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Bad Teacher, Very Bad Teacher!

It’s the overworked teacher’s turn for a kicking again.

Senior Cabinet meeting within Leinster House: Lads we need a sound bite to distract the people from the kicking they got in the budget. Umm … we could give the teachers another kicking I suppose.

Brendan Howlin, Irish Minister for Public Expenditure, has recently come out in the press – not like that stop sniggering – to deliver another kicking to a section of the public service. The objects of his ire on this occasion were teachers, more specifically, bad teachers and the necessity to remove them from their positions. Full disclosure here folks as I am a newly qualified teacher and as such, am fully in support of the removal of ‘bad’ teachers.

I support this on a purely selfish level, as the savage public services cuts have made it almost impossible to get a job in the career I returned to education in my mid-twenties to qualify for and also on a broader professional level. The position of teacher is far too important a position to be left to those who, have either lost whatever love they had for what is a vocation or who got into the job for all the wrong reasons. They are the same reasons which make public servants, teachers in particular, such easy targets for politicians hoping to score points after another savage budget. Job security, five-day work weeks, long holidays and general ignorance about what is required to survive and flourish in the field are the usual suspects that rear their heads when it is the teachers’ turn in the firing line.

I could bore you to death with the same arguments you’ll hear from any teacher defending themselves and their positions. We are in loco parentis for eight hours of the day; we are actors, counsellors and so much more. There are however a couple of elements of Minister Howlin’s statement which particularly grate.

The decision to send one’s children to ‘grinds’ (extra tuition outside of school) in an effort to improve their results falls on parents alone. To blame teachers for students taking grinds is a blatant example of ignoring a huge number of variables just to support your argument. Perhaps Minister Howlin has suddenly had selective amnesia and forgotten the last three budgets. Larger student teacher ratios and the removal of special needs assistants may also have had an effect. Perhaps it was the political culture whose short-term thinking saw them throw money at people instead of introducing the systemic and structural changes when we had the money to pay for them. Minister Howlin expects teachers to do more, for less and in more difficult circumstances. No problem Brendan, is there anything else while we’re at it?

The Teaching Council, to which I a pay a sizeable chunk annually to regulate my profession, has already put in place procedures, which are less than 2 years old, to deal with under performing teachers. This includes more visits to schools and more paperwork, such as detailed lesson plans and schemes of work, which teachers are required to provide at a moments notice to show just how prepared they are to take on the difficult task of educating children. This of course only scratches the surface of what teachers have to face, there are students for whom a full day of attendance in the school can be seen as a major victory. So what is so wrong with these provisions that would require a Minister of State to launch another attack? What exactly is it that he requires from teachers to justify their position?

My fear is that this is going to turn into a race to the bottom. The ‘data management’ style of brass tacks numbers will see teachers being judged on the results their students get. This is one of those things which seems very reasonable on the surface but, once delved deeper into, is the type of policy that ruins the lives of teachers and students alike. As I stated in my opening paragraph I am a newly qualified teacher and as such am in a prime position to impart how teachers are being taught in Ireland. One of the words that popped up with regularity during my training was ‘holistic’. Previously the utterance of this word would have sent my eyes rolling back into my head with a sharp intake of breath. This of course is because the word has been co-opted by individuals who believe in Homeopathy and other such hokum but as my course progressed the word was reclaimed and in the end I ended up defending my use of it to friends when talking about the education system in Ireland. We are being asked to help create well-rounded individuals, to focus of literacy and numeracy, to find ways of making our subjects relevant and interesting, to create an active and inclusive learning environment in an effort to move away from rote learning during which cross curricular links are forged, and all this with one eye on the needs of the economy. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? So a result driven system where judgements are made on a final grade do nobody any good and run directly in the face of how teachers are trained.

One would almost believe that the statement made by Minister Howlin was just an effort to distract the nation from more immediate problems. I am not alone in finding this political culture tiresome and insulting. The statement spurred me to write this piece on the difficult role teachers face, those that can get a job that is (grumble grumble), but perhaps the real issue is the inherent disrespect the government has for teachers and the difficult jobs they do, and indeed for everyone else in society; that they think taking a swipe at easy targets will distract us for a period while they muddle on in corruption and ineptitude serving their real bosses. This is the same political culture which sees people on social welfare squeezed and investigated while corporations pay minimal tax: the same culture which sees outrageous stories regards budget cuts leaked before the budget so when the cuts arrive they don’t seem so bad. I am not expecting miracles from our politicians just not to have our intelligence insulted.

Image Source.


Ireland, our cream has turned sour

Galway is a much nicer place to be in the summer months. It is on the west coast of Ireland, so it is not because of the weather, nor is it a result of the increase in cultural celebrations and events (although, it must be said, that does help). The reason is simple: the students have, for the most part, gone home. They have absconded back into the arms of their doting parents who will once again cater for their every need.

Now that September has rolled around once more though, the inhabitants of the city will again be forced to endure the naïve and idiotic actions of a group of adults who, equipped with loans, grants and their parents’ money, have granted themselves a license to lead a hedonistic, irresponsible and ludicrous lifestyle for the next nine months at least.

This is how many parents imagine their children at university.

First come the ‘Freshers’. As the label suggests, these are the fresh-faced, wet-behind-the-ears kids that have left home for the first time with the noble aim of bringing their education to the next level. Or so it seems. It is an exciting time, no doubt, for those who do manage to fly the nest and into the world. But don’t be fooled – they are anything but noble. And while they may be fresh, they are certainly not refreshing, for each year, the wave of bodies that follows is as dull, stale and predictable as the last.

Then you have the rest. The second years, last year’s ‘Freshers’, who strut around campus unwilling to stifle the desire to re-live the ‘glory’ of the previous year, spurred on by the empty qualifier that “nothing matters until final year anyway”. The final years, who know that they should behave better for the sake of their degree, but find themselves drawn in by the allure of the craic and reassured by the 40 per cent safety net that ensures a pass.

This may be closer to the truth of many a student’s lifestyle.

Engorged on alcopops, spirits, cheap cider, and who knows what else, grown men and women stumble and stagger from their glorified chicken coops and into the heart of the city, so that they can treat their eardrums to an aural assault, while attempting to dance in a dimly lit room. People actually pay money to enter these darkened cattle markets. Don’t ever forget that.

Taxi drivers have the front row seat as the inebriated entities are hurriedly ushered from establishments and the regurgitated spectacle unfolds. Pavement bedecked in multicoloured bile and other bodily fluids, men attempt to impress the high-heeled ladies that struggle to string together so much as a pace. Fights break out, food and rubbish find their home next to the splattered puke and the police attempt to make their presence felt. “They’re out every night of the week,” an affable taxi driver assures me. “You’re thinking, ‘do you do any reading at all?’”

The truth is, they don’t have to. Their recklessness, their gung-ho partying and complete lack of studying does not matter, for university lecturers will hand them grades on a plate. No one likes to see those pass-rates dwindle, after all.

Naturally, this horrific binge culture is not confined to the halls of student residence. It is a widespread ailment that has (always?) gripped wider Irish society (see blog by finishedatlast ), but it cannot be denied that among students, going to college carries with it an expectation to party. Indeed it is viewed as a rite of passage.

This is the future of Ireland. The cream of our crop has turned sour.

Special thanks to Thom Wilcockson for his fine male modelling.

Religion and the Media.


What does Rowan Williams think of it all?


For a celebrated secular society such as the UK, why do religious leaders automatically get media air time when they have an opinion they wish to express? What is it about ‘men of the cloth’ such as Rowan Williams that the media find so worthy of attention when they wish to wade into an issue in the public domain? Williams’ most recent foray into the public sphere is his concern over any potential “downgrading” of religious education in schools. One can argue that it makes sense that his view be reported on since this is a public issue that directly relates to the perpetuation of religion. I, for one, have no problem with religion being taught in schools, but it must be taught honestly. If the likes of Williams want religion to remain in schools it is only reasonable that any such class should teach every belief held within that religion and every ‘word of God’ should be mulled over. There is no room for cherry picking information in an educational situation. So, not only should children be taught about how Jesus was a super guy (with super powers) but children should be told about how Jesus’ father (who was also himself) thought it was perfectly reasonable to burn two children to death for the lighting of incense against his wishes (Leviticus 10:1-2). If it is to be taught, then teach it all, no holds barred, with the obvious caveat that it should not be sold as fact but rather ‘This is what this religion believes’ and of course there is never any room for creationism being touted as an alternative to evolution.

Getting back onto topic, Williams has a track record of getting airtime for his political opinions, despite not being an elected political figure but rather an appointed theological one, which, might I point out, doesn’t make him an expert in any realm other than the word of his ‘God’. His opinions are often as progressive as is likely to be found in any leader within a religion, for example he defends equality for women and homosexuals (both the favourite piñata of the religious zealot) in the sense that they should be allowed to hold positions of influence within the church. Naturally this does not extend to a potentially gay bishop having a partner. Even Williams’ liberal sensibilities have their limits. Beneath these almost reasonable positions lies less acceptable opinions in a secular society such as the UK. Williams advocates the introduction of sharia law in affairs of marriage, in effect having separate laws for one segment of society, while he simultaneously holds the view that the UK is fixated on ‘identity politics’ – things such as gay rights and feminism – and now is the time to focus on what is “good for all of us” . To me it looks like he wants two things at once. Separation and unity. Perhaps this is merely being consistent with the contradictory nature of the bible.

So here we have a man getting airtime for his opinions on subjects as diverse as sharia law (despite not being a representative of the people who wish to see it come into effect) gay rights (where he has also been reported as saying the government have no right to change the law to allow gay marriage; see here for a rebuttal to anyone who agrees with him), feminism and what gets taught in the classroom. Again the question has to be asked. Why? Is he an expert in political theory regarding the rights of minorities such as Muslims in the West or the gay community? Is he an expert in the struggle of women seeking equal and fair treatment in a patriarchal society? He gets air time for none of these reasons. It seems he gets airtime because of tradition. The tradition of the religious advisor. This hails back to the time of total rule by the monarch where a ‘man of the cloth’ was always on hand to advise the ruler. This was a time when it was believed that Kings and Queens were chosen by the God of the land and appointed to rule and therefore it was quite natural to have a representative of God on hand when making decisions. Somehow this tradition of valuing the opinion of the church has carried over into current society, but perhaps for more than traditions sake. It is likely that as the UK has become more secular there is a vocal religious minority that kicks up a fuss when there is any indication that their biased, religiously fuelled views are not being taken seriously. In essence the media is almost afraid of being accused of being discriminatory or unbalanced in their coverage by not including the likes of Williams in reporting of an issue. It all seems so utterly insane and arbitrary.

Now that Williams has stepped down from his role as Archbishop he will likely slowly fade into the background scenery and his replacement will begin to pop up in any realm to rant about his position on any issue that piques his interest and so the circus of taking seriously the opinion of a man who is informed by a Bronze Age book as the source of moral guidance in 2012 continues.

‘Through their own folly they perished – fools’ – A Health Warning to Higher Education

“Yet even so he saved not his comrades, though he desired it sore, for through their own blind folly they perished—fools, who devoured the kine of Helios Hyperion.” – Homer, Odyssey I

If in the event that someone was so desperate as to ask me for just one piece of advice, right now it would be to postpone any prospective plans of going to university to study the arts or social sciences, by-pass it completely if at all possible. The primary reason being, that such a degree has, unsurprisingly, lost so much of its value as to render it practically useless. On the surface, this advice might seem preposterous (just how will one progress in society?), but at the moment I am inclined to believe it to be sound. Why then, do I advise the postponement of a university education?

The Irish Times recently reported that there is an estimated 100,000 unemployed graduates in Ireland, which makes for just over a fifth of the total number of unemployed in Ireland in 2012. In short, graduates are entering a strained and over-subscribed labour market that does not require the expertise, if any, that a university degree provides. A quick perusal of the skill requirements of even
the most menial of jobs will show that ‘real world’ experience trumps a degree every time, and so a vicious circle emerges: one needs experience to get a job, but one cannot get experience without a job. The result is an ‘educated’ sector that is not qualified, is deflated and increasingly aimless. Consequently, if it is not viable to seek a career change, and in many cases it isn’t, the only way to
use one’s degree is to look to post-graduate study, be it through a taught MA, Higher Diploma in Education or structured PhD. Unfortunately, the problem with this is that post-graduate courses are now prone to flooding, in the same way that undergraduate courses have been and continue to be. Sadly however, it appears that the trend is continuing. Of the applicants to higher education this
year, over 42% applied for courses in arts or social science:

‘This year, more than 8,800 students opted for higher-degree science as their first choice while 5,400
opted for engineering and technology. This is still dwarfed by the 15,600 who made arts or social
science their first preference.’ (Irish Times, March 2012)

The ease with which higher education can be accessed, as facilitated by the government, who pays for most if not all of it, along with the relative ease with which people can attain degrees has made going to university a very attractive route for young adults in Ireland, but it is ultimately detrimental to the value of education itself. Many campuses are already over-crowded and lecture halls unfit for
purpose; they are littered with apathetic hordes and faux-revolutionaries. Most are drawn to university not by the noble pursuit of knowledge or even the hope of carving out a decent existence, but by the lurid allure of the disgusting party life-style, which has apparently seized society by the scruff of the neck (see dreadful programmes such as Skins, Jersey Shore and Tallafornia). This is
not socialising, this is sheer, unrestrained mindlessness. To call the modern Irish university a zoo would be an insult to animals.

A recent article in Sin (the student newspaper of the National University of Ireland, Galway) reported that drunken students routinely harass a prominent group of peaceful protesters in Galway, sometimes employing glass bottles as missiles in addition to their ignorant verbal assaults. However, it is during events such as the infamous misnomer ‘RAG Week’ that swathes of students (and admittedly other non-student stragglers) embarrass themselves beyond repair. Youtube videos show mobs of inebriated adults stupidly engaged in primitive chanting, acting in an intimidating and destructive manner. Yet, amazingly, local politicians have implicitly excused these adults for their outrageous behaviour. Labour councillor Billy Cameron, in what must surely be construed as pandering to the student vote (if that even exists any more), said that while he did not condone the actions of drunken students, he thought that the responsibility ultimately lies with pubs and clubs who, as he suggests, ‘facilitate’ such despicable behaviour. In one fell swoop, Cameron granted a licence to grown adults to behave like unmannered, ill-disciplined children. Is it really any wonder that Ireland is where it is with such ludicrous public acceptance of such deplorable convention? Interestingly, and I’m not sure if this was deliberate on the part of the editor, but under the aforementioned article was a piece called ‘Overheard in NUI Galway’ which recounts some of the, perhaps more absurd (perhaps not), overheard conversations on campus. Without quoting them here, rest assured that it will not fill one with confidence for the welfare of future Irish generations.

So, if a lack of clear opportunity at the end of the tunnel isn’t enough to dissuade you from pursuing a degree in the arts or social sciences at present, then the untethered debauchery and the insufferable pseudo-intellectualism of many of your peers should ultimately put you off, that is, unless you happen to be among the wretched yourself, in which case, you will no doubt revel as the proverbial pig in… Does an alternative currently exist? It seems that our newest Elysium is now Canada, which is crying out for skilled tradesmen and labourers, but the images of recent job expos have shown the harsh reality that these positions too will be grossly over subscribed. What, then, is the solution? To my mind, a reform of the manner in which one can enter higher education would be a start. From there, standards within higher education itself can be raised. Put simply, the value of a higher
education must be restored.