A YOUNG MAYO teacher who was this week named the Secondary School Teacher of Year has said that she doesn’t even know if she’ll have a job next year.
In an acceptance speech which turned into an emotional stripping down of what she calls the “injustice” of the secondary school system, Evelyn O’Connor, an English teacher at Mount St Michael Secondary School in Claremorris on Co Mayo told those in attendance that the contract she was about the sign would:
effectively deny me a secure future in this school because of a bizarre bureaucratic nightmare.
O’Connor has been teaching English “and a small bit of French” at Mount St Michael for three years. Before that she had a permanent position in Ennis, but left there in 2009 to come home to Mayo to a school where she thought her skills might be needed.
She told TheJournal.ie that at that time redeployment – the practice of moving permanent teachers between schools as positions arise – didn’t exist, and she thought her decision seemed like a wise one.
This is a video of the powerful and emotional speech she made on Wednesday:
Every time a teacher is redeployed – in most cases against their wishes – a non-permanent teacher loses their job. It seems in our new low-cost education system, all teachers are equal, but some teachers are more equal than others.
Video uploaded by EvelynOConnor1 (her speech begins at 1.25)
O’Connor told TheJournal.ie that she struggled with the idea of whether or not she should speak up.
She said stakes are high because her husband is not working, but that she just couldn’t live with her conscience if she passed up the opportunity to use her Teacher of the Year platform to speak up.
The school want me here. You the students seem to want me here. And I want to be here.
O’Connor said that the system of “fictional contracts” offered by the Department of Education means that she could be forced to go to a different school and start her career all over again, even though she’s been teaching for nine years.
She told TheJournal.ie that in the past teaching was all about seniority, and that if you bided your time eventually you would get a secure position. She said however that the current system of Contracts of Indefinite Duration (CID) is being abused by the Department, meaning that it can be very difficult for a teacher to secure a permanent position.
The Government want us and the public to believe that they haven’t cut the pupil teacher ratio but this is a carefully crafted illusion… schools are a maths equation to them.
O’Connor said the Department “seems to want to reduce the schools to the bare minium”. She said her school has to timetable 475 pupils for English with just two permanent teachers.
Teachers are afraid, and teachers are unpopular, according to the Teacher of the Year. She said that there is a “national obsession with criticising teachers” and explained that non-permanent teachers are not screaming from the rooftops because they’re afraid.
We are afraid to even say these things out loud because the government will try to use our complaints as an excuse to make things even worse for all teachers. We’re afraid that if we make ourselves visible we might lose our jobs. We’re afraid that people will dismiss us as whingers because of summer holidays.
O’Connor told TheJournal.ie that she’s not attacking teachers, but that the problems are based on policy decisions and increasing levels of teacher accountability. She said that she knows she good at her job, and the injustice that someone can come and take it from her beggars belief.
“A part-time profession”
The Mayo teacher became emotional towards the end of her speech as she apologised to her students:
I should be putting every ounce of my energy, my passion and my enthusiasm into my teaching and your learning next year. Instead I’ll be battling with the department, trying to force them to recognise that I am needed in this school.
She spoke of the fear of someone being “parachuted” into her job, and the fear of emigration.
A non-permanent teacher has no entitlement to redeployment. If someone else is redeployed into their job, they go on the dole.
O’Connor expressed sympathy for newly qualified teachers, saying that the way they will be treated is “disgraceful” and that they will become second class citizens within the school system.
I think [the Government's] aim is to turn secondary school teaching into a part-time profession.
Evelyn O’Connor was instrumental in setting up an account on the online forum Edmodo.com, which allows students and teachers around the world to connect. It also meant that her own students could submit assignments and gain access to resources even if they were absent.
She also set up her own website LeavingCertEnglish.net as a resource for students. The site features recordings of her classes as well as hints and guidelines.
The Teacher of the Year Awards is organised by abcbooks.ie. The Primary Teacher of the Year was Joseph Gallinagh of Glenswilly NS in Donegal.