by Richard Barry
The introduction of vocational education to Newcastle West in 1934 opened up opportunities for students who in all probability would have left the educational system at the age of fourteen which was the legal limit for leaving school. Because of economic circumstances, and the fact that some students did not enjoy school, they chose to leave.
We must also not forget that many parents had very large families and had very little choice but to have their children out to work in the locality. This left them (children) without any job skills and poor future prospects.
Unfortunately when they reached the age of eighteen they were forced to emigrate – mostly to England or if they could afford it to America. We must remember that in Ireland at that time emigration was rampant and poverty was widespread.
The introduction of the Group Certificate examination in the early 1940s opened the door to students who wanted to take up apprenticeships.
In 1967 the Intermediate Certificate was introduced in the Vocational School in Newcastle West. While this made more subjects available it did not increase the employment opportunities for students.
The Intermediate Certificate programme was intended as a stepping stone to Leaving Certificate.
It was not until the introduction of the leaving certificate in 1974 that Newcastle West Vocational School was put on an equal footing with all other Second Level schools throughout the country. The students now had access to Regional Colleges and Universities.
When we ponder over the years 1934 – 1974 we can see that serious progress was made by the Vocational sector.
Apprentice training was under the umbrella of A.N.C.O. This organisation monitored and certified apprentices. Training on the job, and off, took four years to complete.
Most employers took a great interest in their protégés and treated them with dignity and respect. Often when they qualified as Crafts persons they did not have the security of employment. It depended on the Economic climate prevailing at the time.
Some were fortunate enough to work for the State institutions which in most cases guaranteed them security of employment and pensions on retirement. Also a significant number were adventurous enough to start up their own businesses and went on to be very successful in creating employment for large numbers in the locality.
These entrepreneurs, despite having no leaving certificate, no third-level qualification and no business qualifications deserve great credit and must be highly commended for their courage and vision. They have proved to be the backbone of industrial development in their locality and further afield.
A year after his appointment, Richard gave an interview to a student in the school, in the following question and answer format.
Why did you go into teaching?
Teaching was the only profession I was ever interested in. I always enjoyed young people. Teaching is a vocation and it can be very rewarding.
Why did you become Principal?
I was teaching for very many years and the vacancy arose. I had been Vice-Principal for seventeen years, so I felt that I had enough experience to go a step further. It was also very challenging as a new school was being built and exciting times lay ahead. I felt I had the skills for the Post.
What are your greatest challenges?
You are challenged in teaching and school management every day. Students today are living in a confused world. They need to be convinced that they all have talents, which will benefit society. Their sel-esteem needs to be fostered and their self-worth needs to be nurtured. Students must be prepared to counteract the outside world and encouraged to develop a responsible sense of values.
What is your best experience as a teacher?
Teaching, like any other job, has its success and disappointments. One of the most satisfying experiences in teaching is to see a student realise his/her full potential in a holistic way during his/her lifetime.
What are the funniest experiences in your life as a teacher?
Students are often mischievous but never evil. They can come up with great excuses at times. There are so many funny incidents that it is impossible to list any single one. A teacher should be careful that a student should not feel ridiculed in any situation in the school.
What about sport in the school?
I have been involved hurling and football teams all my life. Games afford the student an opportunity to show another side of their character, which you never see in the classroom situation. I have always found it rewarding to have an interest in pupils lives outside the classroom situation. A classroom is far removed from the real world.
What subjects did you teach?
I taught Irish and English but I preferred Irish.
Do you still enjoy teaching?
Since I became Principal, I don͛’t have as many classes now as I used to, I miss teaching the different classes. It is only through teaching that you get to know the pupils. At the end of the day, it is the teacher in the classroom who is the most important influence in a students education.
Has any one person influenced you during your life?
There are two people who have a great influence on me. The first Seán O Sullivan RIP, my Irish teacher in Monagea National School. I learned all my basic Irish from him and I enjoyed every moment of it. The second person who had a great influence on my life was Eamon O Connell RIP. The Principal of the Vocational School when I first joined the staff of the school. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge and was a man ahead of his time.