Category Archives: Discussions

The category for the topic of the week

A long slow goodbye…

Once upon a time there was a vocally challenged teacher who set up a blog to converse with her students.

And every day the blog got busier and though her vocals got better, it didn’t matter, because the conversation took over… she didn’t have all of the answers, or even some of them but writing helped make sense of the wonder and mayhem, wonder and madness of the classroom.

Until one day her voice dried up. There was a death, and another death. There was a change of job, and another one. And there was no longer a wondrous, infuriating classroom to blog about, to make sense of, to interrogate, review and reflect.

And because of that she stopped blogging, despite the wonders it had brought to her life [here, here, here, here, here, here, here]

Until finally her blog went dormant and became an archive.

This blog is dormant, though I hope it’s not yet extinct.

If you’ve asked a question, posted a comment, or simply wondered about the silence on here, it’s because I am no longer blogging. Perhaps I am thus no longer a blogger, though I keep saying ‘once an English teacher, always an English teacher’… despite the three years I have now been out of the classroom.

I cannot adequately capture the sadness I feel that I no longer write. A combination of grief and circumstances robbed me of my voice and my reason for writing but I retain the hope that one day I will again find the writing voice I once had. Blogging to make sense of the endless internal dialogue so many of us teachers have running on a loop as we turn over the day’s events in the classroom in our heads has been one of the great pleasures of my life thus far.

I’ll leave the archive up, though it’s probably best to warn you that trends come and go (I’m thinking in particular of the comparative) – I’m not sure if the Evelyn of 2017 would give the same advice as she did in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014… so pay at least some attention to the date on which a blog post was published if you are still using it as a guide.

Lastly, thanks to all of you who used and still use the site, who contacted me via the blog, who enriched my professional life so much and who reached out with such sincerity when grief came knocking at my door.

I’m not done with writing (I hope). But for now, I’m done with this blog.


The Old Warrior and Me

Let me tell you a little story.

It’s the story of an earthquake. It’s a story of poetry and justice and community. Oddly, it’s also the story of how I got published in a book in the Philippines.


When an earthquake struck the Bohol province on the 15th October 2013, perhaps I was fleetingly aware. It may have registered briefly in my consciousness even as it registered 7.2 on the richter scale, killing 200 people, displacing 380,000 and leaving 75,000 without homes.

What do you do in the face of such devastation?

If you live far away, untouched, relatively unaware, probably nothing. Perhaps you donate a few euros to Concern or the Red Cross. Perhaps you don’t. The news flits in and out of your consciousness. Another natural disaster takes its place. Occasionally a friend will be fundraising to go build houses somewhere houses need building (India? Africa? the Phillipines?)  and you mindlessly throw ten euros their way. Of course you’ll help. Worthy cause. It costs you nothing in the big scheme of your life. You will not miss the money.

But then one day, you get a message from a retired teacher, Milwida Reys. She grew up in the Phillipines and though she spent most of her adult life teaching English in Sydney, her heart is still at home, at home with the earthquake victims as they struggle to rebuild their lives from the ruins. Her childhood friend, Nestor Pestelos, has been fundraising to build 150 houses for the earthquake victims most in need, families with disabled or elderly members, families who will spend years living in tents if something is not done to help them. Entire communities come together, provide salvaged materials and labour, take the process of rebuilding their homes into their own hands; all, of course, with much needed financial assistance and guidance from the Bohol Quake Assistance fund.


But why is Miwilda emailing an English teacher in Ireland who lives half way across the globe and who she’s never met?

Well, Nestor is not only a leader and visionary in community development. He’s also a poet. His friends and colleagues recognise the beauty of his writing even as they appreciate that many years ago he put his first love, writing, to one side, to focus on his other passions: community and justice. At 72, he is showing no signs of slowing down, despite occasional mumblings about retiring so that he can write more.

Now, these two passions – poetry and community – have come together is an altogether unexpected way. Mrs Corazon Verzosa Lanuza, who attended the same high school as Nestor and is a former student of Milwida’s, has made a significant donation to the Bohol Quake Assistance fund, but she has also made a request. She has requested that some of this money be used to publish a school edition of Nestor’s poetry collection “Old Warrior and other poems” so that the students who now attend their alma mater can read and appreciate the poetry of this man who once roamed the same corridors they now roam; who encountered poetry just as they encounter it now at school.

In fact, the vision for the project grows and expands as other people become involved. What about including some of the poems in translation, so that those students whose English lags behind their native tongues of Tagalog and Visayan, can still access their beauty and their message? What about including a guide to studying poetry, so that reading and appreciating poetry becomes a more accessible, less elite activity? Why not also tell the story of the earthquake and the assistance fund? Couldn’t this book inspire young people to consider development work as a legitimate future, one which is quite different from the usual self-centered pursuit of career and self-fulfillment?

And so, an idea was born. Milwida, living in Australia but desperate to help, was given the task, alongside Nestor, of putting the book together. She had the original book of poems. Nestor could tell the Bohol Quake Assistance story, in between project meetings and fundraising and liasing with volunteers and contributors. Perhaps she could gather some responses to his poetry and some poems in translation? Now she needed a poetry study guide. And when she googled poetic techniques, from all the way across the globe, up popped little old me.

Milwida’s request was characteristically humble:

My main reason for trying to contact you was to ask your permission to reproduce ‘Poetic techniques & terminology’ from Is ‘Poetic techniques & terminology’ for the exclusive use of your students? Is it possible for Filipino students to access it, too? Not many schools in the Philippines are equipped with a computer system similar to that in schools in the West. Students cannot search information online as easily…

I’m helping Nestor Maniebo Pestelos, a friend since high school, promote his self-published book of poems, Old Warrior and Other Poems as a supplementary material to teach high school literature in my home country. The book would be even more invaluable if your ‘Poetic Techniques & Terminology’ could be included as a Study Guide when the Second Edition is printed”.

And that is how I came, one morning not too long ago, to greet the postman as he handed me a package all the way from the Philippines. That is how I came, for only the second time in my life, to hold in my hands a book in which my writing was published, the thrill altogether different to that of publishing online. That is how I came to read Nestor Pestelos’ beautiful poems and the Bohol Quake Assistance story and to feel the earthquake register in my consciousness in a way it never had before.


I don’t know what the moral of this story is.

It may have something to do with the remarkable way in which we are all now connected online in this incredible global village.

It may have something to do with the capacity some remarkable human beings possess to always look beyond the self. For Nestor, ‘Art, relative to life, can always wait’ which is why, rather than retire, he has responded to a summons to work for the next 6 months on a UNICEF project in Samar to assist those hardest hit by last year’s super typhoon.

It may, conversely, have something to do with how difficult it is for a tragedy that does not touch our lives to touch our hearts. This is perhaps the hardest thing of all for me to digest. How, without that random google search leading somehow to me, this earthquake would have remained nothing more than a barely registered event in the myriad of human and natural disasters that rain down on our TV screens night after night. Numbed by over exposure, how do we retain the capacity to care?

For more about the work being done in Bohol, take a look at













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Today the bodies come home.
A strangehold of sadness
cloaks our nation in despair
and Father’s Day seems neither here nor there
And yet…
There must be a time
to count our blessings,
to hold close those we love,
to mourn those
we have lost
and to remember.
For in memory
no-one ever dies
and all our cries of
give way
for just a moment
to love.

photo 1 photo 2

Last Week

Last Week

I want to wake up in last week.
Trees grew,
Cars purred,
Cats fought
And I looked forward
to my week off.

I want to wake up in last week.
Cutting up flash cards with Mum,
Ringing Dad to say:
We don’t need the guillotine
And him saying ‘Are you sure? I can
bring it anyway?

I want to wake up in last week.

I nearly said no when he
said ‘will we go for a walk?
I had things to do,
My daughter to collect from school,
And time was ticking by.

But time is always ticking by,
And it was a lovely fresh day
So away we went,
down the bypass, up the town,
home to Mum,
sitting in her chair,
finishing her book.

I want to wake up in last week,
the guillotine descended
his story ended
darkness fell.

photo 1

/two roads diverged…

Something about the new year has me feeling philosophical.

In truth, 2014 was rough and I’m glad to say goodbye to it. Despite all the good it contained, ‘fuck you 2014′ is all my gut produces when I look back on it.

Yes there were highs…

photo 1 photo 2

blog awards trophy

…re-connecting with my ADE buddies at BETT in Jan; being asked to write for The Independent Written Word supplement in March; keynoting the ICTedu conference in Tipperary in May and that very day being invited by then Junior Minister for Education Ciaran Cannon to keynote at the Excited conference three weeks later; being accepted to attend ADE global institute in San Diego (even though for personal reasons, in the end, I didn’t go); biting the bullet in June and applying for an English Advisor job with JCT and then actually getting the job!(I didn’t apply in 2013 as it was Hazel’s first year at school); finally moving into our home for life (the house John’s Dad grew up in) after months of hard physical labour and tedious trips to hardware shops and tiling showrooms; and then unexpectedly winning Best Education Blog at the Blog Awards in October.

But to say all of this was overshadowed by the brief illness and completely unexpected death of my mother-in-law Mary is to use the wrong verb. I would say rather that anxiety and then grief infiltrated everything else in my life.

In early May, I broke down in tears in front of my students. We were reading “Valediction” by Seamus Heaney and with the lines “You’re gone, I am at sea, until you return, self is in mutiny” I found myself attacked by an involuntary image of John’s Dad, after 40 years of marriage, wandering his now empty house alone. There was no future tense to speak of now. No ‘until you return‘. How the hell would he cope? And without fully realising it was happening or being able to do anything about it, suddenly tears were streaming down my face in a flood I feared would never abate. I excused myself. Went outside the door. Composed myself. Returned. Apologised. I needn’t have bothered. My students got it. They understood. Never mentioned it again except to ask me if I was ok as they left the room and again later when they met me in the corridor. 

It keeps happening, those unexpected moments where I’m driving my car and a discussion on the radio or a random floating thought will grab me by the throat and suddenly grief lurches to the surface and there they are again, lurking tears I didn’t know were waiting to emerge. It’s an odd silent kind of crying; not the racking sobs that convulsed my body in the week of her death but rather an overwhelming sadness that makes me an observer in my own body, completely unable to do anything except wait for the tears to stop flowing.

When my own mother got sick in October I thought we were the butt of some cosmic joke. Same symptoms, same doctor, same transfer to Galway Clinic, same consultant but thanks be to every God I don’t believe in, a different diagnosis. There was still a serious surgery, a frightening ten days in hospital and a difficult recovery that’s on-going, but she didn’t die. She didn’t die.

I’m not sad all the time. I’m not broken. I understand in a way that I never did before how blessed I am; how privileged the life I lead, the house I live in, the marriage I belong to, the daughter I love…

photo 3

But it feels like this year two roads diverged. In a parallel universe the person I used to be exists, happily oblivious to all that unfolded. Meanwhile, I keep looking back at her, envious yet achingly aware that, from now on, I’m on a new path. And knowing how way leads on to way, I doubt that I shall ever come back…