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Discourses We Live By

Hazel R. Wright
Marianne Høyen

II. Discourses we work within: of the workplace

7. Irish Adult Educators Find Fulfilment amid Poor Employment Conditions

Sarah Bates Evoy


Sarah Bates Evoy examines the views of six part-time tutors in Irish Further Education selected from a larger project. She explains the poor employment conditions within which the tutors work, but shows that they enjoy their jobs and motivate themselves to continue because they see their work as valuable. The narratives are subject to within- and across-analysis, using Archer’s framework of identity, structure and agency.

Texte intégral

1This chapter considers what motivates educated and experienced individuals with a variety of different employment options to choose to work with part-time adult programmes within the Irish Further Education and Training (FET) sector, especially when this part of the sector is characterized by poor employment conditions. It also examines how Irish FET practitioners balance the insecure nature of their job roles, with their desire for a wage, consistent working conditions and job satisfaction. It does this by exploring what motivates six FET practitioners who find fulfilment in their teaching and training roles despite the unsatisfactory employment conditions that prevail in the sector, drawing on the findings of a larger research project (‘Practitioner Identities and Sector Reform in Contemporary Further Education and Training in Ireland’) which examined the impact of major reforms since 2013.

2Firstly, the reader is introduced to the Irish Further Education and Training Sector, particularly its part-time programmes, and briefly shown how the material in this chapter fits within the larger research project. Then, in the second half of the chapter, the interviewees’ own words are used to both reveal issues related to employment conditions and to demonstrate the practitioners’ awareness of them. The key motivations of the six interviewees who choose to work with part-time FET programmes, despite experiencing unfavourable employment conditions, are examined using both within-narrative and across-narrative approaches and Margaret Archer’s (2000, 2003) work on identity, agency, and structure as a framework.

Introduction to the Irish Further Education and Training Sector

3In 2013 the Irish FET Sector became a distinct and official sector of the national education system, one that provides for those learners who seek more rather than higher education, and typically courses with a vocational rather than an academic focus. The Irish FET sector is a result of the amalgamation of a range of different education and training bodies, providing programmes and learning opportunities to individuals typically over the age of 16. FET is distinct from the mainstream Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Education Sectors and offers both accredited and non-accredited education and training, which can take place in both formal and informal contexts, with full-time or part-time learners. Accredited FET programmes lead to awards between Levels 1 and 6 on the Irish National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ), which is equivalent to Levels 1 to 5 on the European Qualifications Framework (EFQ) (McGuinness et al., 2014; SOLAS, 2014).

4The newly amalgamated Irish FET sector brought together numerous and diverse learning and teaching environments and contexts, all of which had developed separately and somewhat organically over a long period (McGuinness et al., 2014; SOLAS, 2014). This diversity is evident, for example, even in the ways that educators are named. Teacher, tutor, trainer, facilitator, instructor and lecturer are used in different settings, necessitating my use of the more inclusive term ‘FET practitioners’. Diversity is also evident in FET practitioners’ own education, training, professional qualifications, career goals, values and beliefs about learning and teaching, and workplace contexts and ethos. This has led to much confusion about what FET is supposed to be, what FET actually is, and what constitutes a professional FET practitioner. The scenarios currently playing out in the Irish context are not unique in the international context and the complexity of Irish FET mirrors that found in comparable sectors internationally. Equivalent sectors and activities exist in various other countries, but may be described by different terms, including Adult, Vocational, Technical, and Continuing Education and Training.

Part-Time FET Programmes

5The six FET practitioners who taught on part-time FET programmes, and whose interviews underpin this chapter, all work with Education and Training Boards (ETBs, the main statutory providers of FET) within the South-East of Ireland. They all have experience of Back to Education Initiatives: part-time accredited courses, typically two years in duration, for learners aged sixteen and over, many of whom have not completed mainstream education. Four of the six also have experience working with ETBAdult Literacy Services and on Community Education programmes, teaching both accredited and non-accredited courses.

Conditions of Employment for Those Working on Part-Time Programmes

6Part-time FET programmes cater for part-time learners, and the hours that individual FET practitioners spend engaging with these programmes are extremely varied; many work with a number of programmes. Even if practitioners have contracts of employment, they are not generally entitled to sick pay or pay outside of term-time. Currently ETBs have a variety of different employment types, which vary in entitlements, and ‘annual leave, sick pay and maternity pay are subject to variation across this range of employment types’ (CMETB, 2014, p. 27).

7ETB terms and conditions of employment are generally the result of ‘collective agreements negotiated and agreed between Trade Unions, Staff Associations, managerial authorities and the [Government’s] Department of Education & Skills’ (CMETB, 2014, p. 27). At the time of writing (early 2018), the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) was in negotiation swith the Department of Education & Skillsand the Workplace Relations Commission to improve the employment conditions of FET practitioners working in ‘non-mainstream Further Education’ which included practitioners working with part-time FET programmes (TUI, 2017). The union was advocating that all practitioners with four years of successive service be given so called CIDs (Contracts of Indefinite Duration) which would set out the minimum number of teaching/ tutoring hours for which individual practitioners would be paid on an annual basis (TUI, 2017). In addition, the TUI was campaigning for the ‘establishment of a common, sector-wide incremental salary scale and terms of employment for adult education tutors’ as well as ‘access to leave schemes and paid leave, ’ which would include maternity leave and paid sick leave (TUI, 2017). That this was happening, exemplifies the claim that existing conditions were poor.

Researching Further Education and Training Practitioners

Research Design

8The methodological design was underpinned by a critical realist position and the theoretical approach was informed by the work of Margaret Archer in relation to identity, agency and structure. The study applied an inductive approach to the investigation of the research issues to allow the research and the findings to be firmly rooted in the opinions, experiences, perspectives and narratives of Irish FET practitioners themselves.

9The larger research project consisted of three stages: a scoping exercise, a wider context-building exercise utilising an online survey, and a more in-depth examination of twelve individual FET practitioners’ identities through narrative interviews. This chapter discusses six of the twelve interviewees, selecting those who worked with part-time FET programmes including Back to Education Initiatives, Adult Literacy and Community Education.

10The research data generated were analysed through a process of content analysis, a form of qualitative data analysis involving a set of flexible, systematic techniques which guide researchers in analysing the qualitative, informational content of textual research data. Qualitative content analysis aims to achieve a deep level of description and understanding of the phenomenon or group being researched within their unique context (Forman & Damschroder, 2008; Schreier, 2014).

11With the aid of a computer programme (Nvivo) data were categorized into themes/codes. Codes were established inductively, directly from the transcripts, as was the case with the ‘motivation’ code which was drawn upon for this chapter, and deductively, based on themes that emerged from the academic literature. Descriptive reports were then created based on individual codes and small collections of related codes. These reports were then analysed and interpreted, which re-contextualized the data and created an overall story. The reports were also viewed and analysed through a conceptual lens based on Archer’s theories on identity and structure and agency. This was done in an attempt to better identify and understand the various factors that influenced the formation of interviewees’ professional identities, and reach tentative explanations regarding the interaction and relationships between structure, culture and agency shown in the research data.

Profile of Interviewees

12Of the six interviewees, three are female (Mary, Lucy, Maggie) and three male (Fergus, Luke, Peter). At the time of the interviews, two were aged between thirty-six and forty-five and the other four were aged between forty-six and fifty-five. All the interviewees had more than 10 years’ experience of delivering education and training, though not all of the interviewees’ teaching experience related to the FET sector. One had trained apprentices, two had worked in early education and three had worked in higher education.

Conceptualizing Personal Identity

13As already stated, Margaret Archer’s theories formed a conceptual lens through which to view the professional identities of FET practitioners, and this chapter discusses the aspect of Archer’s theories that relates to the formation of personal identities.

14Archer (2000, p. 9) asserts that individual personal identities are an expression of reflective, considered engagement with the ‘three orders of reality’: natural (our physical wellbeing), practical (our performative achievements) and social (our sense of self-worth). She explains that within each order of reality we will have concerns, things we want to have happen for us. The expression of our personal identities is reflected in how we prioritize our concerns: ‘it is the distinctive patterning of these concerns which is held to give people their unique personal identities’ (Archer, 2000, p. 9). As humans, our overall wellbeing depends on us attending to our various concerns within the three orders, ‘to strike a balance between our trinity of inescapable human concerns’ (Archer, 2000, p. 10). Archer (2000, 2003) further explains that, through a process of ‘internal conversation’, individuals identify and sort subordinate concerns from ultimate concerns, and through prioritizing and compromising, create a set of commitments that they feel they can live with (Archer, 2000, p. 10).

15What follows is based on the six narrative interviews with practitioners who had recent experience working with part-time FET programmes.

Findings from the Narrative Interviews

Interviewees’ Reflections on their Employment Conditions

16Analysis across the six interviews showed that employment conditions were a key theme among the interviewees, though their individual situations differed. Their comments demonstrate that problems were both ‘real’ and ‘felt’.

Unpaid holidays and lack of security re: hours from one academic year to the next is the real downside of the job. (Lucy)

17One of the interviewees works twenty-two hours per week (the equivalent hours to a full-time, recognized teacher) tutoring with the Back to Education Initiative and claims social welfare benefits during the summer months. Another of the interviewees has a high number of tutor hours across various part-time programmes and his timetable changes from term to term and year to year. He compensates for not having a year-round wage by working in his previous role in between term times.

18The other four practitioners have part-time tutoring hours. Two have taken on part-time, permanent resource positions within their education centres. Resource positions involve supporting co-ordinators and usually involve significant administrative duties. These positions pay less than tutoring, but guarantee regular hours and benefits such as sick pay. Of the remaining two practitioners, one is a stay-at-home parent when she is not teaching and the other has a permanent part-time post in another sector of the education system.

19As stated, four of the six interviewees have additional jobs as well as their tutoring/teaching posts, which compensate for the lack of security associated with working with part-time FET programmes.

I do part-time resource as well as teaching, so if I have a sick day on my part-time resource, it’s fine, I get paid for it. But if I have a sick day when I’m teaching, I don’t. That’s why I took the part-time resource job for a bit of security. (Maggie)

20The interviewees spoke about several issues that negatively impacted on their experiences and perceptions of their employment conditions and contracts. All commented on the lack of contracts with guaranteed hours, even though contracts had been promised to several of the interviewees for many years.

I was being promised, ‘Oh yeah, there’ll be a full-time contract now or a CID coming’, and they only came last year. So, you know, they had been promised for years, for as long as I had been there they had been promised and they didn’t come. (Luke)

21In 2016, some of the interviewees received CIDs (contracts of indefinite duration), which guaranteed them a specific number of hours yearly, but which failed to give them additional benefits such as sick leave. Other interviewees, who work in different ETB areas, have yet to receive any contracts.

Back to Education Initiative; it’s brilliant for learners, because it is learner-centred but it’s appalling and atrocious to the teachers, the people who are actually delivering the course. Because you have no future, you’ve no fixed income, you’ve no pension, you’ve no sick pay. That’s hopefully changing very soon. But I’m ten years at this. (Fergus)

22The interviewees were also aware that they as ‘tutors’ were treated and paid differently to full-time Further Education ‘teachers’ who were often delivering the same modules as them.

I have an issue with tutors being seen as less than teachers and I don’t think that’s right and I think there should be the same terms and conditions and contracts across the board. (Luke)

We work alongside fully contracted teachers who get paid over all holiday periods while we have to ‘sign on’. (Fergus)

23The interviewees also spoke about the lack of clear communication between Human Resources departments and FET practitioners. They found it very hard to get accurate information, or at times, to get any response to concerns.

We have issues, so we email, and she [HR Personnel] doesn’t even get back to you. You feel you’re non-existent. (Maggie)

It’s pointless really ringing somebody to ask questions, because they don’t know the answers and it’s different all over the country. (Peter)

24While interviewees were largely dissatisfied with their current employment conditions, a belief that change was slowly happening and the sector was moving in the right direction engendered a sense of hope.

They are improving now, with the CIDs we have some comfort because we know we have so many hours when we go back in September […] I do think we are finally going in the right direction. (Maggie)

Motivating Factors and Individual FET Practitioners

25Analyses within the individual narratives provide an insight into the key motivating factors for each of the six interviewees.


26From the Archerian perspective, Mary’s professional identity is reflective of concerns linked with the social order of reality. Her purpose, her sense of self-worth, is associated with her ability to provide safe, welcoming, learning spaces, particularly for adult women returning to education.

27Mary was an early school leaver who engaged in part-time adult education as a young adult. It was within this educational setting that she discovered a love of learning that has never left her. One of the key motivating factors in Mary’s current FET practitioner role, and an ultimate concern that informs her life’s work, is to create safe spaces for other adult women to have similar opportunities to those that she was given as a young adult woman. Through Mary’s own experiences, she can relate to the difficulties associated with returning to education, particularly for married women or mothers, but can also testify to the great satisfaction she got from adult education.

I’m a happy person, I’m very satisfied with my life. I’m satisfied with the achievements that I have myself and I’d love people to go from, like myself, being unaware of what they can do into an awareness of what is possible. If I could help a couple of people to do that, I think that is really worthwhile.

28Mary believes that FET can fill the gap which has been left in the educational, and indeed overall, lives of those who did not complete primary or secondary schooling or of those for whom the experience of primary or secondary school did not inspire self-confidence or any form of love or desire for learning. She believes that as a FET practitioner, one can awaken within learners a love of learning, an increased awareness of their own capabilities and potential, and a better understanding of how the world works, and could work.

You [as a FET practitioner] have to be interested in education. You have to be interested in what that does to a person, what moving from the unknown into the known, whatever the topic […] Once you’re aware, you’re never unaware again.

29Mary feels strongly that there has been, and remains, a lack of role models for women. She believes that, in her FET practitioner role, she can act as a role model for women who want to return to education as adults and she believes she can awaken such women to the possibilities of lifelong learning. She wants to enable women to carve out a space for themselves that is separate from their families and their roles as daughter, wife or mother. This space, she believes, can be found in education and training. She wants women to invest time and energy in themselves, in their own personal development which may also include or lead onto further professional development.

They need to be trained into how to support themselves […] you need to say, ‘I’m a mother, I’m a carer, I’m a shop assistant and I may be a cleaner as well’, all those things [but] in order for you to get this qualification that you’re looking for, you need to just give time to yourself.

30Mary prefers the term facilitator to any other term that could be used for a FET practitioner. While she works within an accredited, part-time FET programme, her core aim, which she hopes to achieve alongside her learners gaining accreditation, is to facilitate her learners’ personal growth. While Mary speaks mainly about female learners in her interview, she acknowledges that her approach is similar when she is working with all-male groups or mixed groups. Her personal objectives, of which only a few are reflected in the specific learning outcomes of the accredited modules she teaches, involve facilitating learners to feel more empowered and to build their self-esteem and self-confidence to the point where they can advocate for their own needs and desires and that of their communities and future clients. Mary, while reflecting on a learner who shared in class how she had gained the confidence through her course to ask a question at a public meeting, stated: ‘Now that to me is as important as the woman that went off and got her doctorate.’

31Mary is adamant that a successful and fulfilling life does not necessarily equate to being highly educated or having a well-paying job.

You can be in the pursuit of success in your life, not in your job or in your earning power, just in your life. I think some people have to be told that. Sit them down and say, ‘You know you can be very successful and never work a day in your life. You can have a successful life’.

32She encourages her learners to find out what gives them satisfaction, and to pursue these things in their lives: ‘Whether that’s keeping hens and chickens or whether that is going off and getting a job.’ She tries to instil a desire in her learners to pursue the life they want along with the belief that they can achieve it by taking it one step at a time.

33Mary now, as a middle-aged woman, has a life she never could have predicted as a young girl, teenager or young wife. She has found much joy in both her own further education and training, and in that of others, both children and adults. One of her key motivations, in life and in her role as a FET practitioner, is to encourage women to value their roles in society and to open up their minds to the endless possibilities that further education and training can hold for them, as it has done and continues to do for Mary herself.


34In Archerian terms, Lucy is concerned with the practical order of reality, in particular the performative abilities of her learners and her past occupational area. She is attempting to improve the Irish Childcare Sector by preparing her learners to be effective childcare workers and advocates of change.

35Lucy has had two previous careers prior to ‘falling into’ teaching within the FET sector. The vast majority of her teaching (she refers to herself as a teacher) has been with Back to Education Initiatives (part-time, accredited FET programmes) where she teaches on courses related to her previous occupational areas, one of which is childcare.

36In the past, while working as a practitioner, supervisor and manager within the childcare sector, Lucy had grown disheartened at the lack of respect shown towards childcare workers and the challenging work they do. She felt the general public often believed that childcare workers ‘play’ all day and that ‘the assumption is you must be stupid if you’re doing childcare’. What concerned her even more was what she perceived to be the lack of respect childcare workers often showed towards themselves and their occupation, through the acceptance of poor wages and low status within their workplace and society. Lucy wants to help counteract this through her teaching role: ‘I feel I can do more to change things as a teacher then I could have done while working in childcare.’

37One of Lucy’s key motivations in her role as a FET practitioner is to increase the status of her previous occupational area (childcare) by increasing the confidence and skill levels of her learners (trainee childcare workers) and helping them to understand why things work the way they do.

My thinking is, if you can instil more confidence in the people working with the kids that will actually bring the whole status up which I think badly needs to happen. So that will impact on the children as well.

38Lucy endeavours in her teaching role to ensure her learners understand the reality of working in the childcare sector at present, so that they avoid entering the profession in the naïve belief that it operates as described in policy documents and childcare texts. She also wants to ensure that they are equipped with enough knowledge and skill to deal with situations they will face in real life childcare contexts. Lucy explained that often this requires her to teach about topics that are not covered by the specific learning outcomes specified in the modules she teaches.

We spend an awful lot of time talking about child protection issues, behaviour issues, dealing with parents and that’s not going to be assessed but that’s actually what they need to know.

39Ultimately Lucy wants her learners to be critical of the childcare sector they are entering into or already working within. She wants them always to question what they encounter and strive for a better future for themselves, their sector and the children that are cared for within their sector.

Topics will come up in class and it makes people question, and if enough people question consistently enough, surely things will change at some point.


40From the Archerian perspective, Maggie is heavily influenced by concerns relating to the social order of reality. She finds fulfilment and meaning in her working life by supporting her learners to have opportunities for learning and growth. She is motivated by wanting in some way to re-balance the inequitable distribution of opportunity that exists in Irish society.

41During her childhood and adolescence, Maggie found school relatively easy and she attributes this to having a good memory. After completing second-level schooling, she then successfully completed a university degree.

If you have a good memory you can fly through your Leaving Cert, fly through your degree, even your Masters. You can get through it a lot easier than other people, if you can remember stuff.

42After university Maggie went on to work in private industry for over ten years. She then chose to have children and work in the home for a number of years before looking for part-time employment that would suit the lifestyle and routine of a family with young children. It was at this point that Maggie, like many other FET practitioners, ‘fell into’ working within FET. She saw an advertisement looking for tutors in her subject areas: ‘So I said “Ah sure I’ll apply” […] I was testing the water.’

43Maggie has worked across numerous part-time FET programmes, both accredited and non-accredited, including a substantial amount of work with adult literacy learners. She refers to herself as a tutor. The key motivation and ultimate concern expressed in her interview is her desire to support adults who have not had the same opportunities and good fortune she has had in relation to her natural academic ability and access to opportunities in higher education.

44Maggie was raised by her parents to believe that we, as human beings, are all equally worthy but that, unfortunately, some people are disadvantaged along the way — by the situations they are born into, the lack of opportunities made available to them, their inability to adapt effectively to the social situations that they find themselves in, such as the Irish mainstream schooling system: ‘Some people don’t get the advantages everybody else does, but it [having a degree] doesn’t make any of us, in my eyes, better than anyone else.’ Maggie finds a sense of worth and purpose in her working life, by striving to give opportunities to people she considers equal to herself but less fortunate. She aims to support her learners to succeed, which requires her to adapt her approach to suit their needs.

The student is the most important person, not you. I had to adapt […] I had to realize this isn’t going to work with this particular person.

45When Maggie reflects on the first part of her working life, she questions how much this really mattered compared to what she does now.

Did it really matter at the end of the day if the company could produce more efficiently because of what I wrote? Not really. But if a person (learner) could do those things that they couldn’t before, that’s great. You know that to me is the most important thing.

46Maggie gains huge satisfaction from watching her learners improve, particularly within an Adult Literacy context, and from seeing them being able to operate competently within their social worlds.

Now she [Maggie’s learner] knows if she goes into a shop, if she’s going to have change or whatever, she can tell. It mightn’t seem a lot to us but it makes a huge difference to people’s lives. I think that’s what I like, the fact that you can see the students’ competence, from when they come in to when they leave. You can even tell we’re at a stage now where they won’t be back next year, you can tell when they’ve got to that level that they are ready to go back out in the real world and work away. I find that that for me is one of the most important things. I suppose the job satisfaction is very high in what we do.


47Fergus, like Maggie, is motivated by concerns relating to the social order of reality. His mission is to create the type of learning spaces he wishes for his son, who has a disability. In the years before Fergus became a FET practitioner, he had his own business and was lecturing part-time in higher-education institutions in his area of expertise. Then his son was born with special needs and everything changed for him and his young family. Fergus and his family completely re-evaluated their priorities and decided to move to an area in the south-east of Ireland where his son would have access to a school that could support his needs and where they would have family close by. Fergus reflects that, when his family was moving, the last thing on the list was a job for Fergus.

48When his family were settled in their new home, Fergus started looking for work and chose to focus on education, as he no longer wanted the level of work that accompanied being self-employed. It was at this point that Fergus started working with several adult-education centres and part-time FET programmes.

49Fergus now has over ten years’ experience working with FET and one of his key motivations is to provide learning opportunities for what he terms ‘compromised people’, people who have ability but are also limited in some way. He reflects from his own experience that ‘the majority of people that come back to education are compromised somehow’. Fergus’ life changed dramatically when he had a son with a disability and this appears to greatly impact on his working role.

Having a child with a disability focuses your life tremendously; it makes you look at the world a lot different than you used to. It’s changed my life in a lot of different ways.

50Fergus favours a community education approach where possible, where the focus is on participation as opposed to certification, even though certification may still be offered. He works with various groups of people who have limiting conditions or disabilities, such as people who have a fear of computers, people on the autistic spectrum, people with acquired brain injuries, mental health issues, dexterity issues or people who are blind. His personal mission is to continuously re-design his module materials so that the people in his current groups can participate as fully as possible from within their own limitations and the limitations of certified modules with specific learning outcomes: ‘it’s taking people on board and recognizing their abilities and also their disabilities.’

51Fergus wants to create learning situations where people of all abilities can be supported to express themselves through various media and to build their own skills. He aims to provide a level of instruction and guidance that is facilitative and encouraging, while still offering learners a high level of freedom in how they choose to engage with their learning.

I love teaching, especially working with special-needs adults, because of my son, and I love helping people and showing people how to do things and giving them the skillset to be independent.


52In Archerian terms, Luke is concerned with the practical order of reality. He feels his effectiveness as a practitioner and the ability of his learners to achieve is based on the quality of the relationships he can form with them.

53When Luke first started working with FET part-time programmes he had a number of years’ experience of full-time and part-time/night-time lecturing in higher education (HE), as well as years of experience working in private industry. Luke quickly increased his tutoring hours by working across multiple part-time FET programmes on a weekly basis and gave up his night-time lecturing hours. While Luke always managed to get enough hours to ‘pay the bills’, he reflects that he worked for years without a contract, and that while he was on high hours, he had no security.

54Luke always had the option of returning to work for private industry or working as a lecturer in a higher education institution, but he chose to stay working in FET for well over a decade without a proper tutor/ teacher contract. What is evident from Luke’s interview is that it is his love of teaching that has kept him from returning to private industry. One of the reasons for staying in FET rather than returning to HE is that the FET approach to teaching more closely matches his values and beliefs system.

55Luke holds that a trusting relationship between teachers and their learners sits at the core of good teaching and feels that this is often not present in HE but is encouraged and facilitated in many part-time FET contexts.

I think for all good teaching and lecturing, the relationship is very important. I think in the Institutes of Technology and Higher Education perhaps it’s not seen as important as it should be and sometimes lecturers come in and are just delivering and imparting knowledge […] perhaps in Further Ed because of the smaller class sizes there’s more scope for the relationship to be built.

56Luke believes, and experiences, that it is from within this trusting relationship that FET practitioners can assist learners to break down the barriers that obstruct their learning. Luke associates certain approaches, as well as the positive ethos within part-time FET programmes, with the establishment of effective teacher-learner relationships. He makes reference to the flexibility of part-time FET services, which are learner-centred, not overly focused on a strict syllabus, and which encourage the creation of a teaching and learning environment that is relaxed, open, adaptive, supportive and empathetic. He also notes that within programmes such as Adult Literacy, learners are given the time to overcome past, negative experiences.

After three years sometimes they all of a sudden just get it, and it can be difficult to understand why. And maybe it’s just that they’re now ready to learn, maybe the barriers that were there for whatever reason are now just gone and they’ve disassociated those bad experiences and they’re now ready to learn.


57Peter differs from the other five in that he is largely driven by concerns relating to the natural order of reality. He feared for his physical wellbeing in his previous job and thus ended up being attracted to a role that allowed him to look after his wellbeing while still pursuing his passion: working with food.

58Peter has had a life-time love affair with food and cooking and has worked as a chef in Ireland and abroad since he was nineteen. After twenty years as a head chef, aware that very few chefs continue to work in kitchens until retirement age, he decided he needed to find an alternative job that suited the lifestyle of a family man but still involved working with people and food. Helping adults to learn how to cook or to improve their culinary skills allowed Peter to continue working in the field that he loved.

The motivation was to keep doing what I’m doing but in a different way and something that I could keep doing until I’m sixty-five.

59Peter’s identity since becoming a FET practitioner has not altered greatly.

I’m a chef. I don’t really identify with the teacher role very much. People would say to me, ‘But you’re the teacher’. I say, ‘I’m not a teacher, I’m a chef’. I would say my role, if I was to give it a name, would be to facilitate people to come together to produce something.

60In Peter’s interview, he reflected a lot about how teaching and training were also part of his past role as a head-chef. As an FET practitioner he is driven by the desire to pass on his love of cooking. He wants to get his learners interested in cooking. He strives to instil confidence in them to use their newly acquired or increased culinary skills at home and in their everyday lives.

61On the occasion when he has a learner who wants to become a chef and work in the food industry, he is determined to teach them the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in a real kitchen. He finds that if the environment within adult education reflects that of a working kitchen, generally his learners are engaged: ‘It’s easy when you have people that are motivated and they’re enthusiastic and they’re interested.’ He also gets to work with varied groups of people: ‘a very diverse range of people come in to me, and I enjoy that.’

62In his FET practitioner role, Peter has found a way to keep doing what he loves in a structured environment that suits the stage he is at in his life and with his young family. He has found a career that will sustain him: ‘I love it. It’s what I do now, it’s what I intend to continue to do.’

Additional Motivating Factors Present

63In addition to the key personal motivating factors expressed above, several other common motivating factors were found when looking across the interview data.

64Like most employees, several of the interviewees commented that having a wage was a motivating factor. While having enough money to provide for themselves and their families was important, the desire for more money via higher wages appeared not to be as important as other motivating factors.

65All the interviewees stated that they experienced joy and a sense of fulfilment in their work and all spoke positively about the flexibility and variety associated with the part-time FET environment. Several of the interviewees with experience of working in Higher Education commented on how they preferred working with non-traditional, adult learners, and how they valued the focus that is often placed on personal and collective development within part-time FET contexts.

66The opportunity to utilize knowledge and skills from their past occupations and to pass on their passions to their learners was important to interviewees. Also evident was an interest in people, which was reflected in the care and empathy interviewees had for their learners, their life experiences and situations. There was also a general realization of the potential power of education.

Striking a Balance Between Concerns

67As previously stated, Archer (2000) believes that peoples’ wellbeing depends on them striking a balance between the concerns they prioritize in relation to the ‘three orders of reality’; natural (our physical wellbeing), practical (our performative achievements) and social (our sense of self-worth).

Natural Order Concerns (Physical Wellbeing)

68What is evident from the interviews is that the six interviewees have ensured that they and their families are provided for financially and can pay their bills. They have created a working situation, mainly through having a second position of employment, which compensates for the insecurity associated with teaching part-time FET programmes. The flexibility of part-time FET programmes has enabled the interviewees to construct weekly schedules that suit their lifestyles and that of their families. Having satisfied their concerns relating to the natural order of reality (physical wellbeing), they have placed other concerns above the desire for secure contracts and better conditions.

Practical Order Concerns (Performative Achievements)

69All of the interviewees spoke about the approaches they take to working with their learners. They spoke of the need to be able to adapt and match their approaches and teaching style to the needs and abilities of individuals and groups, so that learners could discover their own capabilities and potential.

70All were concerned to do a good job, which for them involved being effective communicators, creating safe learning environments and increasing the competences of their learners in their subject areas. It also involved successfully meeting the demands of certification, whilst providing learners with the skills and knowledge deemed necessary but not always reflected in the specific learning outcomes attached to certified modules. The interviewees often viewed their learners’ successes as evidence of their own success.

Social Order Concerns (Sense of Self-Worth)

71All the interviewees have alternative employment options, but are seeking a level of fulfilment, satisfaction and meaning from their work which they find in their FET-practitioner roles. The interviewees are aware that the FET sector fills a gap within the overall education system, and often provides an opportunity for adult learners to be compensated for past negative educational experiences. They understand that equal opportunity in relation to access to education and training involves providing additional supports, such as extended time periods and smaller class sizes, to individuals or groups who have been disadvantaged in some way.

72The interviewees see the positive impact of their efforts on the lives of their learners and find fulfilment in the knowledge that they are helping to change lives for the better.


73In general FET practitioners working with part-time FET programmes seem to be disadvantaged by the poor employment conditions associated with this part of the Irish FET sector. They are choosing to continue working with these programmes due to strong personal motivations. These motivations are often linked with a powerful desire to create positive, empowering learning experiences for their learners who, practitioners hope, will be more competent and effective in their personal lives and in their potential future work roles as a result.

74While employment conditions are slowly improving, stakeholders such as the Department of Education and Skills and the various Education and Training Boards need to work to provide FET practitioners with working conditions that offer a sense of security and parity with their counterparts in other parts of the FET sector and other mainstream education sectors. Not to do so is disrespectful towards the effort, care and talents displayed by FET practitioners and represents a failure to recognize the broader benefits to society from practitioners’ work with adult learners, many of whom have not been well-served by the mainstream educational system.



Archer, M.S. (1982). Morphogenesis versus structuration: On combining structure and action. The British Journal of Sociology, 61: 225–52.

Archer, M.S. (2000). Being human: The problem of agency. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Archer, M.S. (2003). Structure, agency and the internal conversation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

CMETB. (2014). Cavan and Monaghan education and training board staff handbook, 2014–2015.

Forman, J. & Damschroder, L. (2008). Qualitative content analysis. In: Jacoby, L. & Siminoff, L. (eds), Empirical methods for bioethics: A primer. Bingley, UK: Emerald.

GOI (Government of Ireland) (2016). Teaching Council (Registration) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 (on 07/11/17).

McGuinness, S., Bergin, A., Kelly, E., McCoy, S., Smyth, E., Whelan, A. & Banks, J. (2014). Further education and training in Ireland: Past, present and future. Dublin: The Economic and Social Research Institute.

Schreier, M. (2014). Qualitative content analysis. In: Flick, A., Scott, W. & Metzler, K. (eds), The Sage handbook of qualitative data analysis. London: Sage.

SOLAS (2014). Further education and training strategy, 2014 — 2019. Dublin: Department of Education and Skills.

TUI (2017). TUI Survey of non-standard FE employment.


Is a Lecturer and Researcher at Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland, where she works in the School of Lifelong Learning and Education. Sarah has had a diverse and varied career as a Social Care Worker, Adult Guidance Counsellor and Further Education teacher. Her current research interests include Adult and Further Education and Training, in particular practitioner identities, and innovative research and teaching methods. Recent papers and publications include work on further education training and open space technologies in teaching.


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