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Career breaks: 'We shouldn't be stopping young teachers from going and exploring the world'

We need to look at the real reasons behind our teacher shortages and think about how we can attract more people into the teaching profession, writes Garrett O’Dowd.

Garrett O'Dowd Teacher and co-founder of Teach and Explore

I FOUNDED TEACH and Explore, a teacher recruitment company, set up by teachers for teachers, with Eoin Bolger. We had a large network of friends all stuck for work in Ireland.

We both had had no other choice but to leave Ireland for a career abroad. I used to wake up many mornings to no call or text asking me to sub. Sometimes I only subbed one or two days a week.

We began to hire mainly teachers with a few years’ experience who were excellent teachers, but who had fractured work experience and CVs due to the situation in Ireland.

Many were unable to find permanent positions and others chose to travel abroad due to pay reasons, the spiralling cost of rent, or to try and save for a deposit on a house.

Large numbers of substitute teachers

A full-time substitute role is not for everyone. It is good for parents raising young children, or for those working on personal projects. Or maybe teachers who look after elderly loved ones. But I lost faith in the profession when I was spending day after day waiting for a text or a call that never came.

We should not be looking to have large numbers of substitute teachers, unless they actually want to work sporadically. Subbing offers no stability, and it should be an option not a necessity.

Instead graduates in other areas could be drafted in for substitute teaching. Graduates in subjects such as sports science, computer programming, art, product design, science, music and other STEM subjects could be allowed to teach specialist subjects to ease the pressure on schools, while also giving these graduates a taste of teaching and allowing them the chance to choose this profession if they like it.

In many other countries primary schools and secondary schools hire people with expertise in different areas and there should be no reason why we shouldn’t follow suit, as we did in the past.

Taking career breaks

I see the merit in saying career breaks should not be granted for five years while gaining full-time employment in another district. But the board of management of each school can already refuse career breaks if they cannot replace the teacher.

We have recruited and advised over 500 teachers and 95% of these return home after two or three years. They return with very valuable knowledge and new skills. Experiencing other curricula only enriches their own professional development and teaching.

They can then use skills and techniques from some of the best schools in the world and bring these home to Ireland to further their students’ learning. They also pass this knowledge onto other colleagues.

Taking a career break is an excellent way of enhancing your personal and professional development. Employees who have had a career break often return with a more positive outlook, refreshed and re-energised. This can only benefit Irish pupils.

Having taught overseas in both the UK and the Middle East I found it to be very enriching, and I have shared many teaching strategies that I learned from other teachers and schools. My intercultural communication skills and understanding of different and diverse backgrounds is also a lot broader now.

Getting more people into the profession

We need to look at the real reasons behind our teacher shortages and think about how we can attract more people into the teaching profession.

We should allow recent graduates in other subject areas such as art, architecture, business, coding to do supply work in secondary schools and experience the life of a teacher. Many current teachers used this route to see if they wanted to devote their life to teaching.

In the UK many specialist subject teachers work in primary schools – for example as full-time art teachers, PE teachers, information and communications technology (ICT) teachers, allowing the classroom teacher to plan better and focus on the core subjects. They are also available to work as a relief teacher if needed.

Narrowing restrictions

The teaching council need to narrow their restrictions. Currently many Irish teachers are fully qualified internationally and have completed the International Postgraduate Certificate in Education (IPGCE). But the teaching council here refuses to accept their status even though they can teach anywhere else in the world. Recognition of the IPGCE would attract hundreds of teachers into our system overnight.

On returning to Ireland many teachers have to wait up to six months to have their qualifications recognised. It’s also a costly process and this has prevented many teachers from returning home.

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Then, even if they have a few years’ experience teaching overseas, they still start on the first point of the pay scale here. We need to allow them to enter at a much higher point that recognises their previous experience.

Equal pay for equal work

Teachers hired over the past seven years are on lower pay scales. In staff rooms around the country over 16,000 teachers are on lower pay scales than their colleagues even though they are carrying out the same role.

If you graduated after 2011,  you stand to lose more than €100,000 over your working life.

Most of the teachers applying to us now have qualified between 2010 and 2015. They nearly all want to save up to buy a house. Gone are the days where the dream was to surpass your parents and build a life for your children better than what you had. This generation will not be able to do that.

Remove financial impediments

In the UK the Postgraduate Certificate in Education is just one year long and you get a bursary to help you get through the year, with certain subjects earning you more money. Course cost in UK starts at £9,000 with a bursary up to £3,000. Course here cost around €15,000 with no financial help available.

Physics, maths and chemistry teachers should be paid more as there is no point in studying teaching if they can earn double, triple or more in the private sector.

There are many ways we can approach this but restricting career breaks isn’t fair. We shouldn’t be stopping our young teachers from going and exploring the world.

Garrett O’Dowd co-founded Teach and Explore, an educational recruitment and consultancy company with teaching positions around the world. They can be found on teachandexplore.com and followed on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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About the author:

Garrett O'Dowd  / Teacher and co-founder of Teach and Explore

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