Cork man ‘privileged’ to lead teacher union

Newly appointed president of the INTO John Driscoll speaks to John Bohane about his plans for the role and says maintaining teacher salary will be a ‘priority’
Cork man ‘privileged’ to lead teacher union

“Curriculum is forever evolving, but children in primary school still need the basics of reading and writing."

CORK City man John Driscoll is the new president of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO).

Mr Driscoll succeeded another Cork native, Joe McKeown.

Mr Driscoll graduated from Mary Immaculate College, in Limerick, in 1980 and served as deputy principal of Star of the Sea Primary School in Passage West.

He has always been an active INTO member and has held office at branch, district, and national level. Mr Driscoll was also secretary of Cork City South East branch for a number of years. He was appointed to the INTO executive in 2014.

The new president of the INTO said he is honoured.

“I feel enormously privileged to take on the role of president,” Mr Driscoll said. “It is a great honour. I have been teaching 41 years and I have always been involved at some level with the INTO. I never dreamt of being on the executive, let alone being president. It will be a busy year.

“I am absolutely honoured, privileged, and standing on the shoulders of giants, following in the footsteps of previous presidents who have held the office,” he said.

Mr Driscoll, who grew up in Ballinlough, has taught in the Star of the Sea Primary School in Passage West since 1980. He has seen a lot of changes in education during his 41 years of teaching.

“I have been living in Blackrock for over 30 years,” Mr Driscoll said. “I have been teaching in Passage since September 1980, originally in the boys’ school. We amalgamated with the convent in 1999. Amalgamating brought us a co-education school, which I absolutely prefer, as I think it is the way primary schools should be. In 2011, we moved into our new school up on the hill in Passage West. I was teaching up until the start of the Christmas holidays.

“There have been a lot of changes since I started teaching and a lot of things that have stayed the same. We now have the electronic pin and the interactive whiteboard. Schools are now more multicultural, with students from all over the world, and I think it has enriched the school life to have that mixture.

“Curriculum is forever evolving, but children in primary school still need the basics of reading and writing. Children want to learn, they want to be happy, and they want to be accepted. Whatever changes are to come, the central relationship between the teacher and the child is so precious. Once you have that relationship, the teaching and learning come easy.”

“The one big change is that there is a lot more emphasis about the overall development of the child,” Mr Driscoll said.

Cork city native John Driscoll has been elected as the new president of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation.
Cork city native John Driscoll has been elected as the new president of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation.

“There is more focus on wellbeing. A lot of teachers will take some time during the day for a mindfulness break. We are seeing evidence, probably due to the lockdown, that children’s mental health is an issue. Children are waiting long times for services. Teachers have been aware of this for a long time. We could have children we are concerned about. They go through the procedure, but it can be a while before they are engaged with.”

Mr Driscoll is keen to promote recruitment and encourage new members to take active roles in the INTO. He said that Ireland has come a long way in terms of resources and support, but that teachers expect a reasonable standard of living.

“We had visitors recently from Cambodia from a project the INTO support. There was an Irish teacher with the group, and she said when she visits Cambodia, she sees Ireland of maybe 60 or 80 years ago with very little support and extremely poor conditions. We have come a long way.

“If we were in utopia, there would be no need for the INTO or any unions, but as long as there are issues to be addressed, there will be unions around. Ireland has always had a tradition of attracting high-calibre people into teaching. Teachers generally have a huge sense of empathy, and they want to be a positive factor for children.

“No one comes into teaching expecting to be a millionaire, but they do expect a reasonable standard of living. The whole inflation issue now is affecting teachers as well as everyone else. Teachers want to be protected in terms of having a decent salary.

“We have to speak up on that for our members. We should not have to be asking parents for a donation to improve school facilities. The State should be funding that. Covid shone a lot of light into education, as we got huge increases in capitation grants. Schools should be maintained at a well-maintained level of hygiene.

“We have made gains in recent years in terms of class sizes, but we still have the largest classes in Europe. In the next budget, we will be pushing for this to come down. There are lots of issues, but I do think the profession and education are bound together,” Mr Driscoll said.

With talks set to get under way soon with government officials to discuss public-sector pay, the INTO will focus on maintaining the real value of teachers’ salaries in an environment of rampant inflation.

“I can’t depart too far from the basic issues of pay,” Mr Driscoll said. “To maintain the salary level of teachers has to be a priority and reducing the administrative burden on all members of staff. Principals have had a huge burden imposed on them, but so have teachers.

“The excessive paperwork has a negative impact. Parents and children want to be met with an energetic teacher. Excessive paperwork is draining teachers and having a negative effect on the teacher.”

Mr Driscoll said that he would like to create a more diverse representation in the teaching profession. “Continuing a theme from my predecessor, Joe McKeown, I do think the whole inclusion and openness in terms of LGBT teachers is something we must continue to push for. We are aware that there are teachers who feel they can’t be open and that must be a burden for people to be suppressing part of who they are, because they are afraid.”

“Up to the day I left, in December, I loved going to school,” said Mr Driscoll of teaching. “I found it energising to be with great staff and pupils. You will always encounter children who have tough backgrounds and difficult circumstances, but, by and large, children just want to be accepted and do well.

“The positive energy you get in a classroom is so rewarding.”

Mr Driscoll and his wife, Gillian, have two children, Sean and Caoimhe, both of whom are also teachers. He relaxes with his various hobbies.

“I like to play golf, even though it is badly. I like cycling, walking, and Cork hurling is a huge passion. I love reading, going to the cinema and theatre, when time permits. I like to keep a bit of balance to life.”

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