Saturday 25 November 2017

Working It Out: Time to shoot the sacred cows of our education system

Above and beyond the call: Robin Williams as the inspirational teacher of Matt Damon in the film 'Good Will Hunting'
Above and beyond the call: Robin Williams as the inspirational teacher of Matt Damon in the film 'Good Will Hunting'

John Masterson

Maybe someone can help me solve a mystery that has been troubling me.

I know quite a few people who are, or have been, teachers. It is a job they value. I would say they are and were good at it. And I know people from all walks of life who believe that education is one of the most important things on which our State spends money.

Many of them spend extra money on their children's education because it is something they also value. Some have put themselves to the pin of their collar to pay for a private education.

Every now and again the Minister for Education makes some pronouncement or other about changes to the education system. This usually provokes discussion among people I know as to whether it is a good idea or a bad idea. It matters.

Then, as night follows day, I turn on the radio to hear a chorus of teachers' unions explaining to all and sundry that it really doesn't matter whether it is a good idea or not because it would be impossible for their members to do this with the time/ money/resources/ or whatever you are having yourself, available.

Inevitably it is a BAD idea because the Minister doesn't really understand the suffering that is endured on the ground. In the history of the State, no change has ever been a good idea.

Apart from longer holidays, half terms, benchmarking and the protection of useless teachers. We all know they exist but they must be protected at all costs or the sky will fall in. Maybe it is their job to whinge but, for the life of me, I cannot recall any union rep ever saying anything positive pertaining to the education of children. They would have been appalled by Robin Williams working extra hours in Good Will Hunting. I suspect they considered picketing that one because Robin was one great teacher and great teaching is not to be encouraged.

Every now and again I venture into this territory with actual teachers. I do this carefully because there are certain things it is better not to bring up. One must accept that the pupil-teacher ratio is as vital to the functioning of the planet as the first Law of Thermodynamics. And that our schools are the best in the world.

Utter nonsense, but you must not question. However, beyond these sacred cows the conversation turns sensible.

They all know which teachers are useless. They all pity the head teacher who has to shuffle a group of teachers to where they will do the least damage. They know parents pay for grinds because occasionally they give them. Many of them tell me the holidays are too long. I have heard some say that it is a disgrace that useful facilities are not used all year round.

I have heard them speak with pride of how pupils get on in life and in exams. I know that many of these teachers do extra voluntary work at the school because they enjoy it and think it is really part of the job. I know that they are happy to meet with parents and do not think a working parent should have to take a half day to have a parent teacher meeting.

Oddly, I cannot ever remember hearing any teacher or parent have a good word to say about the contribution of any of the teaching unions to education.

So, where do these head-in-the-sand morning radio performers come from?

Perhaps this is democracy in action. If you don't stand for election you cannot be voted in.

Sadly none of the committed teachers I have come across would be caught dead standing for election.

I suppose that throws some light on the Dail too. You still can't fire a bad teacher. But you may get the opportunity to elect one.

Sunday Independent

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