In Belfast, the highest honour that can be bestowed on any group or individual is the Freedom of the City. Since 1898 we’ve given it to a wide range of people – presidents, actors, musicians, industrialists – people who contribute to life in our great city and we give it in recognition of their work and the pride that the people of Belfast have in them. Teachers, therefore, are worthy recipients of this civic honour.
In their profession they are under-rewarded, working in challenging circumstances, and teaching subjects which enrich and expand the horizons of their students. Very often they go above and beyond what is expected of them and it is their dedication to their students which is impressive. Every school has teachers of distinction. Luckily, I have had the experience of talking to teachers and children from right across Belfast, and perhaps it’s only when you leave education that you truly appreciate the work that teachers do.
Like all of us, I have memories of teachers that I liked and some I didn’t, but in ways we can’t always see or realise they help shape us into the people we are today.
Of course, an award from Belfast City Council won’t fix the problems facing our schools, but my hope is that by recognising teachers in this way, we will at least be acknowledging the positive role that they play. Under successive ministers, we have seen that education funding hasn’t kept pace with the demands being placed on the system, with the result that schools are now badly underfunded. Yet many teachers treat their work as a vocation in spite of modest government support, and this commitment is one of the reasons I think the city should honour them.
Learning is something that allows us to experience the world and play our part in it. It’s something that we should value. The people who educate us are those who show us the way.
Other parties will, I am confident, want to join with me and celebrate the teachers of Belfast.
Emmet McDonough-Brown is an Alliance councillor for Botanic, and Belfast’s Deputy Mayor.