I was driving home last week and heard Liam Doran of the Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation debating with Matt Cooper. Something struck me. The nurses and midwives are very lucky to have such a well well spoken man to fight their cause. Liam has the knack of taking whatever issues are important and presenting them in a clear way. And that is a rare skill. He has done a huge service to his profession in putting forward the nurses and midwives’ case. This has served them very well in the public arena.
Unfortunately, I honestly don’t feel that we teachers are so lucky. With all the attacks on education in the past 6 years, teachers have garnered little enough public sympathy for their cause. There are a number of reasons why this may be the case:
- The old joke of the three best reasons to be a teacher.
- The perception that we clock off at 4.00 with a grand free evening ahead.
- Everyone has an opinion about what teachers should be doing.
- The perception that teaching is ‘chalk & talk’, that teachers are not innovators
Others can debate the validity (or not) of these reasons. I’m more concerned with the fact that we, as a profession, have not countered these perceptions, that we have not been effective in the public sphere.
I think part of the explanation is the fragmentation of the teaching unions.
There are three Teachers’ Unions in Ireland
- The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) works on behalf of Primary Teachers
- The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) works on behalf of Secondary Teachers
- The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) works on behalf of Secondary Teachers, Further Education AND Third Level Lecturers
At the Easter Conferences of the Unions, it was mooted that the ASTI & the TUI should merge. This idea makes a lot of sense for me, at least you would have one voice to speak with on behalf of second level.
However, a bigger problem, for me, is the fact we don’t have a publicly identifiable speaker who is as recognisable as Liam Doran. While different presidents of all teaching unions have done well in their brief tenures, the nature of a presidency that lasts just a few years means that any president doesn’t build up the profile over time that Liam Doran has managed to do.
And what can we do about the profile of our unions or officers?
Maybe the merger of the ASTI and the TUI is a good first step, but I think we need to go a bit further than that.
- I think that such a merger should bring a new General Secretary, one who is able to put educational issues across in a clear manner
- The Union(s) need to adapt a more proactive stance with regards to the media. Much of what they currently publish is legalistic, or a counter-argument to what the Minister is saying. This doesn’t work very well. It’s a tennis match where the other guy gets to serve all the time.
- We could do with looking at how teachers use social media. There is a hunger out there for debate (of the 10 top viewed posts in this blog, 9 are about education)
- We need to increase public awareness of the challenges in teaching
The Unions have a huge job to do, but I think they need to step back and examine how they have been doing it so far. The strategy is flawed and needs to be revised. Otherwise the attacks by this government and its minister will continue.