2019 was a year of historic firsts for FÉILTE, the Festival of Education in Learning and Teaching Excellence, our annual event as a Teaching Council to mark World Teachers’ Day. It was the first time it was held outside of Dublin since it started in 2013. It was the first time to be held over two days, and on the campus of a HEI.
And it was the first one to feature a showcase from the Irish Prison Education Association.
As I look back on this, it seems fitting and appropriate that the first FÉILTE to be held on the Wild Atlantic Way of our country, on the most south-westerly reaches of our island, was the first to see a showcasing of innovation in teaching and learning from teachers working in our prisons.
FÉILTE has been showing for the past 6 years how much teachers are innovating in teaching and learning in schools all around the country; how much they are willing to share with and teach each other; and how important it is to acknowledge and celebrate this innovation and this generosity of spirit.
FÉILTE 2019 however, really enhanced this process of making the implicit explicit. For it highlighted how much those on the “margins” – in every sense of that term – can teach those at the centre. With its theme of Lifelong Learning – Making a Difference, it also emphasised the importance of sitting down and having conversations with those at the margins; the importance of true and deep inclusion.
The teaching profession in Ireland is a big profession with big impact. There are now over 100,000 teachers on the register maintained by the Teaching Council. We have almost 4,000 schools where 1 million pupils and students go to learn every day from Monday to Friday. These bare facts really bring home the idea that education is fundamentally about people helping people – to learn.
In Ireland, we have a deeply rooted regard for the power of education to transform lives for the better. Every family has a story of the sacrifices made by previous generations to ensure that their children had chances in school that they themselves did not have. Education therefore is also a deeply moral endeavour. It is not just about paying it forward. It is about empowering others to enrich their own lives and those of others – to be the best people they can possibly be. Teaching is therefore one of the most selfless and moral of professional endeavours.
This is why we were so delighted to welcome our teachers who work in prisons to FÉILTE this year. First and foremost, they are teachers just like all other registered teachers. By working with those on the margins of our society, to help them be the best people they can possibly be, they are fulfilling this moral, selfless dimension of teaching in a deep and profound way.
The Teaching Council is keen to explore with teachers in this sector how we can best collaborate to maintain and enhance the quality and impact of this work. As the professional standards body for teaching, charged with promoting and regulating the teaching profession, we have set our purpose as being one where we wish to work with the profession, Department and all stakeholders in fostering an environment where quality teaching and learning thrive for all teachers and learners.
We have identified research, reflective practice and relationships as the three R’s of teachers’ professionalism. We know from our engagement with the Irish Prison Education Association that these concepts are core to their work also. As we face into the middle of the school year, and the end of the calendar year, it is uplifting to identify this common ground where the centre and the margins can come together, in a truly inclusive space, to facilitate meaningful conversations. We look forward to continuing these conversations in 2019!
Tomás Ó Ruairc
An Chomhairle Mhúinteoireachta / The Teaching Council