WHAT teachers do in their spare time is not really any of our business at all, but what we’d love to know this week is what they do in those controversial ‘Croke Park’ hours.
That may be none of our business either - since we don’t pay them a penny for ‘Croke Park’ hours - but, seeing that a sizable proportion of second level teachers have just ditched their Croke Park hours in a dispute with the Department, we’re more than curious. We could well be faced with the awful prospect of school closures and hordes of idle youths roaming our streets in September. So, we need to know if they’ve dumped something of value.
Obviously, they can’t have been hurling, or practising mindfulness or even getting their nails done during that extra hour a week over the past five years. ASTI, the association of secondary school teachers, claims that they have been ‘in detention’ all that time – which is quite plausible when you come to think of it. For all we know, it could have been the revenge of some frustrated civil servant in Marlborough Street, who was kept back after school every day for a year for producing nothing only gobbledygook in his essays. The Croke Park hours may also have been a Government sop to the rest of the begrudging populace who would take a 1916 commemoration over a 1913 remembrance any day, and who envied teachers their long school holidays and shorter working days. Ironically, many of them would love to have been teachers themselves if they had got enough points in the Leaving Cert.
The Department, on the other hand says that the introduction of the Croke Park hours was aimed at ‘protecting the integrity of the school year’, which is amazing considering that schools closed for three weeks for Easter this year and some of them then enjoyed a week long mid term break again in May.
When the Croke Park hours were imposed on teachers five or six years ago, I was under the impression that the unfortunate pupils would have to endure 33 extra hours of tuition every year in order to beat the Finns, and even the Chinese, in global academic achievement. At the time the country was on the way down the drain but we were also experiencing dismal performances in world wide learning league tables, particularly in maths and literacy. Everything that was imposed on us then was aimed at saving money and increasing productivity and why would education have been different? But very soon it became apparent that whatever was happening in those extra hours in the schools, it wasn’t learning. The pupils had all gone home or were eating their lunches when the bell rang for Croke Park.
To be honest, after reading up on the education section of the Croke Park agreement myself this week, I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if someone told me that the teachers had abandoned the infamous hours out of sheer boredom and an urge to do something useful with the precious time involved. The proposed use of the extra hours is open to wide interpretation and mainly involves staff meetings and planning sessions, which would hardly merit an extra 33 hours in a school year. It seems to me that the only thing really prohibited is extra tuition and the correction of school work which must be done as usual in the teacher’s spare time. Nail painting isn’t even mentioned and neither is hurling, and God forbid that any teacher should nod off and take a nap during Croke Park hours, after being up all night marking copybooks. Surely it’s time someone called a halt to the farce of pretend extra hours with no real productivity and with no overtime for the beleaguered teachers. But instead of paying them back money for patiently enduring five futile years of extra hours, the Department is now threatening to charge them for withdrawing from the daft situation. How they got into it in the first place is beyond me, because I would have thought that no trade unionist worth his or her salt would dream of working an extra 33 hours a year for nothing.
Now, how come teachers never took industrial action when I was a schoolgirl? What wouldn’t I have given for the pleasure of an extended summer break, courtesy of a teachers’ strike. I’d have even settled for a refusal on their part to correct homework in their spare time, and if they had decided to boycott the exams, I’d have been over the moon altogether. It would have been as good as winning the lottery, but, as I said before in a different context, I was born in the wrong era.
Maybe teachers were more respected then. Maybe they enjoyed better working conditions, more attractive remuneration, a measure of enviable status and a level of security that very few of them have the privilege of experiencing today. Whatever it was, I’m now the one who feels short changed in my old age.
For all that, I’m on the side of the teachers in this one and I have no time for Department propaganda which says that it’s the students who will suffer most in the event of an Autumnal confrontation between the teachers and the new Education Minister, Richard Bruton. What did the Croke Park hours ever do for the students anyway, or for Irish education either? Release the teachers from detention, I say, and if their working hours have to be increased then pay them fairly for the extra time and make sure it’s productive.
Meanwhile, even allowing for a couple of generation gaps, I still can’t understand why the effected students are not all whooping with joy at the prospect of an extended summer holiday and a brief interruption of their studies. They sure do take their education very seriously these days. That’s all I can say.