Belfast Telegraph

Open letter shares plight of 'stretched' Northern Ireland teachers

By LIsa Smyth

A secondary school teacher has hit out at a suggestion by an education chief that pupils are suffering because of ongoing industrial action.

Catherine Nelson, who teaches history and politics at a secondary school in Craigavon, Co Armagh, has written an open letter to the chief executive of the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) rubbishing the claims.

It comes after Noelle Buick's biennial report revealed fewer than four in 10 schools in Northern Ireland have co-operated fully with inspections over the past two years.

Teaching unions are refusing to co-operate with school inspections in a dispute over pay and workload.

Ms Buick called the disruption "unacceptable" and said: "We are all entrusted with the care and education of our children and young people and have a responsibility to put them first above all else."

However, Ms Nelson, who is a Sinn Fein councillor, said comments made by Ms Buick in a radio interview on the matter had left her "deflated, defeated and insulted".

This prompted her to write an open letter to Ms Buick, which has so far been shared more than 2,000 times on social media.

Ms Nelson described her dedication to her job and her pupils and said teachers across Northern Ireland are struggling to cope in the face of massive budget cuts, growing class sizes, a reduction in staff and mounting paperwork.

"The needs of children are greater and society has altered significantly, but teacher training does not reflect that, my timetable does not reflect that," she wrote.

"I, like many of my colleagues, am working under immense pressure. Yet the situation is not of our making.

"Allow me to share with you my story - my experiences. It could be any teacher, we are all stretched, we play multiple roles, we go over and beyond.

"One of my classes has 33 children in it. Extra tables and chairs come out.

"We have whole class discussions, group and paired work.

"We debate, question, analyse. We test, assess, annotate, give feedback, do one-to-ones, set homework, mark.

"I teach them - they teach me. I stretch. I challenge. They learn. We set targets and goals.

"We review and revise. We guide and advise."

Ms Nelson, who has been a teacher for nine years, also revealed the pastoral role she plays in the lives of the children at her school.

In her letter, she described keeping food in the drawer of her desk to give to pupils whose parents cannot afford to feed them properly.

She also said she had glued on the sole of a child's shoe to shield the parent from the financial burden of having to buy a new pair.

She continued: "We pride ourselves in our relations with parents.

"We talk to parents daily. We lift the phone; they do, too."

Ms Nelson said she was delighted at the response to her letter and urged education chiefs to address teachers' concerns.

She added: "Ms Buick is right, pupils and parents are being failed at the moment, but it isn't by teachers who go above and beyond every day to do their very best for the children."

Belfast Telegraph

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