Us parents – we love our children. But looking after children for any length of time can be very, um, intensive. One of my colleagues is liable to say (at the end of her working day) ‘I’m off now to my real job’. And she’s right. Looking after our children is our real job – it’s what we sacrifice so much other stuff for.
Step in the primary teacher. We value our kids and we want the best for them. We want them to learn in school, but we also want them to develop, eventually, into happy and successful adults (by which I mean they do well in whatever path they choose for themselves in life). We trust our primary teachers with a lot.
My daughter, Andrea, is 6 and in first class now. I’m in awe of what she has learnt in school in the past 2 years. I mean that. She can read, write, spell, she’s socialising, she’s learning new skills, she comes out of school smiling, and she’s at the age where you can see continual progress in her reading, her spelling and her numeracy.
Now for one child to learn like this is impressive. But think of this – last year, Andrea shared her classroom with over 30 other students. Think about that. Think about being the only adult in the room with 30 children aged 5. Think about getting them to learn anything. Are you beginning to get a cold sweat yet?
Now make it all a bit more difficult for yourself. Make 24 of those students belong to one class group (senior infants) and another 10 belong to a different class group (first class). Each group has it’s own needs based on age and based on the educational requirements of a national curriculum.
These restrictions and class sizes are not imposed by the school but by a doctrine that rules Ireland at the moment. ‘We’re spending too much -we must cut back, there’s fat in the public service’. And there is no end in sight. What the primary teachers achieve despite cutbacks in resources and larger class sizes is incredible. Add to that the stress of the level of paycuts that they have had to endure. Anything from 20% – 30 % has been taken off of them. Pension entitlements are reduced, sick pay is slashed.
Yet despite all this, it is not just my daughter who leaves school with a smile on her face. Most of the teachers smile. They are in the job because they love their job, and they love the kids they share a classroom with for 5 days a week, for 9 months of the year.
Fair play to them.