Friday 18 January 2019

Comment: Teaching is a joy, but I can’t afford to follow my dream on just €12,000 a year

Zoe Keane has always wanted to be a teacher but is already disillusioned with the sector

Zoe Keane
Zoe Keane

Zoe Keane

Ever since I was a little girl, pretending to ‘teach’ my teddies in my playroom, I have wanted to work in education.

But now, decades later, working as a student teacher in a prestigious school in south Dublin, I’m not so sure that it really is the career for me.

Even though I work at an amazing school, and finally have the chance I always dreamt of to inspire motivated, hardworking second-level students, I can’t escape the fact that my passion for the job is failing.

And that’s because the system is making it virtually  impossible for young teachers to make a living.

The teachers’ unions say their objective is to maintain and improve conditions of employment for their members.

But this seems like an impossible task for the Irish government today, and as a result teachers are suffering financially - big time.

There has been a 62pc decrease in the rate of students applying to do the post masters of Education here in Ireland. And with the way our educators are treated, it’s no surprise.

Student teachers are obliged to pay €6000 annually to complete a two-year masters in education, equating to €12,000 in total to become a teacher.

This means that when an educator is qualified, you’d be unlikely to be able to pay this back in your first year.

But compare this to senior teachers who qualified before 2011, having completed a Diploma in education for one year which cost just €6,000.

These teachers were paid a lot more having completed a diploma than teachers are now having completed a two year masters.

Being an educator was once considered an elite profession, but now, it saddens me that it doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

Teachers were once earning €34,143 annually.

As a teacher on a 16 hour contract I am making €12,000 annually. That’s the exact amount I need to pay back my credit union for my college fees. And I still need to eat.

There are teachers in my school who have been teaching there for five years and more who are still seeking twelve-month contracts, never mind a contract of permanency.

Many are forced to resort to seeking state welfare for their holiday period, just to ensure they have enough money to make ends meet. Plenty of times I have arrived into work to see the disappointed faces of the teachers who were declined their dole.

There’s something wrong with society when fully qualified teachers are having to sign on, don’t you think?

And the prospect of getting a promotion seems remote for young teachers today. Posts are offered to teachers on a first come first served basis.

The thought that you could be using a zimmerframe by the time you get a promotion is terrifying. It feels like a double whammy: you’re underpaid to begin with, and a promotion is probably decades away.

If you’re a young teacher who wants to move out of home and pay rent, particularly in Dublin, your options are severely limited. That’s one of many reasons behind the decrease of aspiring teachers here in Ireland today.

And it’s no wonder we are losing young teachers to places like the Middle East where they’ll earn double the salary that they’d make here, while their bills and transport costs are paid for. It’s  clear that these countries  appreciate and respect their teachers a lot more than here in Ireland.

Being so new to the job, I’m not claiming to know everything about the ins and outs of the profession, but I think it speaks volumes that I am already so disillusioned at this early stage of my career.

The 40-minute periods I spend in the classroom, educating the next generation, are 40 enjoyable ones. I learn as much from those young people as they do from me.

But I wonder how I will be able to afford simple things like moving out and having a family on a teacher’s salary. It shouldn’t feel like such a burden.

The teachers are begging the government to take the unions’ demands seriously.  But perhaps our two unions need to come together so that their power is not so diluted.

Our teachers  are preparing the youth of today for their tomorrow. It’s an important job – so it shouldn’t feel like we don’t matter.

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