I joined the INTO as a young teacher, just gone 20. It was a different world then …. INTO unbelievably was a part of our social life. We met with friends from college to listen to men (mostly), discussing our rights, inspiring us to a new awareness of not only sponsibility but entitlements. Being an INTO member was hugely encouraged by older colleagues in school, colleagues who had been on the picket line in 1946 and now near retiring could remember that although unsuccessful, the strike demonstrated that workers could stand together. We made many new friends while we supped a glass or two after the meeting (usually all that I could afford) before catching the last bus home. And so I became an INTO-head. (In today’s vernacular that’s someone who leads a pretty boring existence and/or has little to do)
When I transferred to the Droichead Nua branch in 1981 I attended meetings in the Teagasc Hall in Friary Lane in Naas. It was thronged – sometimes standing room only. I’d say CEC reps hated visiting us as many stalwart debaters from our ranks argued our case most ably with them, certainly making them work for their position. CEC reps did not always come out the worse of the discussion as they opened our eyes to realities of fiscal constraints and the need for wise action.
When Seamus died in 1996, I was glad of the many supports offered by the organisation and the visits and advice of INTO friends got me through many rough patches.
Eventually I found my way onto branch committee – falling interest and diminishing crowds rather than personal ability might more appropriately explain my ‘meteoric’ rise. But I loved it. CEC reps were still put through the ‘wringer’ on many occasions as we questioned why the membership were becoming increasingly disenchanted with the organisation.
I was there for the CLASS SIZE CAMPAIGN which certainly brought a bit of a resurgence in interest both from teachers, parents and politicians (unluckily just as the Celtic Tiger was bounding off to jungles new!).
In 1999, I joined the INTO Principals Forum serving as secretary for a few years at the end of the Noughties and into the Teens. During this term, DROICHEAD caused much heated discussion and was one of the few issues where I disagreed strongly with union policy. The ensuing directive caused huge divides in the teaching community. Sad that alternatives weren’t discussed as enthusiastically as directives! Those involved in the process were so positive and now were denied their right to continue. (Don’t I sound like a political animal!!!!) DROICHEAD was the main focus of the last INTO Congress I attended at Easter and it left quite a bitter taste in many mouths. All my congresses up to that were great affairs with a feeling of camaraderie, ‘union’ …late nights, lovely meals and probably one too many drinks….and still being in the hall for a nine o’clock start each morning ….what a way to spend your Easter holidays. This last one was not so nice!
While I loved the debate about political issues, my true interests lay in education. So in 2009 I decided to contest the election for the District Representative on the Education Committee. This meant travelling around to all the Branch meetings with my manifesto, “what I would do and the changes I’d make!” (and again I say I didn’t think of myself as political). It was a pretty tightly contested election. My ensuing victory was due in no small way I’d say to the size of my own branch and the efforts the Branch made to turn out a vote. But it was thrilling on the evening of the ‘count’ to receive the phone call from Shiela Nunan congratulating me on my success.
My first EDCOM meeting was an overnight in Kilkenny where I found myself allocated to the Arts in Education Committee, which was to be responsible for the next Education Conference. The annual INTO Consultative Conference on Education 2009 was to take place in the Amber Springs Hotel, Gorey, Co. Wexford, on November 13th and 14th and its focus would be on the theme of Creativity and Arts in the Primary School.
I who was never on stage in my life found myself involved in the staging of a short drama on the changing views to art: composing ditties and even appearing in the role of ‘a cheeky school girl’. How lucky I was that our ‘performance’ was part of the introduction and not all delegates were in the hall. There were some quite startled expressions as District 7 delegates found seats close to the stage, noting the uncanny resemblance of ‘a wan in plaits and school uniform’ to their Rep on the EDCOM! Luckily the webcam was of poor quality and that is the only remaining evidence of my acting abilities. I worked with this uber-enthusiastic committee for 2 terms (6 years) and I was proudly named with them on 6 extraordinary conference papers on important educational issues. I resigned in 2015 because I think committees need new talent to contribute new energy and ideas and maintain vibrancy. I agree wholeheartedly with those that say the Education Conference is the best of the INTO conferences – sending almost all of the delegates as better people/teachers!
Even though, no longer an EDCOM member, it did open the door to working with NCCA for 2 years on the New Language Curriculum – and that was a brilliant opportunity. And i represented INTO in Letterkenny at a conference on Global Solidarity.
And this week I attended my LAST district 7 meeting and Christmas Dinner. I’m sad – YES but friendships won’t end. And another door opens!!!!! RTAI – the Retired Teachers Association of Ireland. I already have many friends in situ there – some of the vocalists from Teagasc days – and I’m invited to their first meeting next week AND Christmas dinner. So INTO goes on……..
I’ve received my last copy of INTOUCH (although I can still read in online) and my first copy of CONASC.
And what a lovely welcome in an article by Prof Mark Morgan:
You stand on the shore of new invitation
To open your life to what is left undone;
Let your heart enjoy a different rhythm
When drawn to the wonder of other horizons
(Blessing for Retirement by John O’Donoghue)