Frustrated youth rails against the system that lured them in only to shut them out

 

Newly qualified teachers make it clear they are willing to fight for their right to work, writes LOUISE HOLDEN

THIS YEAR’S teacher conference season will go down as the year the youth came back.

They’ve come to ask why their CAO application turned out to be a losing lottery ticket. These newly qualified teachers have taken to calling themselves the “unqualified pilots” in a lash at the hundreds of “unqualified teachers” they say are taking the last few jobs left in the system.

They are angry to find themselves in a system that doesn’t want them. “We were never told in college how bad things were getting on the outside,” says a frustrated Deirdre Cassidy from Ballymoe in Galway.

“I don’t know if they were in denial or just didn’t have the heart to tell us. When I went back for graduation in September my lecturers were asking me where I’m teaching, as if they took it for granted that I would have a job. Of course I don’t have a job. None of my friends do either.”

The gradireland survey published in this paper yesterday had the Department of Education as a dream employer for new graduates, especially women.

These young delegates, high achievers in the CAO system who beat stiff competition for their places in college, are wondering if they’ll ever actually get to be employees. Many feel they have been kept in the dark – lured into teaching with false promises of their value to society only to discover that they are, in effect, surplus to requirement.

Ms Cassidy has managed to get a subbing position that will last her until the end of June. She’s delighted to have it, but she says subbing all the time is tough. “It takes time to get the children settled. You arrive at a school and the principal just walks you to the classroom door and introduces you and off you go. Sometimes the other teacher leaves work and sometimes she doesn’t. You can’t plan, you can’t even call the children by their names.”

Come June her placement will end and she doesn’t know if she has the heart to start the search again. “I’ve sent out hundreds of applications since September and got one interview.” She says she has had to spend every penny of her Jobseeker’s Allowance doing just that – jobseeking.

Anita Foley has also spent a fortune trying to get work since September. “The Department of Education has issued a standard job application form that’s six pages long. The schools want three copies – most won’t deal with online applications. They also want certs, CVs and a load of paperwork that comes to about €10 an application. I spent thousands of euro on job applications last summer – 300 of them and didn’t get a single reply. I can’t afford to keep looking.”

It’s not easy to stand out amongst hundreds of job-seeking teachers, especially when they’ve been probated and you haven’t. The rub for a lot of young teachers is that they are not fully qualified until they have completed a 50-day probation period teaching in the classroom. But of course they can’t get into the classrooms for 50 consecutive days.

Ms Foley sighs. “I’ve done everything I can think of to get noticed – written my applications in calligraphy, created original artwork based on the school crest, I don’t know what else I can do.” Short of applying in blood, it seems she’s out of options.

The fact that most schools won’t accept online applications points to the gulf that is developing between our school system and our youngest teachers. They feel there’s no place for them and that feeling is not helped by the fact that so many retired teachers are being chosen for subbing and maternity jobs ahead of them. They’re getting pensions and subbing rates while these graduates are spending their dole money on unanswered job applications.

Aideen Bruin from Leixlip is currently subbing in a school in Ballyfermot but knows she’ll be back on the hunt in September. The fact that the department is to axe 700 hundred positions just as she hits the application trail is “heartbreaking”, she says.

Her heartbreak has brought her to Sligo with six of her friends, all recent graduates from Marino College and all first-timers at the teachers conference. In college, they regarded it as a talking shop for retirees with time on their hands and no contact with the classroom. Now they’re right in the thick of it.

The INTO executive has made a big effort to make these newly qualified teachers feel wanted , with everything from a congress iPhone app to a conference title in their honour – “A Fair Deal for New Teachers”.

“I think there’s a big change in mood here this year,” says Alan Bedford from Coolock. “For the first time it’s really about us. The older teachers are fighting on our behalf, but more importantly, we’re here to speak for ourselves for the first time.”