It has been said that there is no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher. It is a sentiment that is deeply felt by primary school teachers who face the difficult and intimidating task of communicating information to children knowing their performance will be judged by that of their students. This adds increased pressure to an already difficult and demanding profession. However, the rewards justify these challenges, and every exciting achievement for a pupil is one that is also shared by the teacher.
The day of a primary school teacher does not have a clearly defined terminus. Instead of journeying home to an evening of relaxing or socialising the reality is often brought to bear by the thirty homework assignments waiting to be marked. And although the free summer months are undoubtedly a great perk of the profession, the length of the holidays may not be as impressive as it first seems. After all, part of this time must be spent planning and organising lessons for the following September’s new class.
Yet these are small concessions to make, especially considering the returns teachers receive for their efforts. Educating children is an extremely worthy and fulfilling challenge, and one thing that can be counted on is that no two days will be the same: a huge bonus for those who wish to avoid monotony. Those who don’t have the necessary qualifications but who are in possession of an honours primary degree can apply for an 18-month Graduate Diploma course. This postgraduate conversion course is available from the following higher education institutions: St Patrick’s College (Drumcondra), Mary Immaculate College, Froebel College of Education, and Coláiste Mhuire (Marino Institute of Education).
Over the course of the programme students will be given instruction through a mixture of teaching practice and taught modules. The course is full time in each of the aforementioned colleges. Part of the programme will be dedicated to enabling students to teach subjects such as English, Mathematics, Music, Social, Personal & Health Education, but emphasis is also placed on teaching practice. Microteaching and practical classroom encounters will be discussed in order to prepare candidates for the end of semester teaching. In this way students are provided with the theoretical, professional and practical elements needed for the classroom.
The 18 months is divided into 14 taught modules and 4 teaching practice modules over 3 semesters, each of which are of 15 weeks’ duration. This is to ensure that students are afforded the chance to make the connections between education theory and practice. It also makes sure that by the time graduates are in front of their own class they will have developed the technique – and the tough skin – necessary to deal with any surprises! A period in the Gaeltacht is mandatory during the course and is usually completed after the first semester. Assessment is ongoing through a combination of course work, essays and an end-of-semester exam.
Requirements for the course are, in addition to a primary degree, a C3 or higher in Ordinary-level English, a D3 or higher in Ordinary-level Maths and a C3 or higher in Honours Irish in the Leaving Certificate. These conditions are extremely strict and if an applicant studied Ordinary-level Irish in the Leaving Cert or has never studied Irish before, they will be compelled to take the Irish in the Leaving Cert again (which it is possible to do with only one subject) and achieve the necessary results before they are can be considered for acceptance on to the programme. Entry to the course will first consist of an Irish interview, which is the hurdle at which many applicants fall and then must wait until the succeeding year to apply again. Potential applicants should therefore bear in mind that Irish language skills or, indeed, the motivation to learn them are vital.
Another common problem faced by many people that are considering taking this route is inaccessibility. Since three of the four colleges offering the conversion course are in Dublin, with the fourth being in Limerick, the commitment is simply not an option for some. However, this was resolved by the introduction of the Higher Diploma in Arts in Primary Education from Hibernia in 2004, which is a distance-learning programme. This provides a far more flexible route to teaching through a mixture of online and face-to-face tuition.
Another option for primary school teaching is on offer at UCC in the guise of the Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching of Science at Primary School. This is a one-year part-time course (with the option of undergoing a second year of study in order to obtain a Postgraduate Diploma). As the programme’s title suggests, the course is part of an overall strategy to meet the growing demand from teachers for long-term professional development in the area. Applicants for the course must hold a recognised teaching qualification in Primary School teaching, and must satisfy the criteria of a selection committee.
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