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Sunday 3 December 2023 Dublin: 0°C
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Substitute teacher 'I lived abroad and came home, but teaching in Ireland has been a disaster'

One young teacher who worked in the UK has now moved back home says he’s had enough of the struggle to live in Ireland.

LAST UPDATE | Sep 14th 2023, 11:55 PM

I’M A 36-YEAR-OLD Biology and Science Teacher. I moved to the UK ten years ago with the dream of studying a Masters in Wildlife Conservation having spent some time working in a wildlife sanctuary in Central America.

After two years in the UK, I began working in a school doing a similar role as an SNA here and then moved up to a role in behaviour management. The salary, the opportunity to train as a Science teacher in the school I worked in and a £26,000 bursary from the UK government meant it made sense to train as a teacher there. And it only took a year. It meant I could also register to teach in Ireland and pretty much anywhere in the world.

Covid was tough in England as a teacher. The school system is demanding enough already and the workload is heavy without a pandemic adding to it. As well as this, when you live abroad for work purposes only, it’s difficult to connect with a community, so you tend to miss home a lot. Add a pandemic to the mix and it was zero joy.

As with most people, work became more challenging in Covid. I was isolated from friends and the lockdowns were taking their toll. 

The stress of teaching in England only got worse when Covid rules ended and we went back to normal. I had been accepted to the masters and planned to do it part-time while working. But teaching full-time got the better of me and so in January 2022, I had had enough. I was burnt out and worn out and I really missed home. I decided to come back to Ireland.

I figured the housing crisis wasn’t as bad as the media made it out to be. I’d get a job and figure it out. I’d be around friends and family again.

In September 2022 I began a six-month maternity cover position at a school that had a great reputation. I felt reinvigorated and really excited about the change. The staff were great, the kids were great, the workload was manageable and being a teacher made sense again.

Bureaucratic mess

That’s when the financial issues began for me. I was Emergency taxed for my first three paychecks. I know this happens in all sectors but staff at the payroll department for the Department of Education said it was just the way it was and that I’d get the money back anyway.

That’s all well and good but it really assumes that we, the employees have an endless backup of savings/rainy day money to tide us over, but most don’t have that luxury. I was beginning to struggle financially by now, bills were getting hard to meet as I was working but wasn’t receiving full pay. It should be noted that this never happened in any job I worked in in the UK.

In Britain, you register, you get paid your agreed salary and you get on with your life. 

I got on with it and was happy to be home and really determined to give it a go here in Ireland again. Then a couple of months after settling in, I stopped getting paid altogether. Post Primary Payroll said they hadn’t received confirmation of the hours I had been working. I brought this up with the school and they were furious with Payroll. I was told there was an IT error on the payroll portal and that it would be fixed. It took six weeks of arguing with them, much of it in the run-up to Christmas – this was weeks of donating energy to simply getting my salary. I was grateful that throughout this I was again surviving on support from family.

Those few weeks of simply trying to get paid were a real reminder of just how difficult it is to live independently as a teacher in this country. I was back living in my childhood bedroom because it is impossible for a single adult on a teaching salary to rent or buy anywhere in Dublin while having to ask family for a loan just adds insult to injury.

If I had been renting or paying a mortgage while waiting for my teaching salary to be paid I would have been in serious trouble. What I found interesting is that nobody in officialdom seemed to think it urgent. ‘Sure, wouldn’t I get it all back anyway’ was the attitude. 

Things settled down for another few months and I thought that was the end of it. It was not. Suddenly one month, no pay for me because my hours were not logged, I was told. I pushed back saying this was unacceptable and I had to argue and fight with them until a senior member of Payroll agreed to do a bank transfer so I would receive what I was owed. I was fast learning that ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease’ in this regard.

‘Substitute teacher nightmare’

When the maternity cover I was working on ended I stepped into another bureaucratic minefield… the life of a substitute teacher. I was delighted to be offered work in a special school and told I’d be paid the secondary teacher rate but this wasn’t the case and I was on a reduced rate. 

By this point, I was so fed up. I had really begun to question what I had done moving back to Ireland and why I was trying to make a proper go of this teaching career. I knew there was a housing crisis causing so much trouble at home but I really couldn’t have prepared myself for just how broken the teaching system would be. 

It just doesn’t seem to function and through these months, it was one thing trying to get a proper salary paid but as the school year ended and we got closer to summer, I also found out just how tough it would be to qualify for the social welfare that substitute teachers are entitled to in summer.  Numerous teaching colleagues told me it would be a struggle to register for Social Welfare. Seemingly, Payroll would have to stamp forms for teachers claiming the dole and it would take them months to do it. I was also told it takes the Department of Social Welfare up to six weeks to approve the pay. 

I requested a meeting with Payroll over the repeated issues with my pay and didn’t really get anywhere. I pushed on the social welfare issue and in the end, they stamped my forms immediately because I had kicked up such a fuss. Handed the forms in and heard nothing for a month. Followed up then and it appeared someone in Social Welfare had forgotten to send them off! I cannot tell you just how frustrated I was by then as I was again surviving on support from my family. After the forms were sent off it was another 2-3 weeks until I’d hear if I was going to get Job Seekers.

At the time of writing, the new school term is up and running and I have still not received any word regarding social welfare payments. That’s the whole summer gone and not a penny. What incentive is there for young teachers to want to stay here and follow through with this career choice? I came back to this country to make a go of teaching, a career that I love. I also came back to be close to friends and family. But it’s just such a struggle – I have no more savings left and I owe my family money for loans borrowed through the summer.

I live in my childhood bedroom because rent is unaffordable and even if I could get a mortgage, I won’t find anything I can afford to buy.

I love teaching in Ireland and my school is fantastic and really supportive, but it’s difficult to live as a teacher, especially when you’re single. Substituting and doing maternity cover contracts are downright hazardous for your financial and mental well-being in my experience. Every year, teachers across Ireland experience the same issues I have faced. I know this because I talk to so many of them. Everyone seems to have a Payroll and Social Welfare story. If this government were to be truly honest with themselves and us, they’d admit that teaching as a career fell into decline around the time of the austerity measures, whereby those teachers qualified post-2011 get paid less for doing the same job as teachers who qualified pre-2011.

Time to leave

I doubt I’ll stay in Ireland. It’s too expensive and basic public services like health and housing are a mess. Something is really wrong in a country as wealthy as ours where the very basics just do not function.

I work in a job that traditionally provides stability and a future but all I’ve experienced is massive levels of incompetence and dysfunction when trying to sort the simplest of things like just getting paid on time.

It’s like we’re stuck as a country, frozen in our ability to face the realities or fix the problems. The government just seems indifferent to it all. We have so much money but no will from the political class to address so many things that are failing in our society. They will bail out banks, look after vulture funds, bail out RTÉ etc. but they will never properly look after regular working people. The system is broken and they won’t fix it.

It’s more than two years since I returned home and I’m already worn out by it. I don’t want to be a negative person complaining about my country but I can’t escape the feelings of frustration, the lack of hope around finding a secure place to live and having no faith in the political system to properly run the country in a grown-up way that supports citizens. I think I’m done.

Written by a young teacher based in Dublin. The author wished to remain anonymous.  The Department of Education has told The Journal that it does not comment on individual cases. It said that it relies on schools to provide the necessary information in a timely manner to set teachers up for salary.


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