John Dolan: On one side... teachers and their union; on the other... er, two teachers!

Nobody should blame teachers or their unions for standing up for their rights, says John Dolan, but the issue here is the public perception that they almost always get what they want
John Dolan: On one side... teachers and their union; on the other... er, two teachers!

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Minister for Education Norma Foley visiting a school in Dublin - both were teachers before becoming TDs

IF you’ve come to my column today to read a bit of teacher-bashing, then sorry to disappoint...

I have great admiration for teachers and the work they do. I believe the vast majority of them are dedicated and hard-working.

Furthermore, they have to try to deliver their vocation in often trying conditions — teaching large classes and in far-from-ideal temporary structures.

I also believe the profession has not been given due credit for its actions since Covid struck. Most teachers adapted well to remote lessons, and since the schools reopened, they have played a vital role in keeping the virus largely out of the classrooms.

Not enough people have recognised their sacrifices.

Which brings me to this week’s threat of industrial action.

When you read the gripes of teachers delivered though their ASTI union in relation to the pandemic, they raised many valid issues.

They are seeking a redefinition of what constitutes a close contact in the classroom; they want a Covid test turnaround time of 24 hours and serial testing for schools; and provision to allow teachers in the high-risk health category to teach from home or have accommodations made in school.

All this seems reasonable enough. In fact, they all sound like issues the Education Minister and her Government should be keen to address anyway.

But then ASTI dropped the ball in terms of public relations.

Their demand for equal pay for teachers employed after 2010 — a long-running sore with the union and successive governments — tagged onto the end of the demands left them open to the criticism that teachers were eyeing an opportunity at a time of dire national crisis.

At a time when so many people have lost their jobs, or are hanging onto one by a thread, this grab for more cash played into the hands of the teacher-bashers.

So too did the threat that industrial action, up to and including strikes, would be taken if the ASTI demands were not met.

If strikes were to happen in the current climate, it would be a huge blow to the standing of the teaching profession. I can only hope it proves an idle threat, and that ASTI will be satisfied if its key Covid demands are met. The equality of pay can surely be a fight for another day.

Nobody should blame teachers for standing up for their own interests as they try to work through a pandemic. And it is fair to say they are more in the firing line of the virus than, say, shop workers, with whom teacher-bashers often compare them.

And certainly nobody should blame the teachers’ unions for standing up for their members’ interests. That, after all, is their role.

But I think the bigger issue here in terms of public perception is the fact that teachers and their unions are often seen as running the entire education system.

What teachers and their unions want, they usually get (notwithstanding the equal pay for post-2010 entrants).

Where are the organisations and interest groups representing schoolchildren and parents, to balance out this debate?

The Government ought to be acting on behalf of all stakeholders in the education system, rather than constantly appearing to kowtow to the latest demands from teachers.

It is little wonder that the public see teaching as a cosseted and protected profession, when they and their union are gearing up for a fight against two fellow teachers in Education Minister Norma Foley and Taoiseach Micheál Martin!

Who, around this table of teachers’ representatives on one side and teachers-turned-politicians on the other, will be making the point that schools simply must stay open at the present time for the mental and physical wellbeing of the pupils — not to mention the fact so much school time has already been lost to Covid-19?

As I said at the outset, I admire teachers greatly, but I do think the system is too often geared to give them everything they ask for.

The government must accede to ASTI’s requests on Covid, but the union must kick the can of pay parity down the road.

And the threat of strikes must be taken off the table now — or the teacher-bashers will assuredly have a field day.

******

One good reason to hope for a Trump win!

THERE are so many reasons to want to see Donald Trump crash and burn in Tuesday’s U.S presidential election. Here’s just a few...

He is a deeply unpleasant blaggard who, on a personal level, appears to have little empathy for anyone else.

You literally cannot believe a word he says... or indeed tweets.

He is a deeply divisive person for his country, and would rather hurl fuel onto a flaming row and make it worse than attempt to resolve it.

He has a bizarre attitude to foreign policy, being rude to the people who should be his allies and sucking up to people who should be his enemy.

His macho attitude to Covid-19 has turned a crisis into a tragedy for his country, where almost a quarter of a million people have died. (On the other hand, you have to say that if there had been no pandemic this year, Trump would probably be in pole position to win re-election thanks to his decent record on the economy, so, in a sense, he can actually count himself unlucky).

Unlike Trump, his rival Joe Biden would be a key ally for Ireland in any Brexit fall-out.

And those reasons are just off the top off my head. There are lots more.

However, in the unlikely event that Trump confounds the polls again next week, and beats his rather limp challenger, there will be one saving grace.

It will be almost worth seeing him win, just to see the liberal elites and Twitterati of Ireland — men and women — clutching their pearls to their chests in horror. Another electorate have gone against our wishes, they will howl indignantly. How very dare they!

I can’t quite bring myself to hope this happens, for the sake of global stability if nothing else.

Then again, if Trump loses, he can always run for President again in 2024. That situation, where a President has served two non-consecutive terms, has only happened once, with Stephen Grover Cleveland in the 1880s and 1890s.

Imagine that! Trump returning from the political grave in four years. I can’t wait... er, hang on, actually, I can.

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