'Every teacher should be vaccinated by September'

As she steps down after presiding over the INTO in a landmark year, Mary Magner tells John Bohane why she believes it is so important that teachers are vaccinated before September
'Every teacher should be vaccinated by September'

A native of Castletownroche in north Cork, Mary has been the principal teacher at Scoil Chroí Íosa in Blarney since 2014. She will remain seconded to the INTO for the remainder of this year due to the huge volume of work still to be completed. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins

MARY Magner completed her term of office as the President of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) following its virtual congress recently.

A native of Castletownroche in north Cork, Mary has been the principal teacher at Scoil Chroí Íosa in Blarney since 2014. She will remain seconded to the INTO for the remainder of this year due to the huge volume of work still to be completed.

Ms Magner took over as president of the INTO only a few weeks after the outbreak of the global pandemic. Education, like other sectors, was hugely affected by the onset of Covid-19. She acknowledges it was a “stressful year”.

“It was exceedingly busy. We were due to hold our congress last April in Cork. However, due to Covid, it was cancelled at the last minute. The only Easter Congress in the long history of INTO which, was also due to be held in Cork, back in 1915 was also cancelled due to WW1.

“It was a crazy and stressful year. We have had more meetings as a national executive than ever before. It was really full-on. Zoom was a huge help. I have been moving around the kitchen table just to have a different view every so often. There was no off-time effectively as there were constant meetings, with many of an emergency nature,” she added.

The former INTO president paid tribute to the principals and the teachers for the “resilience” and “dedication” they displayed throughout the last year.

“It was a difficult year for the pupils, the teachers, and for everybody involved in the education sector. The principals were running on empty for large periods. They did trojan work last summer to get their schools ready to reopen last September. Everybody deserves great credit. Teachers really excelled. The teachers literally upskilled overnight.

“I think the value of teachers may have been underappreciated in recent years. I firmly believe however that the pandemic and homeschooling have really enhanced and highlighted their full value to the community. There is a newfound respect for their professionalism and their ability to communicate so well. People recognise that teachers play a big and vital role in helping children develop,” she added.

Ms Magner said she achieved a number of her key priorities during her one-year tenure as president of the INTO.

“We achieved some notable success. We achieved great supports for primary education. Covid highlighted the crowded classes in under-sized rooms and we managed to bring the pupil-teacher ratio down by one. The supply panels also worked very successfully. The introduction of one-day administrative leave for our teaching principals was also very welcome.

She added that more still needs to be done to ensure education continues to prosper.

“We still need more investment in ICT. Schools had to great creative to get iPads into the hands of the most vulnerable children. We want to see the class numbers keep coming down. We need to invest more in education. We need a strategic plan which includes a five-year specific plan to be implemented.”

The three teaching unions ASTI, INTO and TUI have demanded an urgent meeting with the Government with regards to the recent decision to change the vaccine roll-out schedule from an occupation-based one to one led by age.

During the course of recent annual teacher conferences, the three unions joined forces to pass a motion that instructed their respective leadership teams to ballot members for industrial action, up to and including strike action if education staff is not reinstated as a priority group. Ms Magner said strike action would represent a “last resort”.

“I will state clearly that even though the motion was passed the three unions do not want to invoke any industrial action. It is not our intention and it would be a last resort.”

Ms Magner said her colleagues do feel “let down” however by the recent vaccine reversal.

“Teachers feel left down. They are frustrated by the Government’s decision when there was anticipation they were going to be prioritised with all the other essential workers.

“Ultimately we want the schools to remain open. Teachers want to be in the classroom. As a union, it is our job to protect our members. Come September we are hopeful that every teacher going back to school will be vaccinated,” she said.

Ms Magner said they want a twin-track approach to be adopted going forward to meet their requirements.

“It is not our intention to step ahead of the queue. That is not what we are about. We have always kept the door open for communication with the Department of Education. We have always reached out to the Government whose door we often found closed. We will keep knocking on their door. We have to keep talking as dialogue gets results.”

She said she understands the Minister for Education has a tough job, but she also has to look after the interests of over 50,000 INTO members. “The officials in the Department have a tough job. We are a diligent workforce of teachers and we look to Minister Foley to provide us with the necessary supports to do our job. She has a duty of care and a responsibility to teachers nationwide.”

Ms Magner who resides in Killavullen, is looking forward to a calmer few months ahead as she intends to spend more time with her family and friends.

“I will remain busy. I am part of a steering group set up by the government dealing with the future of AI from an educational perspective and I am also involved with Self Help Africa.

“I am looking forward to giving back to the family and reconnecting with all my friends. I can’t wait to get out on the bike and go walking. I am also into vegetable gardening which is crying out for attention at the moment,” she said.

Mary is looking forward to finishing the remaining projects before getting back to her “dear” colleagues and pupils in Scoil Chroí Íosa.

“My term of office is over, but that doesn’t mean I have finished,” she said. “I will remain on the executive of the INTO for the forthcoming year. Given the nature of the year, the INTO executive has extended my secondment until the end of this year.

“I have missed seeing my colleagues and the pupils,” she said.

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