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In my opinion: 'The School' shows the real joys of teaching

I have long held the belief that there is a lack of awareness in the public arena of the complexity of teaching.

I say this as a teacher of 40 years' standing, many of those years as a school principal, some as co-ordinator of a national programme of in-service for teachers, and currently as CEO of the Teaching Council. In the interests of promoting teaching as a profession, I have wished for, and spoken about, the need for an exposé of school life. Having seen the first episode on January 4, I believe my wish may be fulfilled in RTE's new documentary series, The School.

Like most schools, St Peter's College in Dunboyne, Co Meath, is a busy, dynamic and complex setting which faces a range of challenges on a daily basis. The first programme showed the work of staff in meeting those challenges.

The commitment of teachers was evident throughout the programme and this is consistent with the core values of teaching such as respect, care, and commitment which are central to the profession and are set out in the Teaching Council's Codes of Professional Conduct for Teachers.

The teachers' commitment to student learning was evident and, wearing a parent's hat, I was particularly happy that teachers motivated their students by communicating achievable expectations for them and by celebrating their efforts.

A holistic vision of education is central to a teacher's work and greatly adds to the complexity of the role. I welcomed seeing teachers working effectively with each other and with other professionals, such as school chaplains and guidance counsellors, for the benefit of their students.

Similarly, the relationship with parents was also highlighted, and we saw teachers actively communicating and collaborating with them.

Above all, it was reassuring that the relationship between teachers and their students was centre-stage in the programme, as this is at the heart of teaching.

The quality of the relationship was obvious in the ease with which students could approach their teachers to "ambush" them with a camera or seek assistance in dealing with a problem.

It was also highlighted by the good-humoured banter between teachers and their students and in the fun learning environment created by the music teacher during rehearsals in the first programme.

Challenging behaviour is a feature of school life and I welcome the fact that this aspect of teachers' work was addressed.

The amount of coverage which disciplinary issues received in the programme could be questioned, in particular the disproportionate focus on uniform policy. Similarly, the wisdom of revealing the identity of students experiencing problems could be questioned.

On the other hand, it could be argued that these students are to be admired and thanked for allowing us the privilege of seeing how they coped positively with problems.

It is difficult for an hour-long programme, or even a series of documentaries, to capture the complexity of school life and teachers' work but , in my opinion, The School has made a good start.

I look forward with interest to the final episode.

Irish Independent