A local teacher is the new president of Northern Ireland’s biggest locally-based teaching union.
Mark Creelman, who teaches at Bushvalley Primary in Bushmills, takes up his 12-month post at the annual conference of the Ulster Teachers’ Union on Friday
“In the coming year I’m looking forward to actually having the chance to lift my head above the school wall and seeing what happens in schools elsewhere in the UK and beyond.
“It’ll be a chance to look at the challenges they face, see how they tackle them and whether we could learn anything,” said Mark, who lives in Ballymoney and graduated from the University of Ulster Coleraine in 2003.
“There he studied English Literature and gained his PGCE teaching qualification, following his education at Irish Society Primary School and Coleraine Academcial
“The Education Minister has said that NI teaching graduates should not expect to get teaching jobs – but even 13 years ago when I was at university things were
extremely competitive,” said Mark.
“I studied English because that kept my options open in case I hadn’t been able to get on the PGCE course. I decided to stay at Coleraine for that course – the other
PGCE course provider here along with St Mary’s. At that time, the ratio of women to men on teacher training was 7:1; in Coleraine it was nearly 10:1.
Indeed, the challenge of getting more men into primary school teaching remains today.”
Following his graduation, Mark taught for three years at Portstewart Primary before moving to Bushvalley, where he would meet his wife Louise, whom he married in
2014. He is now dad to Hannah, who is six months old, and step-dad to Bella (4).
“Having a family and getting the work life balance right is actually one of the most challenging things facing teachers today. It’s something I really struggle with and it’s increasingly difficult to get that balance right so your job doesn’t become your life,” said Mark.
“With the kinds of expectations placed on teachers today it’s all too easy be out of balance and find yourself swamped with the kinds of mental and physical health
issues that brings.
“Things are increasingly challenging for teachers. The profession is becoming increasingly performance driven, treating education as some sort of business model
with a myriad of targets as children are popped out at the end of a production line like tins of baked beans. There’s pressure to perform as never before – yet I would argue that how that performance is measured is not a fair reflection of a teacher’s ability.
“Society’s attitude to teaching too is another area where the profession struggles. There is a perception among some people that teachers aren’t in the real world somehow; that we drop down from a cloud on a golden thread on Monday morning and are retracted to higher echelons at the end of the school day; that we don’t face the same issues and pressures they face. But we do. Teachers are people too!
“We shouldn’t have to put up with bad language from students or inappropriate comments. You wouldn’t get away with saying about your GP the kinds of things that are said about teachers on social media – so we need a societal change in attitude.
“Another challenge facing our profession is teacher training. The Minister has already said that student teachers should not assume they will get jobs. We have teachers graduating from Stranmillis and St Mary’s Colleges and from the UU at Coleraine.
“I believe this is causing an inflation situation where the profession is being de-valued. There’s a sense among the employers that if you won’t do the job someone else will. That’s not good for the profession and is a situation which needs to be looked at.
“Both Catholic and Protestant students studied together at Coleraine, separating only for the RE element of the course and proving that we don’t need the duplication of courses provided by these separate institutions. There is much more scope for a more collaborative approach.”
However, although the profession is facing its fair share of challenges, Mark believes the future is bright for Northern Ireland’s students.
“When I started to teach we were still using blackboards and everything was still very traditional! Now we’re moving towards a much more creative curriculum where we’re developing the children’s ability to actually think for themselves. It was probably always there but wasn’t focussed upon to the same extent,” said Mark, musical director at Upper Room Victory Church, Coleraine.
“That’s a lifeskill which will help young people make their decisions throughout life and that’s a major and a very positive step forward.
“It’s hard though when young people ask me if they should go into teaching. I always wanted to be a teacher – I briefly considered law – but it was always going to be teaching for me.
“It is a challenging time for the profession but also a time of incredible opportunity and I hope to make the most of the opportunity which comes my way during my year as President of Northern Ireland’s biggest locally-based teaching union, the Ulster Teachers’ Union.”