Reads of the Week #14

Six things I read this week that you should have a look at. 

First Sapuran Gill says ‘there’s no silver bullet to succeeding in the classroom; however, you can do the basics well, and year-by-year you’ll see the small steps that you take gather pace’ here.

Next teacher David Mooney on the Marriage Referendum: ‘I’m 30 and for as long as I can remember there have been people telling me that I cannot be fully me; people who have put limitations on me being me. So once more; I’m asking you to please just let me be. Let me love. Let me commit. Let me feel supported. Let me be equal. Let me be a husband. Let me be a Dad.’ here.

Andy Warner argues for traditional teaching methods: ‘over the last few years there has been far too much emphasis on having busy, noisy classrooms where students are doing lots. This has its place, but it mustn’t be at the expense of quiet reflection time’ here.

Mary Ann Reilly writes here on love loss and remembering, this will touch a chord with anyone who ever grieved. 

By coincidence, I recommend you read Mark Wisniewski on channeling grief into art here.

And finally for a mixture of fun and the truth about love’s uncertainty here’s Laura Olin. 

Find all my Reads of the week on Twitter here

And the archive on previous posts is here 

Pic credit


Why I want to lead the ASTI

I am today announcing my candidacy for the vice-presidency of the ASTI.

I run because I am convinced that the members of this Association should expect more of its leadership: expect more engagement, expect more consultation, and expect more unity.

I run to seek a new way forward for the ASTI, but first to bring the long running sore of ill-thought out reform to an end one way or another, to close the gap in pay between new entrants and their more established colleagues, and to restore all the cuts to education, including teachers’ pay. Most of all, when we are being told that ‘our efforts’ have fixed our financial system, paid for mistakes we didn’t make and elected politicians who ignore us, we are right to demand that schools and public services generally should get the investment they have been denied. I want to lead the ASTI through all this. 
The crisis in our country and in our education system, brought on by the austerity introduced by one government and ‘followed through on’ by another has ignored the expert in the classroom, ignored the teacher’s voice, introduced reform for no reason other than to save money and underinvested in our children’s futures. I want to help reverse all those mistakes.

I run for the Vice Presidency and ultimately the Presidency because I want the ASTI to stand for progress not inaction and for all it’s members above all. For too long the ASTI has been retreading the past into a vision of the future. Education is moving on, embracing technology, research and change. For teacher unions to survive they must exist in the present and be aware of the future, providing information, guidance and support for teachers now, but also navigate a way for teachers to move forward in this changing environment. The greatest gift a teacher can give to a student is to help them believe in themselves. Teacher unions should give the same belief to the professional in the classroom. Many teachers have become discontented, disengaged and disaffected with their unions, it is high time we brought those teachers back under the ASTI’s wings so we can all work towards a truly representative union. 
We should be talking about how to manage change, how to become more politically aware, how to provide research based views on what is proposed in education, how to reconnect with teachers in their schools and even how our unions can find common ground to support each other in their battles. I feel obliged to do all that I can to start this conversation.

I have seen some extraordinary people hold the positions of Vice President and President and know the enormous task it is to serve in those positions. But my service on Standing Committee over the last three years, and before that eight years on CEC have taught me something about both how the ASTI works and critically how the ASTI communicates its message. I believe I have the skills necessary to manage the first and improve the second. I have visited schools and branches that vary profoundly from my own, but in whatever setting, solving the problems teachers encounter with their students, with their colleagues, with management, and with the DES is the job of the ASTI, and it’s a job I’m proud to do.

I have taken a particular interest in listening to new teachers over the last three years, and I have heard their anger at the battles they have to fight to secure employment and equal pay. Meeting their expectations of good representation while impressing on them the necessity for involvement in their union will be a central aim of mine.

It is also time to reach out to other unions and other educational bodies, not with suspicion but with a desire for charting our common ground. It has always been my aim to use the power of our membership wisely, strategically and with the courage of our convictions. If we define our principles and make it known what we stand for it will be a far more comfortable journey for all teachers. But we have to believe in something first. Our path has to more than a series of calculations about what’s possible at any given time, but a set of principles that guide our every decision. At every opportunity we should try to present the ASTI as the voice of reason on pay, conditions, junior cycle and entry into the profession and I believe I have the skills necessary to make this voice heard.

I acknowledge the support and encouragement of many colleagues in this endeavour, and hope that many more can join this campaign. There is nothing personal in this declaration, only a desire to bring to the ASTI a new purpose.

Expect more.

If you want to get involved in this campaign contact me on Twitter, Facebook, or by email.

Another ballot, another crucial decision


Information. It’s what teachers trade in. We gather it, we gauge it, balance it, we pass it on in the hope that we have taught our students how to best use it. That’s what this blogpost is about, information. You teachers, ASTI members deserve to make a decision about this latest offer without prejudice.

The assertion that we are voting on the same offer again needs putting to bed first. It is plain to see that this offer is different, our rules say we must put it to a ballot. That is it. Voting on the same offer may arise if we reject this time and we have to revisit the decision if further industrial action doesn’t have the desired effect.

It is reasonable in my view to assume that our negotiators have achieved something no other union has achieved: an offer that goes beyond what the Haddington Road Agreement originally held. Holding out now for more blood from the stone in my view is not a strategy.

What the Government plan to do in the event of a rejection of this offer is clear: they intend to impose an unpaid, compulsory Supervision and Substitution scheme from mid-January. Our response to that will have to be a stepping up of our industrial action. There are a few options open to us at this stage: the first is refusing to do that S&S and probably closing schools in the absence of student supervision (this happened during the 2001-2 dispute); we could be locked out (as a history teacher, for me this would be both ironic and welcome in this centenary year) or possibly replaced by outside supervisors; we would then be faced with taking strike action. There are those who want to vote no and claim that these are not the only options, that we could volunteer to supervise outside the scheme to keep schools open (this for me seems the same as voting yes), and there are those who want to vote no and never wanted the word ‘strike’ to appear on the ballot paper back in September. I will work to rule, refuse to do S&S in the circumstances outlined above and I am ready to go on strike if there is a no vote but for people to say these are not part of our strategy in the event of a no vote is not true.

From the beginning some of us have insisted on keeping the ASTI response to Junior Cycle reform out of the tangles of the HRA. That has been achieved. If they were enmeshed and members accepted the offer, there would be no alternative  but to accept this deeply flawed, rushed and ill resourced reform. As it stands now we can still resist it, constructively or even destructively if we aren’t listened to by the Minister. The course of that resistance will be in our hands, where it belongs.

This offer contains too many promises for my liking. There are various committees, expert groups and consultation groups as well as the promise of all cuts being restored in time. I don’t trust them. But it will be up to us on each of those committees and in every negotiation to get the best for our members as soon as we possibly can. I do trust our people, if we don’t trust our own, we can pull down the shutters now.

CEC has recommended a rejection of the offer. I am a member of CEC by virtue of my election to Standing Committee. I would have preferred if as a ‘union leader’ to have been able to consult the members in my Branch and in my Region in advance of going to that CEC meeting on Saturday, November 16th. By that time Standing Committee had spent Monday, Thursday and Friday of that week in session, isolated from members for the most part and most CEC members didn’t get documents for the meeting until the Wednesday before. The decision was made too quickly, without time to consult and without time to consider our options. Maybe CEC would have made the same decision, but an extra week would not have hurt us.

So. There are teachers who wanted to preserve the pensionable payments they made out of their Supervision and Substitution allowance and they are rightly aggrieved at being forced to do S&S. There are those who feel strongly that they are being asked to pay not to do S&S when the never did it in the first place (I’m in that situation). If these are the only considerations for you and you feel you are not being fairly treated, you should reject the offer.

There are of course people who voted yes the last time. Maybe they want earlier CIDs or a better pay scale, maybe they want something done about casualisation or maybe they don’t want to fight any more. These people are our members too and if there is a no vote we will have provide these people with a home and bring everybody with us. Writing them off is a recipe for disaster.

But there is another more troubling group then these ‘hard no’ or ‘hard yes’ voters, the 45% who didn’t vote the last time. When all this comes to an end, and it will end one way or another around a table somewhere, we have other issues to deal with. One of the biggest is the disengagement of many of our members. When almost half of our members don’t vote and branch meetings are sparsely attended in a crisis we need to find better ways to speak to all our members and involve them in our union. Because teachers need a union but a teacher union needs its members engaged and involved.

Below I’ve laid out the facts, complicated as they are, about what is on the table since a fresh offer was negotiated in November between the ASTI and the representatives of the Department of Education. It represents the best on offer right now, you don’t have to like it, but you just have to read it, decide and please vote.

Substitution & Supervision
If ASTI members accept the offer in the ballot:
any teacher can opt out of S&S with the exception of those who have being putting a portion of their S&S payment into a pension fund in 2012/13 school year. For these ‘pensionable teachers’ S&S is compulsory.
the cut that follows from an opt out is €1769 p.a. for pre-1 January 2011 entrants or €1,592 for post-31 December 2010 entrants. If you opt out the cut will be permanent and you cannot subsequently opt in and out of S&S.
the ‘adjustment’ takes effect on January 1st 2014, teachers will have one month to decide.
the promise of restoring the S&S payment in two halves in 2017 and 2018 to everyone, whether opting or out, is still there. This restoration will amount to €796 x 2 (€1592) and is a permanent pensionable restoration.
effectively opting out for a pre 2011 teacher would cost €1769 in 2014, 2015 and 2016, €973 in 2017, €973 in 2018 and €177 every year until retirement except that 1769 is a fixed figure whereas the rest of salary will continuing growing.

Croke Park Hours
There is an acceptance that the hours are only essential for staff meetings, parent-teacher meetings and school planning.

If ASTI members accept the offer in the ballot:
a review of what the hours are to be used for would take place involving the Department, the unions and management bodies in early 2014, and it’s recommendations are to be implemented in Sept 2014.
The review will consider if the hours can be used by individuals, groups or on a whole-school basis.

Junior Cycle Reform

If ASTI members accept the offer in the ballot:
there will be a parallel Junior Cycle process started 25 Nov
A working group is being set up on reform to recommend how to address the concerns raised by the ASTI.
The initial meeting would be with the ASTI, meetings with other parties will follow.

If ASTI members accept the offer in the ballot:
any pay lost due to incremental freeze would be refunded
all original incremental dates in HRA will be reinstated.

Higher pay
The HRA applies a 5.5% pay cut to all earners over €65,000 pa. This cut applied to those within HRA was reduced by €1769 because the S&S payment was no longer available.

If ASTI members accept the offer in the ballot:
they would be refunded the above payment for the length of time since July 2013, approx €900
the above cut is to be restored in 2017/18 for all teachers who have accepted the offers.

New entrants, CIDs, Casualisation, Post of Responsibilty
Those who have signed up to HRA and joined the profession in 2011/2012 have a better pay scale, it can amount up to €2,466 per year better than the equivalent ASTI teacher if the worse scale and FEMPI cuts are combined.
If ASTI teachers accept the offer in the ballot:
these new entrants would get a refund of the difference between FEMPI/worse scale and new pay scale backdated to July 1st.
the requirement for a CID reduced from 4 to 3 years from September 1st 2013 onwards.
an expert group on the issue of fixed term and part time teachers will meet in January 2014.
after the consultation a panel for such teachers will be in place for next September.
there is a provision for 300 Assistant Principal posts to be provided this year and further post from next September.

Another year, another graduation, another crying teacher

Today another group of my students finished school. After six too-short years passing though our academy in Carrick-on-Suir they are packing up their bags and memories and heading into the brightness of their young lives (after the darkness of state exams and a summer of waiting for results of course).

Every year I feign coolness at their departure, every year I end up sad to see them go. This year was different though because I wept the whole way through the graduation.

It started with the thank you cards. Some of my English students wrote stuff that would keep me teaching for at least another five dark years. I showed them this the other day and told them exams don’t matter. Well, not exactly, but that you need to a person first and an exam machine after. And I think they listened. I think they’ve been listening all along. And I’m proud.

When we read this by Cavafy and I think they understood. That there are a thousand Ithakas worth sailing to, that there are hundreds of lives to live. And when they left the room they hugged me and said thank you. And I was proud of them and proud of myself.

Today was the graduation and I miss them already. I might cry now thinking about it, but here’s what I learned:
Teachers care
Teacher love their students
Teachers wish, no matter what, that their students turn out okay
Teachers want education to work.

When they threaten education we get upset for our students, we get upset for our schools, we get upset because when you hurt a teacher you hurt her students. When you knock a teachers confidence it hurts his students. And if you don’t take care of education you aren’t taking care of those kids we want to be better people.
I think we’re entitled to a few tears, nobody else is going to cry for us.


Why do teachers feel alienated?

It seems again that it is time to learn,
In this untiring, crumbling place of growth
To which, for the time being, I return…

from Mirror in February by Thomas Kinsella

The right word to use for the relationship between teachers and the world they try daily to change one student at a time is alienation.
Teachers feel they are the victims of forces beyond their control: economic forces, political and social forces, the force of negative public discourse. None of this is new, it has been the case for years that education and those who deliver it have been frustrated by the way their professional opinions have been excluded from the process of decision making. They have felt for a generation that they have no real say in shaping their work lives or determining how best to use education as anything more than a clinical data gathering exercise.
Many teachers may not have come to understand this yet, many may not have articulated it or even had time to think about it, but they feel it. This alienation expresses itself in the shortness of many teaching careers, the ‘muddling through’ cuts to education, the unwillingness to enter into conversations about public service with neighbours friend or family, the inability to recommend teaching as a profession to young graduates. If we have become insensitive to the damage all this does to our profession, if we are fooled into thinking that our alienation is normal and a sign of how we are meant to react to constant criticism from political ‘leaders’ and media ‘commentators’, then we will never recover.
We are encouraged to turn on each other: retired teachers, younger teachers, or unions leaders are ‘the problem’. But education shouldn’t be part of the rat race, teachers shouldn’t be scrambling around, afraid to raise their heads or hands above the ramparts to reject this alienation and reject the pressure of society that would have you teach for any other reason than to educate children. Education is for growth not exams, for questions and answers, not for pat solutions or the easy way out. We have become addicted to silence in the face of a storm of negative commentary, the dignity and pride we should feel are stripped away and that alienated feeling is all that’s left.
Schools are places where the insidious pressures of society that seek out those who are to to blame should not hold sway. Those pressures force us to be silent in the face of injustice in case it damages our chance of fitting in to the rat race. Teachers, those forces strip away your dignity, your sense of justice, your instinct for fairness.
When they reduce education to economic arguments for making profit they reduce it to nothingness. There is no price too high for the emancipation an individual can achieve through education. It becomes, or course, a matter of control, not of freedom, and the concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands. When educators and those to be educated are excluded from decision making, democracy is replaced by profit and loss and you create a society where success is judged by the extent of your economic success, and teachers/students/citizens are reduced to units of production.
And that’s where the alienation comes in: somewhere someone makes the decision that education is measurable, that you either measure up or you are nothing; that’s what alienates teachers: they refuse to write people off. Considering what is human is not what the bean counters do. To measure educational attainment in terms of money spent denies us the opportunity to enrich the lives of all our citizens, we need to place education at the centre of our society, not marginalise it.
Give teachers credit, they equip people for life, not to be economic units, but to be social contributors.
Teachers: don’t give in to this pressure, don’t feel alienated from the world around you, keep on keeping on, they won’t realise it now but your work matters, and education shouldn’t be subject to financial straightjacketing.


A teacher is born

I have taken a breather from twitter for a while. With good reason. Something that doesn’t happen that often (only for the third time for me) has stopped everything. I’m not in school, I’m not tweeting, not reading much. In the midst of times when we’ve been reminded of how children’s lives are precious beyond belief we’ve had a third daughter. She’s as beautiful as her mother, and alert as her two big sisters and has only 24 hours after she was born burrowed herself into our hearts.
The birth of a child makes a husband appreciate his wife in ways words cannot express, the birth of a daughter brings out the guardian in a father, the birth of a third daughter gets you thinking. I’ve learned more from my first two girls than I ever will in a classroom or online. So Nora is my newest teacher, she’ll teach me to be more patient, stop me when I’m prattling on about some castle or other, ask the questions I don’t want to answer and answer the questions I wouldn’t dare ask. My newest teacher.


How I use twitter in my classroom UPDATE 3

After two articles in the irish papers and radio and tv interviews (links below), where I was asked about how I use twitter in my classroom, I decided to detail what exactly I do, so that it’s a little clearer.

Before I begin though we have to talk about fear. There’s so much fear about the educational value of twitter from teachers, managers, parents and students that some might be worried about entering that lion’s den. My answer to these fears is simple: the internet is where kids are, schools have to go there. It was video for an earlier generation and tv before that. It was probably radio once and I’m sure some Greeks were worried about writing things down rather than learning them by heart. Students will always be ahead of us, so why not meet them there, rather than dismiss them as fad-followers or time-wasters?

So. I began introducing twitter by talking to the principal first and then to the whole staff at our first meeting of the school year, back in mid-August. I told them what I wanted to do, using phones first to access the web, and they kindly allowed a rule change so girls could carry switched off phones about the school. I wrote a standard letter to parents explaining what I would do and telling them anything the students generated would be accessible. (If you want to copy the letter it’s at the bottom of this post.)

I set up a twitter account for my English classes ( and one for my History classes ( I knew I could project the timeline from my laptop onto the whiteboard so any tweets they sent would be easy to see. The next task was to find genuine and practical educational reasons to use twitter in my room. I found some suggested themselves, People In History questions for Junior Certificate were perfect where Significant Relevant Statements are what are required and tweets were perfect. So were headlines from History. In English I started with short character studies and haikus before I moved on to sending tweets from the courtroom in To Kill A Mockingbird. And all the time there are three simple rules: Include the hashtag (we agree this in advance), initial the tweet, if it’s from a group everyone signs it, and spell it correctly. This causes consternation, but it promotes accuracy and attention to detail.

And here’s the great part: the girls love it. They get cross when I delete their inaccurate tweets, but stuff stays in their heads longer and faster. They can type because they spend so much time on Facebook, and they seem to be able to separate school from home, very few ever try following me on twitter, I’m just not interesting (outside class obviously!). I could get evangelical about prezi too, but that’s a different post (here).

I’m not a tech whizz, I’m a generation too old really to be introducing this stuff, but if it helps the kids learn (can we please use our phones today sir?), and it keeps me on my toes then it’s worth it.

This is where they are and we have to go there.

Article from Irish Independent:

Article from Irish Times:

Link for letter to parents on social media:


I’ve started to use tweetdoc to archive the tweets my students send. It’s always bothered me that the tweets they sent were getting lost but tweetdoc solved it.
Here are two of the PDFs.
Reformation in England and Ireland

The Counter-Reformation

Here’s a podcast of a Dublin City FM broadcast I contributed to about twitter (from 14 mins).


Here’s a link to a tv interview I did talking about twitter and here’s a piece for radio on the same day.