After the 1916 Easter Rising, J.P. Mahaffy, the Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, blamed the rebellion on the “sedition” taught by teachers in national schools in Ireland. Mahaffy’s accusations were adjudged to be unfounded by the education authorities. If primary school teachers were not to blame for the Easter Rising, the role of individual secondary school teachers cannot be denied. Among the Rising leaders, Padhraic Pearse, Thomas McDonagh and Eamon de Valera were all teachers. Teachers seemed to command a certain respect.
Ninety years after the Rising, I asked a National School class in a south Dublin school a question from a textbook, “Would you like to be a teacher?”
Only three answered, “Yes.” One of them said, “Yeah, so I can give loads of homework.” One said, “It’s coo.” One said, “Yes, because I want long holidays and good pay.”
Twenty-three in that class answered, “No.” Mostly there was a blunt negative. Some were more forthcoming. “I would not like to have to do all the marking.” “School is boring as it is, being a teacher would be really boring.” One child, from a professional family, wrote, “No, I have more important stuff to do with my life.”
Perhaps it was just the perspective of middle class suburbia that skewed the answers and that the same question asked in a rural community, or in the inner city, would have produced a raft of different answers. Perhaps there was a shift in perceptions, that being teachers would not guarantee Pearse and McDonagh an audience.
It seemed that something had been lost along the way when the brightest and best in the class would not contemplate a career as a teacher.
Perhaps it was the case that a more educated population felt less in awe of those who had third level education. Perhaps industrial disputes had led to mutterings in homes about teachers, mutterings that were inevitably picked up by children’s ears. Perhaps teachers themselves had become less confident about their status than they would have been in times past.
However, it seemed sad that teaching and learning had lost the place of esteem and significance that they had once occupied.
Fifteen years after that classroom conversation, there has been an odd experience. In a Dublin secondary school in a working class community, it has been odd to discover an unexpected nod towards teachers.
Referring to colleagues who were classroom assistants as “Miss” and then their surname, I was told by both that their forenames were to be used. In fact, forenames are used by staff and students for all non-teaching staff. The only people addressed as “Mr” or “Miss” are the teachers. It seemed oddly antediluvian, a bit like the days when only amateur cricketers had their initials shown on a cricket match scorecard.