Teachers in Politics

Eamon Dunphy was at it again on the Late Late show recently:

”Our political leaders are well meaning, but totally out of their depth, because many of them happen to be teachers”.

He is not alone in this refrain. The reference to political incompetence and teaching is an oft repeated one, and I have yet to hear it refuted – so here goes.

I discovered at an early age that I had a range of skills which allowed me to self finance myself from about the age of twelve. While at university I took on the task of generating the advertising revenue for college students’ publications on a fee basis, and immediately raised the income by 1000%. No, that’s not a misprint, I mean one thousand percent. I doubled it again in year two.  I left college without a penny of debt, having engaged fully in all aspects of student life, fallen in love and got married.

I was then faced with a decision regarding what I wanted to do with my life. I am totally confident that I could have gone on to develop various commercial ventures, and accumulated large sums of money in a bank, or indulged myself with the trappings of wealth, and all that goes with that.

For me personally I found that prospect to be totally boring and without challenge. Did I want to spend my life hoovering up money, so that I could go to the “Pearly Gates” and declare that I had the biggest bank balance in the Q? On reflection, I decided to follow a career path which would stretch me to the limit of my potential, and give me a quality of life which would leave me feeling that I had sucked every last ounce  of enjoyment from what life had to offer me.

I decided to dedicate my life to teaching, not because I could not hack it in the real world, but because I chose not to do so. That decision was taken thirty five years ago, and I can say, without fear of contradiction, that I have enjoyed every minute of the experience.

Teaching brings you into a world where values are totally different to the world of business and profit. This is not a criticism of those who choose careers in the commercial and business world.  Teachers as a group do not measure what they give by the billable hour. They work with their students in their own time, for additional hours every day.  In many cases such as in sport, drama, debating, or in preparing students to submit projects to competitions in science, technology, art, etc., the work is not remunerated, nor amazingly do teachers resent this fact – that is just not part of the culture in education.

This commitment invariably spills out into the community, where teachers are often the first to get involved in developing resources to serve their communities, be it in the area of sport, or other parish or local area activities. It is a very short journey from community activity to the world of politics, and it is no surprise that large numbers of teachers end up in the Dáil and in key positions in Government. Teachers get involved in politics because they are passionate about using their skills to make a difference in the lives of those on whose behalf they work.

The fact that Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin face each other across the chamber of the Dáil as two former teachers is not in my view something to be sneered at as if to imply, “What do teachers know about running a society or economy”? Their presence at the highest level of political life is simply a reflection of the truth that teachers as a breed are drawn to public service. Politics is a noble profession, in which human beings who care about their communities try to make sense of this crazy world we live in.

To disparage teachers in politics on the basis of “What do they know about the real world”? is to miss the point entirely. Teachers face by far the greatest challenge in life, helping young minds to grow and develop in such a manner as to make the world in which we live a more caring and better place than it was when we teachers took up the baton from the previous generation.

Teachers teach not because they don’t have the skills to hack it in the real world, but because they set themselves challenges based on a different value system than that which operates in the commercial and business world.

Politics and the exercise of power need to reflect all perspectives if its decisions are to be well founded. Far from being a negative, the presence of teachers at the pinnacle of our political system is a consequence of the people, in the privacy of the ballot box, choosing freely to put them there.

Let those who mock the former teachers who hold positions of power and influence in political life reflect on this simple principal – the people get the politicians they actually want, the ones who reflect their values and interests – and in many cases these people are teachers.

View all blogs by Brian Mooney

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