A Co. Armagh school teacher has launched a scathing attack on the head of the education and training inspectorate amid suggestions they are not working to their full capacity.

Catherine Nelson lambasted Chief Inspector Noelle Buick after a radio interview this week.

And she recounts her own experiences of keeping food in a drawer to give to hungry children as they “mother and mentor” and fulfil many tasks and roles both insides and outside the classroom.

Her moving words followed the publication on Wednesday of Ms Buick’s biennial report, summarising inspection findings across the education and training sectors between July 1, 2016, and June 30 this year.

It spoke of the need to to “inspire everyone to give of their best and to shape an education and training system that meets better the needs of all learners”.

A follow-up radio interview stirred Mrs Nelson – who teaches at Lismore Comprehensive School in Craigavon – to point out how teachers are stretched to their limits and go above and beyond with limited resources to hand.

And she says the experiences outlined are not just those of her own but could be said of any teacher, who “play multiple roles” and “go over and beyond”, as they also offer spiritual guidance and perform a pastoral role for the young children in their charge.

Mrs Nelson’s open letter to the Chief Inspector of ETI has now gone viral and brought a huge rush of support as she challenges the assertion that teachers are not pulling their weight…

She wrote: “You suggested teachers were not working to their full capacity. You said we were depriving children of a school inspection. Denying parents access to our schools. You appealed to us to stop our union action.

“Your words were misdirected. Funding to schools has been cut. Class sizes have increased. Paperwork and red tape have intensified. The needs of children are greater and society has altered significantly, but, teacher training does not reflect that, my timetable does not reflect that. I, like many of my colleagues, purchase resources out of my own pocket to enhance teaching and learning. I, like many of my colleagues, am working under immense pressure.

“Yet the situation is not of our making.

“Allow me to share with you my story – my experiences. It could be any teachers. We are all stretched – we play multiple roles – we go over and beyond.

“One of my classes has 33 children in it. Extra tables and chairs come out. We have whole class discussions, group and paired work. We debate, question, analyse. We test, assess, annotate, give feedback, do one-to-ones, set homework, mark. I teach them – they teach me. I stretch. I challenge. They learn. We set targets and goals. We review and revise. We guide and advise.

“I have the added responsibility of delivering careers education, advice and guidance. We aren’t just subject teachers. We are form tutors, year heads, departmental heads, literacy/numeracy co-ordinators, anti-bullying ambassadors. The list goes on.

“Outside of our subjects we have a pastoral role to play also. We offer spiritual guidance. We mother and mentor. We signpost and inform. We provide opportunities and experiences. We open doors. We organise workshops and trips. We invite in guest speakers. We take after-school clubs.

“We pride ourselves in our relations with parents. We talk to parents daily. We lift the phone, they do too. We write and meet. Our door is always open. Our parent’s forums are active. Our books, homework diaries, assessments go home. They are signed. Nothing is secret nor hidden.

“I have a drawer in my desk with food. Not for me, but, for the child whose first meal today will be their free school meal at lunchtime – distracted because they are hungry. Just this week I glued on the sole of a child’s shoe because sending them home, with a broken shoe, on the mouth of Christmas could put the parent under huge strain.

“We dry tears. Ease tensions. Break up fights.

“We are more than just teachers.

“For some pupils we are their one sure thing, their routine.

“So please, do not suggest we are not working to our full capacity.”