This year is the centenary of my union, ASTI. The Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland was founded to represent the small number of lay teachers who worked in what was then a relatively small but privileged sector of Irish society, the few schools who had a few lay teachers who taught the few pupils who went in to secondary school it what was then and mainly up until recent times a rural and agricultural country. In the early days there was a tension in some schools between some of the religious orders who were suspicious if the lay teachers. That is now gone as the orders have effectively handed over to trusts to run their schools as the numbers of religious working in post primary schools has collapsed.
The recent history of my union saw huge numbers enter secondary teaching in the 1960’s as free second level education saw numbers being retained increase after the inter cert. The union gained in strength and ran a very effective pay campaign in the 1980’s under the stewardship of my late colleague as President, Tony Boland. The strike in 2000-01 however has damaged moral significantly. Numbers attending union meetings are much lower now than 10 years ago. Conference will still attract all the activists and the issues that they debate are still representative of teachers. I’ve attended conference myself on a few occasions. I wonder however about the nature of my profession because just as society changed and needed more teachers I detect another change again.
Teaching has become more feminised, teachers often live considerable distances from where they teach, teaching is seen as an income. Each of these challenges needs to be addressed by the union. Societal changes and standards have evolved too. The reality that teaching may be a second income to help finance a home sited miles away from the community where the school is for property price reasons means a teacher isn’t going to return in the evening for a union meeting.
As a member of Co Wexford VEC, I identify at committee meetings with many of the matters of importance to TUI members. Core challenges like classroom management, resources, inspection, league tables, discipline and school management affect us all. I strongly believe that ASTI members have common cause on key issues to teachers on the ground with ordinary TUI members. I voted in favour of merger discussions at the ASTI annual convention in Limerick in 2003. The motion was well beaten then but its time will come again, I’m sure. I represented the local branch at last years TUI conference in Wexford and I own up to being an educational ecumenist. I was a member of the local vocational school board for 3 years and Vocational schools while in patronage are different to secondary schools in terms of pastoral care and teaching quality there’s no difference.
I hope that ASTI members at some stage will share my views. It is in the interest of teaching that a merger takes place. The logical step forward is for 3rd level members of the TUI to merge with IFUT to make a 3rd level lecturers union, so that there will be one union at each level. The advantages for teachers is a bigger pool of activists, elimination of competition for members in Community schools between TUI and ASTI, a stronger voice when dealing with the minister and in a position to deliver more for teachers and pupils. A new union would obviously need a lot of negotiation as both unions have evolved to different procedures with different types of management structure down through the years. But if the good will is there then it can be done. It’s time for teachers to look forward. In the meantime next week, the ASTI convention meets in Killarney for the 87th time. Good luck to all involved.