Wednesday 13 November 2019

Teacher anger: Megaphone man replaced by quiet anger

Minister of Education Jan O'Sullivan at the IMPACT- Educational Division Conference in Galway on Thursday. Phoot: Reg Gordon
Minister of Education Jan O'Sullivan at the IMPACT- Educational Division Conference in Galway on Thursday. Phoot: Reg Gordon
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Someone expressed the view that the teacher conferences were quiet this year.

For quiet, you can probably read 'no delegate pulled out a megaphone to roar his disapproval during the ritual of the minister's address'.

It's a bit like how a disruptive child gets the whole class a bad name that takes forever to live down.

But, yes, the conferences were pretty sparky in recent years - with teachers venting their anger as cut after cut was unleashed on pay packets and school resources.

And, yes, the tone was a bit different this week.

Last year was the year of the megaphone man among the delegates at the Association of Secondary Teachers' Ireland (ASTI) conference.

But the minister himself caused controversy when he suggested that the largely female primary teaching profession could have higher maths standards.

Ruairi Quinn has exited stage left since last year's particularly dramatic events.

After more than three years, Mr Quinn had become a bit of a baddie with the union audiences. Whatever hopes teachers attached to his coat tails when he swished into his first conferences within weeks of the 2011 election, they evaporated as the cuts continued.

More than that, teachers got fed up with his mantra that "we have lost our sovereignty; we cannot write our own cheques", by way of defending the ongoing cuts, sometimes to the most vulnerable.

They wearied of the initiative, after initiative, that the enthusiastic minister rolled out and of his "must-do-better narrative" about the education system, as he continued to strip resources.

On the basis of what many viewed as a 'never waste a crisis' tactic, his decision to push out Junior Cert reforms that had been sitting in the wings for years met with much hissing and booing from second-level teachers. So the ASTI decided not to invite the minister to their party this year - no need for a megaphone, and it made things quieter all around.

In his place, having quietly entered stage right last summer, is Jan O'Sullivan (inset): a new lead and with the orchestra in the pit playing a different tune, called the worst is over.

Expectancy is what was in the air at this week's conferences. What would Ms O'Sullivan bring to the role as the final act of the current Government approaches?

They have warmed to her, for now at least. Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) general secretary John MacGabhann could tell his delegates that the union had already met her more times than they ever met Ruairi Quinn.

The mood music has changed, but what about the accompanying lyrics in the post-austerity era? Teachers made their own suggestions about the words they want to hear: end of the pension levy, restoration of equal pay for young teachers, smaller classes. In fact, more or less every cut made in the past seven years is on the list.

Teacher anger hasn't melted, it is merely waiting for the final act to play out.

Irish Independent

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