A former teacher of St Flannan’s College, crowned secondary school teacher of the year, has become a massive hit on the internet as she blasted the government’s education cutbacks and treatment of teachers in her acceptance speech.
Speaking to The Clare Champion, Evelyn O’Connor explained the frustration behind her headline-hitting comments at the awards saying teachers are “afraid” to speak out.
She emphasised that she loves teaching and believes teachers can make a difference to pupils’ lives. “There is a perception out there that teaching is a relativity straight forward thing, you get a permanent job for life after your trained, but that is so not the case. 27% of teachers in secondary schools are on temporary contracts, which is a huge number. 50% of teachers under 30 are on contracts of less than a year.
“In the first two years of teaching in Ireland, 93% of qualified teachers are in short-term work. In most other European countries’ teachers can get stuck into a job but in Ireland, it can take eight to 10 years to get any kind of job security,” she said.
She insisted that instead of cutbacks, the government should look to the Finnish education model and invest in the country’s future.
“They invested in education when there was a recession and now they are the envy of the world. In Ireland, we have the potential to be that, we value education highly and we have one of the highest retention rates in the world. I believe that the policies the government are following will make things worse. As a parent, I am really concerned about the education system that my daughter will be entering in secondary school in ten years’ time. If we keep going the way we are going, secondary schools will be in crisis and by the time that happens, it will be too late. It’s now that we have the choice to do something.”
Ms O’Connor had worked in St Flannan’s where she had a permanent position but she moved back to her home county of Mayo where she now teaches English in Mount St Michael Secondary School in Claremorris and is not a permanent staff member.
The mother of one hit out against the government in an emotional speech as she accepted her award for the secondary school teacher of the year.
In her speech, she described her award as “ironic” saying, “I have no idea if I’ll have a job in a year’s time”. And she raised fears that she and her family may have to consider emigrating to continue doing the job she loves.
Speaking at the awards she said, “The government want us and the public to believe that they haven’t cut the pupil teacher ratio but this is a carefully crafted illusion. They have taken away the allowance for career guidance teachers. They have taken away the hours that were granted to schools who run the Leaving Cert Vocational Programme. They have abolished language support for non-nationals and reduced special needs hours or made them non-supernumary. They have introduced a redeployment system, which means that those who are already in the system can be moved around like pawns on a chess board and those of us who are non-permanent are non-existent.”
Ms O’Connor added, “Every time a teacher is redeployed, in most cases against their wishes, a non-permanent teacher loses their job. It seems that in our new low-cost education system, all teachers are equal but some are more equal than others.”
She urged “non-permanent teachers have to stop going quietly because our students and our schools are suffering”.
She said the government see schools as “maths equations”. “If you have your quota of allocated teachers to pupils, then you just have to make it work somehow.”
She stated, “No-one in power seems in the slightest bit interested in encouraging, celebrating and recognising good teaching”.
She criticised measuring teaching effectiveness through exam results. “They’ve tried this in the UK and America and it has completely undermined teachers, students and education to the extent that most teachers leave the profession within three years. Measuring teacher effectiveness by exam results only aggravates the problem of ‘teaching to the test’ instead of offering students a real education and this is a problem that we are already all too familiar with in this country. What I’d really like for us to do as a country, though, is to have a different conversation. A positive conversation.”
“If we want teachers to be proud of, we need to make it a profession you would be proud to be a part of,” she concluded.