There’s been a lot of talk about the ASTI (secondary teachers union) rejecting the Haddington Road Agreement.
As the only teachers’ union to do so, it begs the question as to whether a refusal to accept reforms in pay and practices is a positive thing for the teaching profession.
In recent years there has been a seismic shift in the profile of graduates choosing to follow teaching as a career path. Today’s young teachers are, by and large, highly professional, enthusiastic, energetic and committed.
Historically, the maxim that “those who can do and those who can’t teach” was closer to the truth. Teaching in Ireland was, in many cases, a last resort for those graduating with humanities degrees but without ambition.
The stability and security of tenure it offered often attracted the wrong candidates. Too many teachers of the previous generation were just putting in time until retirement and had little interest in their pupils’ welfare.
An absence of performance management only served to exacerbate the situation and ensured bad or apathetic teachers weren’t motivated to change their behaviours.
I believe that teaching, like nursing, should be considered more a vocation than a profession. That is not to say that staff should be poorly remunerated, but rather that pay and conditions should not be the primary motivator, otherwise you run the risk of attracting unsuitable candidates. Prospective teachers should be passionate about education and have a genuine concern for their pupils.
If their union persists in resisting change, clinging desperately to their benefits and refusing to align with the rest of the public sector (whatever about the private sphere), they are sending a message about their values, that could ultimately damage the profession in the long term and deter vibrant, dynamic, forward-thinking graduates who aren’t motivated by long holidays and a guaranteed pension but rather by the opportunity to inspire future generations.