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Teachers have to take the pain too

It hurts me to say this but I believe that teachers – the people we depend on to educate our children and our grandchildren – have lost all credibility.
I say it hurts me because there is chalk in my blood. My father was a teacher and so was his sister. My own sister was a teacher. Three of my children are teachers. I even did a bit of teaching myself in another life.
I would love to be able to say that some of my best friends are teachers. But they no longer are. I mean they are still teachers but they are no longer my best friends. We fell out because of my attitude to them. Hopefully, we will be friends again when they see the light.
I cannot for the life of me understand their attitude. Surely, they know that the country is broke. We all know it. We have to borrow heavily from abroad to pay their wages and the wages of other public servants.
And if they don’t accept the pay cuts imposed in the last Budget, we won’t be able to borrow any more to pay their wages. It’s as simple as that.
Now, I have met some teachers who teach Irish but cannot conduct a simple conversation in that language with me. But I never knew there were teachers out there who cannot do simple sums.
They can talk until the cows come home about the unfairness of it all and of how they are not to blame for the recession.
But that is not the point. The point is that the Celtic Tiger days are over. The teachers know that because they have not been living on Mars. And yet they believe we must pay them the same salary scales they were getting when the economy was booming.
I accept it is very hard to give up what you have got used to. I also accept if you put a bit of pressure on a weak government they will give in as they gave in to pensioners after the protests that arose out of the removal of the automatic right to a free medical card at 70.
But if the Government gives in now and withdraws the pay cuts, there will be uproar among the majority who are not public servants. Not to mention the fact that we will no longer be able to borrow to pay the public servants their wages.
So this is not an opinion piece that I am writing this week. This is fact and I am damn sure that if those pay cuts did not involve teachers or other public servants they would acknowledge that. As I am prepared to acknowledge that teaching is a tough profession.
I tried it for two years but I couldn’t hack it. In most other jobs you can hide behind a desk or a machine if you are not feeling too good after the night before. Not so with teachers.
All your weaknesses are fully exposed as you stand before a class of pupils who will have no mercy.
They say that working as a reporter for an evening newspaper in a big city is the toughest job of all. I can tell you from experience that it’s a doddle compared to teaching.
You may say that teachers get long holidays at summer, Christmas and Easter, not including all the mid-term breaks that come in between. But I can tell you that if teachers did not get all those breaks they wouldn’t last long in the profession.
So what I am basically saying is that while I agree that teaching is a tough job and that teachers should be well paid and given good breaks throughout the year, this country can no longer afford to pay them what they were used to getting in the boom years.
None of us are getting what we were getting in the good years. Some of us had to accept pay cuts of up to 25%. And more of us have lost our jobs and don’t have enough to keep a roof over our heads or food on the table.
Do they not know that people on the dole – through no fault of theirs – also had their payments cut in the last Budget. But those people have no trade union to look after their interests. They have nobody to organise them.
They haven’t got the money to attend an annual conference where they can intimidate the likes of Mary Coughlan or Mary Hanafin.
They are too busy looking for another job or trying to make ends meet and would love to be able to stay with colleagues for a few days in a top hotel in Galway, Salthill or Ennis.
The simple fact of the matter is that we have been living far beyond our means, even in the boom years. And too many of us want to continue living beyond our means now when there is no money there to do that.
And what I am saying about teachers also applies to gardaí, nurses, soldiers, county council officials and civil servants in general. But it was teachers who held their annual conferences last week.
I agree there was a lot of unfairness about those cutbacks. Higher-earning public servants were not hit as hard as were those on the ground floor or in the basement.
And it was certainly going to be much more difficult delivering the Croke Park agreement in the days following the revelation that we were going to spend countless billions trying to bail out the banks who caused the crisis.
But the fact remains that public spending has to be cut back and cut back further in the year ahead. And that cannot be done without pain. The economy cannot be fixed without hurt. Nobody can escape the pain.

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