Many of us can point to a teacher who influenced us at some point in our lives and new Teachers’ Union of Ireland President Gerard Craughwell considers not one but two Galway teachers to have been major influences.
Originally from Threadneedle Road in Salthill, Gerard sat the Group Certificate at ‘The Tech’, now the Galway Technical Institute, on Fr Griffin Road, where he was taught by Claddagh woodwork teacher Joe Rooney, who he describes as “a great role model”.
Gerard left school at 16 and went to the UK, where he joined the British Army and served in the Royal Irish Rangers for five years. He then returned to Ireland and joined the First Infantry Battalion at Dún Uí Mhaoilíosa, Renmore Barracks.
Upon leaving the army, he established his own business and later “lost everything”, including his home. “Having lost everything I had to restart again,” he says. He then began a new job in Limerick only to injure his back, which prevented him for continuing in the position.
“Somebody suggested going back to school and that’s where the second Galway teacher in my life kicked in, a man by the name of Pascal Finn from Maree in Oranmore.”
Mr Finn was principal of Limerick Senior College, now Limerick College of Further Education, and he encouraged Gerard to enrol on the BSc in Economics.
“And I did, so that’s how I ended up teaching,” he explains. Gerard began teaching in 1994 in Limerick and was soon appointed to a permanent whole time post as a business and information technology teacher in Senior College Dún Laoghaire, where he continues to teach.
The father-of-two was recently elected President of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), which represents teachers and lecturers engaged in post-primary, higher and further education.
Gerard’s priorities for his term include tackling the ‘casualisation’ of the teaching profession, which he says has resulted from the implementation of the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003.
“Unfortunately, that act has been used in the education sector to appoint teachers to subject specialisms rather than jobs, so teachers are being appointed now on an hourly basis or on a group of hours that deal with their subject.”
He adds that, while previously students may have been taught two subjects by the same teacher, they now tend to have one teacher per subject, a teacher whose tenure may only last from September to June.
“To get to a full teaching job is now taking anything from five to seven years and it is my belief that this year 90 per cent of the new teachers that will be appointed this year will be appointed to less than 11 hours a week,” he says, pointing out that this is driving new teachers to seek full time posts in the UK, Canada and New Zealand.
Gerard says that while people, particularly those aged over 30, would previously have been able to build up relationships with teachers over their five or six years in secondary school, students will now see “a different teacher each year, and maybe two in one year”. “And that, educationally, is unsound,” he says.
Gerard says that teachers are also angered by suggestions that their jobs have been insulated from the recession.
“Such suggestions are nonsense. Many teachers have lost jobs and a huge number have had their hours cut because of cutbacks in recent years. Meanwhile, all teachers have suffered cuts on take home pay of up to 20 per cent. New entrants to the profession since 2011 have been hit with an additional 14 per cent cut in pay. Like too many others in Irish society, teachers, many of whom are on less than full hours, are struggling to meet financial commitments.”
Educators also face challenges at third level, where there has been a 20 per cent rise in the number of students on full-time student programmes in ITs between 2007 and 2011, when there has also been an eight per cent drop in full time lecturers.
Other priorities for the TUI include what Gerard calls the “decimation” of the apprenticeship system in Ireland, which was previously led by employers.
“There are no employers now in the construction sector, so electrical, mechanical, woodwork, they’re all suffering; the apprenticeships have collapsed and we’re expecting young people to leave this country with no qualifications,” he says. “As a nation, we have an obligation to send them out equipped and trained to take on work wherever they go.”
Gerard’s slogan is “every profession starts with a teacher” and he feels that, if Ireland’s economy is going to recover, it’s going to need education. “Unless we start changing the way we look at education and funding education, we’re going to end up in trouble,” he says.
Name: Gerard Craughwell
Location: Dún Laoghaire
Occupation: President, Teachers’ Union of Ireland
Newsworthiness: The Salthill native was recently appointed President of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI).