Like most professions, teaching was not immune to the effects of the 2008 economic crash. A moratorium on recruitment, an increase in the pupil-teacher ratio and even the loss of some schools suddenly led to a saturated market of teachers struggling to even get substitute roles, let alone a full-time position. Both secondary and primary school teachers graduated with the stark choice of applying en masse, slugging it out as a substitute, taking whatever could be found or looking elsewhere.
I was one of those who decided to take the chance elsewhere and following graduation in 2014, moved to Kuwait. The offer of a renewable contract, tax-free salary, free accommodation, flights and healthcare was too enticing compared to the grim reality of precarious subbing positions while living in an overcrowded house in Dublin.
While the Middle East has almost become a rite of passage for young teachers since the crash, many others went to the UK, China, Korea, Australia and elsewhere. People went for a variety of reasons, career progression being the main motivation for a move to the UK, while better pay and conditions drove many further afield.
Returning to Ireland as a primary school teacher – prospects
Fast forward to 2019, and the situation is entirely different. There is a serious shortage of primary school teachers In Ireland, and this is being felt both in short-term substitution roles as well as schools struggling to fill maternity leave positions, shared special education needs (SEN) posts and indeed even some full-time roles.
The issue is now a national one, with schools even in remote areas struggling to find qualified teachers for short-term roles. In the greater Dublin area, Cork and other urban centres, school principals are having to merge SEN roles, divide classes and bring in unqualified student teachers, whenever they’re available. For some context on how this is playing out in reality, prior to making the move to Canada, I was subbing in a Dublin school where five teachers were on sick leave, two of whom were on long-term leave. I was the only qualified teacher subbing, three were students and one was a ‘lay person’ who was going to start a post-grad in education the following year.
Principals regularly report that substitutes are ‘as rare as hen’s teeth’. For anyone willing to make the move back to Dublin in particular, there is guaranteed work five days a week. This can quickly lead to a longer term role and once your foot is in the door, you are viewed as a potential member of staff.
For those who want to shop around, it has never been a better time to do so. While it’s still better to call into schools in person, simply calling a school or sending your details via email will most likely see you added to an ever decreasing list of substitute teachers. While there is a shortage of primary school teachers everywhere, there is a caveat for more remote areas. Substitute positions in rural areas requires more flexibility and you could see yourself having to wait longer for an opportunity to open up. However, if your main reason for wanting to return home is to settle permanently in a rural area, and you’re willing to sub short term, now is the best time to do it. If you have a car and are willing to expand your radius of travel, this increases your chances of landing an interview and potentially a fixed term contract or permanent job.
Minister for Education Joe McHugh recently announced proposals to establish panels of supply teachers who would work in a region for substitute roles but benefit from having a contract with holiday pay and entitlements. Primary school teachers on career break can now work as substitutes without restrictions.
Am I better off coming home?
While job prospects have drastically improved, the issues of pay and cost of living remain a real obstacle for those thinking of coming home. Many primary school teachers abroad aren’t concerned about job prospects as they are on career break, with a permanent job to return to if they so wish. Most primary school teachers who have left in the past three years or so fall into this category.
My friends in the UAE and Vietnam all left by choice, initially with the intention of staying for two years but this was extended to three and now four years. They look at the price of rent in Dublin, and are wondering how they could adjust to this new reality having lived a tax-free, rent-free life in the interim. One returned last year, resigned from his job in Dublin and found a permanent role in his home county.
The bottom line for anyone returning home, if you’re returning to Dublin, Cork or Galway you’ll be paying high rent in shared accommodation. Be prepared for rent of €550 – 800 per month on average in Dublin. If you want to drive and haven’t held onto car insurance since you left, the cost of premiums will be a huge shock.
It really depends where you are returning from and what your goals are. If you’re returning from the UK, for example London, you will be used to paying taxes, high rent and working long hours. If you want to return to Ireland for better conditions and shorter hours compared to the UK, now is the time to do so. If you’re returning from the Gulf Arab states, you’re in for an economic adjustment but more consistency in expectations, and far less wasta!
Here is a look at the pay rates for primary school teachers as they currently stand.
The ongoing grievances regarding pay for pre and post 2011 entrants continues to be a major factor for primary school teachers when deciding whether or not they wish to move home. Ultimately, primary school teachers have to decide if they are willing to take a financial hit if other factors are more important in the decision to move home, such as family or lifestyle reasons.
Remember to verify your teaching service abroad. Each year of teaching can count towards an increment on the pay scale in Ireland.