Irene Long Not yet qualified as an elementary school teacher, her phone keeps buzzing with offers of work from schools desperate to find a replacement cover.
“I’m off work,” she says. “I got offers of work this whole week and had to say ‘no’ to two schools looking for an alternative. . . I’m happy. The more experience, the better.”
The mature 40-year-old student, who is completing a two-year professional master’s in education at Hibernia College, is one of hundreds of student teachers who are helping prop up the school system in the face of an unprecedented crisis in replacement cover .
Many schools are struggling to keep classes open due to high rates of sick leave or staff shortages linked to teachers being forced to self-isolate due to Covid-19.
This week, higher education institutions agreed to release additional student teachers at least until Christmas after talks with the education minister Norma Foley,
Colleges say they will postpone or reschedule exams and evaluations to give students more time.
One of the largest providers of teacher education, Hibernia estimates that 80-90 percent of its 1,300 student teachers will provide elective cover in primary and secondary between now and the end of term.
“The demand is huge and we are very happy to help schools,” says Mary Kelly, head of the Hibernia School of Education.
“We are looking to provide flexibility for students around assessments to ensure they are not overburdened. It is a balancing act of supporting the system and ensuring the quality of qualifications.”
This week’s response to the increased availability of student teachers in schools has been a relief.
“We have three students booked for next week until Christmas, and one of them says they can stay until the end of January,” he said.
“It will make a big difference. There have been days recently when we had 14 teachers. We are on average 10 or 11 on most days. They are either COVID positive, awaiting tests or their child tests. There are other viruses and diseases circulating as well.”
“It’s a game changer,” he said. “We have two student teachers from Froebel [Maynooth University] Which can last until Christmas.
“Till a few days back, it was impossible to get adequate replacement cover. Last Sunday at 4 pm, I was under a teacher. By 7.30 a.m. on Monday, I was down to five teachers and an SNA. , , But now that we have our student teachers, they are helping to keep schools open and freeing up options to cover other absences. ,
no reduction in pension
Foley said his department would continue to liaise with higher education colleges for any steps needed to boost the supply of student teachers in the new year.
He also announced the hiring of an additional 200 substitute teachers on a full-time basis to supply the panel for primary schools, as well as measures to allow retired teachers to return to classes by Christmas without any reduction in their pension. declare.
Separately, it issued guidelines on the use of antigen testing to schools, staff and parents on Thursday evening, before starting next Monday.
In the meantime, student teachers like Irene Long are happy to do their part in supporting the system.
“When I came to school this week, the principal told me ‘you’re like gold dust'”, says Long, a former accountant and freelance journalist at Blarn Inn in Cork.
“For me, it’s a great way to get experience. There’s nothing like being in an actual classroom. Kids have to be in school. During the lockdown we saw that. So, I’m happy to help in any way I can. “