Student Primary Teachers Facing Difficult Position Due to Substitution Shortages

Conor Smith

Aserious shortage of substitute primary teachers has emerged in national schools across the country as a result of current public health guidance for the education sector that advises staff not to attend work if they feel unwell.

High levels of absenteeism has forced some primary school principals to even consider sending classes home, with special education teachers, retired teachers and even teachers on career breaks having to step up to provide temporary relief in some instances.

Notably, student primary teachers are largely being called on to cover some of the deficits being experienced at present.

The Department of Education is engaging with primary-teaching colleges across Ireland to try and make undergraduates available for substitution in the hopes of alleviating some of the pressure that our country’s national schools are under.

However due to a number of impracticalities, The College View has found that the majority of student primary teachers are not in a position right now to answer this call.

Lack of Communication on the Issue

When this paper asked student primary teachers on the DCU St. Patrick’s campus how they were being informed about current staffing shortages, the overwhelming response was that primary schools themselves were in continual contact regarding a student’s availability or unavailability in most instances to substitute. Final year undergraduate Michelle revealed, “I just keep getting texts and phone calls from different schools and I just keep having to refuse because I don’t have the time to sub.”

Mandatory Attendance at Lectures 

The main barrier preventing primary teaching students from giving a helping hand is the fact that a student’s attendance in class is factored into a lecturer’s final assessment of their work in a module. Amy, another final year student primary teacher explained the adverse effect missing class time to substitute would have on a student’s grade point average saying, “lecturers aren’t flexible in their hours so if you were to miss a lot of things it counts towards your attendance and so you’re not going to get the final grade that you deserve.”

Unsuitable Timetables 

On days where primary teaching students actually have lighter class schedules, similar issues persist where more effective timetabling might have been all that was needed to allow for substitution time in primary schools.

Final year student Emily had just finished a phone-call informing a primary school of her unavailability due to a mandatory hour-long lecture on Fridays, and  she described to the College View how difficult this is.

“I just said I’m really sorry I can’t help you, I have an hour long lecture that’s mandatory and I have to go.”

Whilst the Government is purportedly liasing with primary teaching colleges to avert the current national primary-teaching shortage it would actually appear from the difficulties indicated by student primary teachers to be an untenable part of the overall solution.

On aggregate instead, one that has left present primary teaching students under constant pressure from principals across the four corners of the island and in fear of appearing unreliable to possible future employers on a daily basis.

Conor Smith

Image Credit: The Irish Times