The great escape into teaching
Hundreds of professionals are quitting stressful careers for the long holidays and family-friendly lifestyle of primary school teachers.
Hibernia College, which operates online, has reported that it is increasing its bi-annual allocation to 380 students because of the demand.
Other colleges in Ireland and the UK are also reporting a high number of Irish students training for the teaching profession. This is on top of the 1,400 or so graduates who come through colleges such as St Patrick's and the Mary Immaculate each year.
"Teaching is seen as a life-style choice," said Sean Rowland of Hibernia College.
Referring to the choice of professionals to change career, he said: "Their original careers didn't promote much family time or personal satisfaction.
"Although salaries may drop initially, expenses such as childcare and tax bills will reduce. The overall quality of live improves."
On the downside, however, the new interest in teaching careers has led to a glut of applications for a dwindling number of jobs. A vacancy at Killeen National School in Co Galway led to around 250 applications for the post.
Rachel Hanniffy, a 2009 graduate from Mary Immaculate College, explained how she sent out more than 600 CVs last summer -- and got just two interviews.
One school told her it had received around 650 applications for the single post.
"I was successful in the second interview and this will tide me over for 10 months. Then I'll be sending off CVs again," said Ms Hanniffy.
Fine Gael's spokesman on education end science, Brian Hayes, believes that young teachers should be given preference in recruitment.
"Whatever happens, we will need more teachers because older teachers are retiring and over half a million children will be in the primary school system this September. That is the most since 1886.
"I suggested last October that it was morally indefensible that older teachers could retire and then re-enter the system, when we have thousands of unemployed teachers.
"Priority must be given to new recruits who are trying to get a foothold in education. A national panel system for substitute and temporary work needs to be put in place."
Primary teaching is seen by many as a 'cushy number', with 15 weeks' holidays and a six-hour day. Hard-pressed professionals look enviously at their friends in teaching.
Those seeking a better 'work-life balance' increasingly turn to colleges such as Hibernia, where they can get a teaching degree online.
They can keep their day jobs, while studying in the evenings and at weekends. However, they have to take leave for three periods of teaching practice, of around four weeks each.
The average age for such students is 30 and even professionals with more than 10 years' experience in their chosen fields are abandoning careers and moving into the classroom.
"I wasn't enjoying my job," explained one former professional who is now in front of the blackboard.
"The pay appeared good but given the hours that I worked, the per-hour rate was not as good as one might imagine.
"I wanted a better work-life balance and felt that if I left it any longer, I would be too old and burdened with responsibilities to embark on a career change."