Why are retired teachers going back to school?
Many of us have fond or fearful memories of past teachers, but schools are experiencing a collective sense of deja vu, as long-retired teachers have begun reappearing in the classroom to teach a new generation of students. But what’s behind this mass return of retired teachers? You’d think the last thing they’d want at their age would be to be trying to corral a roomful of millennials into paying attention. Would they not prefer to be settled in front of a fire watching University Challenge?
Blame the staffing crisis in Irish schools. Many primary schools are having trouble filling the gaps left by teachers taking career breaks and maternity leave, while secondary schools are finding it nigh on impossible to find staff to teach key subjects. The reason? Young teachers are emigrating in droves, taking up better-paid teaching positions in places such as the Middle East, where Irish teachers are in huge demand because of their qualifications and skills. So Irish schools are having to look to the retired workforce to take up the slack.
According to the latest figures, a record number of retired teachers – about 1,000 – were recruited to provide cover during the academic year 2016/2017. Many of these teachers were needed for key subjects such as science and languages, because young graduates in these fields are passing up teaching roles and taking up careers in other sectors, where job prospects are better and more lucrative.
So what’s the incentive for retired teachers to leave the comfort of their potting sheds and come back to school? Surprisingly, many retired teachers are happy to come in and work as substitute teachers and supplement their pension with paid work.
One of the teacher unions, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, however, has rounded on Minister for Education Richard Bruton for using retired teachers as a “band-aid” when the country is haemorrhaging teachers. “The failure by Government to address pay inequality is increasing the exodus of Irish teachers,” said the union’s Sheila Nunan. “Foreign governments recognise the worth of Irish teachers. The Irish Government must do likewise.”