Substitute teachers determined to shore up Ireland’s education system amid record COVID-19 cases say they are concerned whether their efforts will be enough to keep schools open.
Red unions have predicted that when schools reopen on Thursday, thousands of full-time teachers will be absent due to COVID-19.
Ireland is experiencing record case numbers, but health officials and Education Minister Norma Foley have insisted that schools are safe to return.
Education officials and principals are hoping that relying on trainee teachers and replacements will be enough to avoid a massive shutdown.
But the government has acknowledged that the coming weeks will bring new challenges for employees, parents and students.
Sorcha ni Chonghail, a 22-year-old primary school teacher from Meath, mostly based in and around northern Dublin.
She said she and her colleagues were “scared” but would be taking all precautions they could.
She said she was concerned whether there would be enough substitute teachers to bridge the gap, if replacement staff are also forced into isolation.
“I think the only fear is that there is so little mitigation in the younger years, that we may end up in a situation where we ourselves have become a close contact and then there is no return,” she told PA News. told the agency.
“We just have to do what we can and try and protect ourselves.”
We are just trying to do our best. We just want to keep the kids safe and make sure they’re getting the educationSorcha ni Chonghail, primary school teacher
She said she disliked what she saw as the “assumption” that it was “teacher versus parent or teacher and parent versus Norma”.
“We are just trying to do our best. We just want to keep children safe and make sure they are getting education,” she said.
Still, Ms Nee Chonghil said she would feel safe if some of the protective measures demanded by trade unions – such as HEPA filters for classrooms and high-grade facemasks for schools – are introduced.
“I don’t think anyone would be against any further shamans,” she said.
He said he felt the current measures “are not really working”, especially with young children.
It was unclear whether Ms Ni Chonghail would be placed in one school as a substitute, or whether she would be asked to transfer between different schools.
But she said she planned to take some extra precautions if it was the latter arrangement.
“If there’s likely to be some kind of small circuit break between each school, I’ll take it but I’ll use antigen testing and everything else because I’m sure a lot of people will be doing the same thing,” she PA told .
She added that she “won’t be seeing my grandparents or anything like that while I’m covering because I don’t think the risk is worth it.”
Ms. Ni Chonghyel said she thought the next few weeks were going to be tough.
“I don’t necessarily think you’ll see a massive shutdown. I think we have to be prepared for the reality that there may be days where some flexibility will be needed,” she said.
On Wednesday, the education minister acknowledged that there will be challenges in the days and weeks ahead.
Ms Foley denied insults to school staff who had been in close contact and had been fully vaccinated.
“I was very clear from the beginning that we will take a child- and student-centric approach in running our schools,” she told RTE Radio.
Sinead Harkin is a 24-year-old secondary school teacher from Galway.
I like being in class. It’s difficult. It’s freezing cold out there and kids are bound to get sick outside of Covid, anyway. But this craze of not being prepared for this huge boom – should have been prepared for it because it was always going to happenSinead Harkin, secondary school teacher
She is working as a substitute teacher as an apprentice, but is set to return to college at the end of January.
“I don’t see how school is going without me, if I’m being honest,” she told PA.
“I really don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few days.”
Despite the uncertainty, she thought overall it was a good thing that schools were reopening.
“I’m really happy that we’re kind of going back to school, because I think it’s easier to teach, it’s easier to stay in school, into routine and kids learn better in school,” she said.
“I’m glad we’re going back but I don’t see how they’re going to staff schools.”
Ms Harkin said she was concerned about the combination of a COVID-19 testing system that stretched to its limits and the high rate of the virus in the community.
Such a situation means difficult decisions for all, he added.
“The government should have seen this coming,” she said.
“It was always going to happen that there was going to be a boom. They should have funded the hospitals, should have funded the healthcare sector.”
She said that many people blamed the teachers for not coming back to classes.
“I love being in class. It’s hard. It’s freezing cold out there and kids are bound to get sick outside of Covid anyway. But this craze of not being prepared for this huge boom – prepare for it.” Should have stayed because it was always going to happen,” she said.