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Opinion: Government must break down the bureaucratic walls faced by teachers returning to Ireland

One experience teacher who returned from Australia said she battled the Teaching Council to be allowed transfer her qualifications to Ireland, but eventually gave up.

Anonymous Substitute Teacher

THE GOVERNMENT HAS launched its plans to reopen schools in the coming weeks, and I wish them and the teachers and pupils the very best. It’s been a tough few months for everyone.

Reopening an entire education system on the back of a global pandemic is no mean feat, Irish people are resilient and I have faith in the staff and pupils in the weeks ahead. What I don’t have faith in is the ability of the bureaucratic system behind them to weather the changes that are coming.

One of the interesting parts of the plan is the possibility that the Department of Education may need hundreds of substitute teachers to bolster the system. You see, I am a teacher and had worked substituting, until recently.

I am Irish and in my late thirties. I did a business degree in Ireland in my early twenties and then emigrated to Australia, where I spent ten years, qualifying and working full-time as a primary teacher. There is nothing like teaching a room of children. It might sound sentimental to say it, but it really is the most rewarding job. 

As it turned out, the classroom part was the easy bit – the red tape trying to get to the classroom is the challenge. In Ireland, anyway. I returned over seven years ago with an Australian university primary teaching qualification and bucketloads of experience, hoping to secure work here.

As I understood it at the time, all you had to do to get teaching work back at home was an Irish exam, which I was looking forward to, having never had an issue with the language.

Unfortunately, I ran into the most expensive roadblock to getting permanent work as a teacher in this country. Someone had said the authorities in Ireland were famous around the world for not recognising teaching qualifications from other jurisdictions. They were right. We pride ourselves here on having the best education system in the world. That’s a wonderful thing, but it also must be a system that works.

Bureaucracy, gone mad

If you qualify as a teacher in another country you must be given clearance from the Irish Teaching Council to get full-time teaching work in Ireland. That means engaging and furnishing your qualifications. As requested, I sent in my Masters transcript and waited.

After three months, with some difficulty, I finally tracked someone down to be told it hadn’t arrived. These things happen, so I resent it.

When I finally did hear back, they said they couldn’t accept my MA on paper and would instead require an hour-by-hour breakdown of each subject by week, for each year I had studied.

Astonished, I told them this did not exist, that in fact, it was nigh on impossible to source that information for a course I had done a decade before. The course was totally different at this point anyway. My argument to them was that yes, I had qualifications from a country out of Ireland, but surely my decade of actual teaching experienced counted for something?

By now, many months had passed. I appealed the decision, which cost me €500. Another two months went by. They told me the appeal had failed and that they still needed the breakdown of hours.

I wrote to the dean of the university in Australia and to see if they had anything in their records. The Dean kindly wrote back, saying he was tired of this from the Irish Teaching Council. Not his first encounter, apparently.

He wrote a two-page letter on my behalf to say that the course did indeed have the necessary modules for teaching in all European countries, and there was no reason not to recognise it. Unfortunately, they were not at all interested in accepting his letter.

Keen to work

By this stage, I was so frustrated that I started to rethink my career, and wondered if I should just return to Australia, given that I had citizenship. Many Irish people have made these decisions, we move abroad, whether for personal or economic reasons, work hard and then hope to return to Ireland with something to offer.

While all of this was going on I joined some groups on social media it seemed there were many like me – educated, experienced teachers who had zero chance of ever getting full-time work in Ireland because of this requirement for an hour-by-hour breakdown of courses. They’re all deeply frustrated.

There is no other career that I can think of where this might be needed. You get your qualification, pick up your experience and off you go.

In the meantime, my application still rejected, I was told I would need to complete two subjects at a private education college as part of a Masters in order to remain even registered with the Council. This cost me another €5000, but I did it.

Throughout all of this, I did get some ‘subbing’ work, the odd day in a classroom, but I was so frustrated by being in this strange career limbo that I was ready to leave teaching for good – a career I had worked so hard for. My husband and I were hoping to apply for a mortgage but there was no way this could happen with my work situation.

Having completed the subjects in the second Masters, it would have then cost another €2000 to do the Irish Language Requirement exams, study and Gaeltacht visits. I would have been happy to do this were it not for the three-year battle I had just had with the Teaching Council.

That experience left me so deflated and spent and was a huge financial burden. Unfortunately, I gave up, left teaching and changed careers entirely. I am grateful that I got a great job at a good time in the economy, a job I now love, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss teaching terribly. 

Why am I writing this story? I genuinely have no axe to grind any more and have moved on, but when I hear the Government planning to bring in all of these teachers in September to help with the ‘new normal’ of a post-Covid classroom, I cannot help but roll my eyes. How is this all going to work within such a rigid system?

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I have met so many teachers who have been ‘subbing’ for many years, some for over a decade. This is as good as amounts to a ‘gig economy’ in education. It means they cannot apply for mortgages and the like. Of course, not all substitute teachers have this issue with ‘foreign’ qualifications – the availability of full-time jobs for them is a factor.

But it’s the substitute teachers who are about to bolster the system in the battle against Covid-19. If clusters come to a classroom or teachers have to isolate, school principals will call on substitute teachers to step in, and they will. They will do this with the same gusto for their pupils, I hope, as the frontline medical workers have done for their patients.

Will the new Education Minister Norma Foley break down the bureaucratic walls met by so many like me? Will she challenge the status quo for the sake of the pupils who so desperately need the support of substitute teachers in the coming months? I hope she will.

I loved teaching in Australia. Their system flows well and it offers job security. Despite this, I returned to my home country with a passion for teaching. That passion has vanished, and while it’s a personal shame for me, the real shame is that the Irish system hasn’t welcomed home its well-educated teachers as well as it has its medical personnel. They are needed just as much in this time of crisis.

According to the Teaching Council, teachers who are qualified outside of the Republic of Ireland can apply to become members in Ireland under the EU Directive 2005/36.

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Anonymous Substitute Teacher

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