one of the most important factors in ensuring a well-performing public education system.

Those countries the OECD considers to have high-performing education systems (such as Finland, Canada and Singapore) have all prioritised investment in initial teacher education. In Ireland, as in the aforementioned countries, teaching is considered an attractive career, with high social status.

Commenting on the high calibre of entrants to teaching in Ireland, the recent Sahlberg report on initial teacher education noted that “the academic standard of applicants is among the highest, if not the highest, in the world”.

For those choosing to train to become a teacher, programmes are rigorous and demanding, and all programmes now require ongoing accreditation by the Teaching Council, the regulatory body for the profession.

The master’s award allows a greater focus on the development of teachers’ research skills so that, once qualified, they can use educational research to inform their day-to-day work.

Critical reflection

Greater opportunities for rigorous, systematic practice-oriented inquiry means that teachers can understand their own professional development through critical reflection on their emerging thinking and practice.

The quality-assurance process of checking candidates’ eligibility to train as teachers has been tightened in order to ensure that those entering the profession have the requisite knowledge to teach subjects for which they are qualified and hence ultimately registered.

The mechanisms for ensuring proper induction into the profession as well as ongoing professional development have also been reviewed and streamlined. Teachers’ lifelong professional learning and career development is a key policy priority at EU level and internationally, and a national framework for teachers’ learning has recently been devised in the Irish context.

This quality culture is to be welcomed, safeguarding as it does the professional status of teachers, as well as having a positive impact on pupil experience and outcome.

Requisite funding

The welcome reform of the structure of initial teacher education has not, however, been accompanied by the requisite funding to support the reform agenda.

This is being felt acutely not only by newly qualified teachers but also by higher-education institutions and student teachers, as well as by the partner schools that host them, and in particular by the experienced teachers (co-operating teachers) who play a key role in mentoring student teachers.

Student teachers work in schools and attend university, putting in long days and juggling the teaching load and the requirements of a master’s-level programme. Many are forced to take up casual employment in order to pay their fees and living expenses, and hence are visibly exhausted and stressed in lectures. Levels of anxiety and attrition are considerable.

Following the onerous process of securing qualification and registration, the career path of most new teachers is frustrating and poorly remunerated. Many are forced to emigrate in order to secure meaningful employment. The loss not only to our education system but to the wider society is profound.

It is time that we re-examine both the role of teachers and the contribution they make to the formation of young people.

For many such young people, teachers are role models who provide not only a significant knowledge base, but play wider and arguably more significant pastoral care roles at this critical formative phase.

If we continue to undervalue the role of teachers and to provide an inadequate model of funding for their training and their eventual employment, we will no longer be in a position to attract and retain the brightest and the best.

  • Dr Judith Harford is a senior lecturer at UCD’s school of education
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