Category Archives: Discussions

The category for the topic of the week

Global Teacher Prize

It sounds like a plot from a Hollywood movie. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it ends up as one!

His Royal Highness, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai, has sponsored an international quest to find the Best Teacher in the World. When this mythical creature is found, from a long list of hundreds of thousands, to a shortlist of only 15, he/she will be awarded a prize of $1,000,000.

one million dollars

Yes, you read that correctly; I did just say 1 million dollars!!!

Now, if this were really a film script, a young, beautiful idealistic girl from a rough neighbourhood would be shortlisted. She’d have a quasi tragic backstory, coming perhaps from a broken home where education wasn’t valued, or a war-torn country where access to education for all was a pipe dream. But her determination to make a difference in the lives of her pupils and her colleagues would lead to her nomination for the Global Teacher Prize and after a lengthy montage of questionnaires and interviews and testimonials from those whose lives she touched the most, she’d find herself suddenly transported to the awards ceremony in Dubai. There she would fall truly madly deeply in love with one of His Royal Highnesses’ 9 sons; she’d go to the ball, win the award; and then face the traumatic decision of whether to return to her classroom, where her students eagerly awaited her, or re-locate to be with the man she loved, there to continue the career that defined – and changed – her life forever!

I quite like my movie. It’s a little clichéd, sure, but heartwarming nonetheless and with enough potential sting in the tail to keep us engaged up to the final moments…

Reading about the prize this week brought me right back to 2012 and the day I got the phone call to say I’d won Secondary School Teacher of the Year. The months leading up to that phone call had been pretty bleak, not in my classroom, but in austerity Ireland. Nothing truly devastating had occurred; no-one I loved had died, my daughter and husband were hale and healthy and despite the thousand little anxieties that crowd the mind of every teacher in the run up to exams season, I was happy – as I had always been – in my job.

The black cloud that hung over me was the prospect of someone else being parachuted into my position, a situation that had recently become possible with the advent of redeployment. It was the realisation that being good at your job; working really hard at it and giving your all for your students to the point where you, at times, made yourself ill with fatigue – the thought that this meant nothing at all, certainly to the faceless politicians making cutbacks, that made me so angry and so full of despair. That and the prospect of having to emigrate…

So I wrote my acceptance speech and stuck it up on youtube, where it exists to this day for the world to applaud or mock as the mood takes them.

I remember worrying back then that I was just going to make a complete ass out of myself. I’m still not entirely sure that I didn’t. Yet without wanting to sound too melodramatic, winning that award did change my life. Suddenly I had a voice beyond the classroom that I’d never really had before and it was a privilege and a scary scary responsibility and a joy all at once. I also learnt that while teachers can change students’ lives, students can also change our lives too, so genuine thanks to Cathy, Maeve, Cait, Catherine, Nicole, Lorraine, Laura, Grainne and Gavin for changing mine!.


The reason I’m writing this post is because I’m certain to the very core of my being that there are scores of incredible teachers out there who’ve never experienced that affirmation, that recognition, that acknowledgement of the difference they make in a thousand tiny ways every day to those whom they teach. I know they exist because I teach with them; I meet them at conferences; I chat to them on twitter and I read their blogs, gaining the most amazing insight into classrooms globally in the process.

If you can think of such a person, could you take a little time to nominate them for all that they are and all that they do? And as they probably won’t win, don’t forget to tell them what you did, even if it makes you blush a little. It’ll make their day, their week, their year and possibly even remind them why teaching is the career – the truly wonderful career – they chose to make their life’s work!

Now get to it! Here’s the link:

ABCs of Bullying

A student of mine, who would prefer to remain anonymous, wrote this wonderful essay on bullying as a follow up to our school’s anti-bullying week and has kindly given me permission to publish it here. I feel it deserves to be read by a wider audience than me…

Letter z

The ABC of Bullying


In every year group there is a girl just like the letter ‘Z’. Last in the ranking, no support behind her, often forgotten about.  ‘Z’ did not choose this life for herself. It almost just happened automatically, like nature. At the end of the day, if everyone is popular then nobody is popular.

In the beginning, ‘Z’ is her own worst enemy. Last on the list of 26 letters, she often feels lonely and out of the loop. Looking around my year group today, I can pick out quite a few ‘Z’s’. Easy targets. Insecure. Nobodies.

I can only imagine to a bully, they stick out like a sore thumb. A bully, someone deeply insecure in themselves, can easily sniff out other damaged souls of its kind. Do I feel sorry for the bully? The answer is yes, I completely do. I ask myself the question, is a bully a murderer or a mountain lion? Both kill, however one does it out of evil, the other does it to survive. I have always been of the opinion that the bully is the one who needs human help. The one who, similar to the victim, needs support.

“If a man cannot understand the beauty of life, it is probably because life never understood the beauty in him “

– Anonymous

Sometimes it is hard to believe the bully has no support. They come across so superior and confident. But on deeper observation they too are often missing some form of family/friendship back-up. They may belong to a tight group of friends, yet still not feel secure.

‘A’ is confident and popular. Leader of an elite group, the vowels. ‘A, E, I, O& U’ call the shots. If you are not in with them, you probably don’t exist. What proper word doesn’t have a vowel in it? Dominators of the English language, they have the power. ‘A’ knows all the letters in the Alphabet very well. However, she never really bothers with ‘Z’. She finds ‘Z’ to be boring, weird and ugly. “Not even symmetrical!

‘A’ knows ‘Z’ is unpopular. She knows ‘Z’ holds very few pages in the dictionary. She just excludes her.

In today’s world, this behaviour is rampant. I see it every day. Nobody wants to be seen or associated with someone classed as ‘unpopular’. At this age in school, everything revolves around your social standing. And in an all-girls school, it is very important to have a boyfriend. If you don’t, there must be something wrong with you.

So where is ‘Z’ in all of this? So far we have established ‘Z’ is lonely, unsupported and insecure. Not popular, and with very few pages in the dictionary. Insignificant. The perfect victim.

‘A’ on the other hand, acts the complete opposite way. However, always being the centre of attention, she feels used and abused. She is fed up, but she wears the best disguise. ‘A’ really feels like ‘a’. She is about to snap.

It takes two to tango. ’A’ and ‘Z’ are a match made in heaven. It doesn’t take long for ‘A’ to unleash her pain and anger on ‘Z’. It doesn’t take long for ‘Z’ to let her away with this. And this is where the vicious cycle starts. Neither party really knows what they are doing, neither party knows how to escape.

So where am I in this equation of bullying?

I see myself as the letter ‘M’. Smack bang in the middle. Ordinary. Symmetrical. Safe. Neither a full bully, neither a full victim. Have I done some terribly cruel things to other humans during my short time on this planet? Yes, and I am forever ashamed of them, but haven’t we all at some point in our lives? However, since coming into secondary school, I have grown a lot.  I would like to think I know the difference between right and wrong, but is this enough?

Today, I know I could do a lot more for the ‘Z’s’ of my class. I know they are there yet I don’t do anything to help them. Being honest, I classify myself worse than a bully. Me being the letter ‘M’ means I have support all around. I have the ability to see both sides of the story and make the right decision. I have the ability to help. I have the ability to stop bullying!

Knowing what is right doesn’t mean much unless you do what’s right

-Theodore Roosevelt

I have learnt a lot from this year’s anti-bullying week.

Now I know my ‘ABCs’, it’s time for me to start helping all those ‘Z’s’.

Perfect Paragraph Project

Recently I’ve come to the very obvious conclusion that if a student can’t master the art of writing a really good paragraph they’ll never master the art of writing a really good essay.

This is such an obvious statement I’m almost embarrassed to type it publicly.

Anyway, I’ve started the Perfect Paragraph Project with my second and third years in an effort to help them master the art of the perfect paragraph so that they have the tools necessary to write a perfect essay.

Below are the advice and the example I’ve used to help them.

Paragraph = sandwich

Topic sentence = introduce the idea you’ll discuss in this paragraph – this idea must be directly responding to the Q

Body sentences = 6-8 which go into more detail, using relevant quotes & examples to prove your point(s)t & offer your opinion(s).

Final paragraph sentence = connect what you’ve just said back to the question that was asked (but don’t repeat yourself. Think of this sentence as the sentence which shows what you have learnt / what you now understand).

Once we had established the basic rules for writing a perfect paragraph, I asked them to select a question – whatever one they wanted from their Christmas test – and I there and then created the paragraph below, talking through my thought process as I typed.

They could see what I was doing as it was projected up onto the whiteboard but I told them NOT to take it down as I didn’t want them to be distracted from the process. Then I left the sample paragraph on the board and they were then given 15 minutes to then create their own perfect paragraph. As I’m correcting them I’m trying to differentiate for the different difficulties (what a mouthful!) students are having and the hope is that practice will make perfect until everyone in the class is confident that they can write a perfect paragraph! That’s the theory anyway…

 Sample Perfect Paragraph

In many ways I think I would not like to have Romeo as a boyfriend, mostly because he is an obsessive romantic who is in love with the idea of being in love. For example, Romeo maintains that he is love-sick and heartbroken following Rosaline’s rejection. One minute he believes that “love is a smoke made with a fume of sighs” yet the next minute he is proclaiming undying love for Juliet. In my opinion it would be difficult to believe anything he says because he is so fickle. Secondly he’s very superficial – he loves Juliet not for who she is but for how she looks, which is clear in his dramatic pronouncement “Did my heart love til now? forswear it sight, for I ne’er saw true beauty til this night”. This soppy, over the top attitude towards love is not my style – if he were my boyfriend I’d spend my time rolling my eyes at his compliments and wishing he would stop being such a drama queen.


PLANNING YOUR INTRODUCTION = first, brainstorm 4 or 5 ideas. Next, number these ideas in the order in which you intend to discuss them. Now, write your introduction – you basically offer your response to the question asked, then give a brief list of the things your essay will discuss. Basically each idea in your list then forms the basis of each paragraph.

JUNIOR CYCLE ONLY (you need 6 – 8 paragraphs for senior cycle)

Sample Introduction

In many ways I would not like to have Romeo as a boyfriend. He is very dramatic about love, he changes his mind continuously, he can be impulsive and violent and he is a very moody individual. However, there are moments where I do like him, particularly when he risks death to be with Juliet.

NOW I KNOW HOW THIS PERSON WILL STRUCTURE THEIR ESSAY – paragraph one will discuss his attitude to love, paragraph two will discuss his impulsive, violent side, paragraph three will discuss his moodiness & multiple proclamations that he’ll commit suicide if he can’t be with Juliet and paragraph four will attempt to offer some balance by discussing some of his finer qualities, including his bravery and his determination.

Conclusion checklist:

Recap your response to the question (re-phrase – don’t repeat introduction word for word)

Focus on how you felt & what you learnt

Sample Conclusion

Thus, although Romeo is brave and determined, on balance I would not like to go out with him. He is too dramatic, too sincere, too romantic, too moody and too impulsive for my liking and I suppose what I have learnt about myself from answering this question is that I would prefer someone altogether calmer and more grounded as a boyfriend.

2013: lived, learned, loved!

It’s the first day of 2014 so I should be looking forward not backwards! But I guess the best way to move forward is with an awareness of how I got to the present moment, so here are my highlights from the year gone by.


In 2013 I became a bit of an event junkie, to such an extent that one person commented recently “Is there anything you don’t go to?” Looking back, I recall fondly the utterly brilliant experiences of presenting at CESI 2013;  hearing the late, great Seamus Heaney reading at CUIRT; attending the week long ADE institute in Cork; being entertained & informed at TedXDublin; presenting to NUIG’s new EdSoc; working with the Youth Media Team at Féilte to celebrate World Teacher’s Day; going to the Blog Awards with my twice-finalisted uber-talented hubby John; seeing my students achieve second place at the Beo Ireland songwriting final in Killarney and participating in the inaugural un-conference CongRegation2013

I also attended the Junior Cycle consultation conference and INOTE 2013. Both were a mixed bag of inspiration and frustration; the inspiration provided by the teachers who attended and presented; the frustration boiling up from the lack of in-service provision being offered before the introduction of the new Junior Cycle English course. Despite our protests, nothing has changed so far in this…

In 2014 I’m going to attend BETT for the first time ever and no matter what happens this year I am NOT going to miss #ictedu in Tipp IT – it’s been brilliant every year I’ve attended and I’m sure it will be again this year.

On twitter, I figured out that there are actual teacher wars!?! Said wars are between those who argue in favour of traditional teaching methods and those who advocate for what have been labelled ‘progressive’ methodologies. Proponents & opponents can be vehement and manipulative but reading their perspectives has helped me to figure out my own perspective as a teacher. Which is? Well to my mind an either/or traditional/progressive dichotomy is complete and utter nonsense and forcing teachers to ‘pick a side’ does both teachers and students a disservice.

Getting published in the Irish Times, the paper I’ve been reading since I was about 8 years old, was a highlight of the year for me. Their willingness to publish my work was definitely down to to the success of my Open Letter to Ruairi Quinn, which back in September was hot property for a day or two, got re-printed on, more recently came second in the Edublog awards in the “Most Influential Blogpost” category and was viewed in total 24,767 times!

A few short weeks later, the ASTI ballot on whether or not we should accept the revised Haddington Road agreement led to some very heated exchanges online and I found the vitriol heaped on me from some corners for suggesting we should vote yes a bit over the top. But then I got over it!

This year I also had my first ever incidental inspection and I’ve since decided that they aren’t nearly as awful as planned inspections. There’s none of the never-ending anticipation and dread, the over-thinking and the tick-boxing paperwork. They just come in & for better or worse you do your thang! Well that’s how it was for me anyway. I’m still turning it over in my head but hope to write a blog post about it some time soon.

As ever, there were books, songs and articles that stirred something in me. This song struck a chord because I have perfectionist tendencies that I’m always trying to curb:

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In books, my favourite teaching tome this year was Teacher Proof by Tom Bennettmy favourite fiction was A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and in non-fiction I’ve just started reading “Did That Actually Happen? A Journey Through Unbelievable Moments in Irish Politics” by Paddy Duffy which is utterly hilarious so far. In the interest of full disclosure, Paddy is a mate, but if you want proof of how bloody funny he is check out his weekly column in the Huffington Post.

Teacher Proofa monster callsDid-That-Actually-H17D9FB2







Finally, in a year when my blog stats hit a staggering 1 million page views, but on more than one occasion I felt overwhelmed by work & family & blog and considered not writing the blog anymore, it was the support from my ADE #pln6; the #edchatie community on twitter; the INOTE facebook group for English teachers; the emails & comments from teachers & students; and the unexpected arrival at the end of a long tiring day of this bouquet of flowers from Aoife & students thanking me for sharing my resources on my blog which gave me the energy to continue.


2013 was the year that it was because of the people that were in it.

So thanks xxx

Here’s to 2014!

12 Selfies of Christmas!


2013 may have been the ‘Year of the Selfie‘ but I honestly never had any intention of getting in on the act. I almost made it to Dec 31st without falling prey to this virulent virus but then disaster struck…standing in my hallway waiting for a lift to a party I got bored. As you do!

imageSo I took this selfie and posted it on Facebook. The next night, leaving a wedding with my hubby, I suddenly realised that – yet again – we’d failed to get a photo of us together! So in the lobby, I whipped out my phone, took selfie no. 2, and then promptly posted it on Facebook as he started taking the piss out of me for being a “divil for the selfies“.


Now, knowing our friends as I do, I should have seen it coming that one of them would tongue-in-cheek suggest a “12 Selfies of Christmas Project” and being the eejit that I am I accepted the challenge! The next ten days were an education to say the least. Taking a photo of yourself EVERY DAY makes you feel like an insufferable narcissist. Posting them publicly makes you feel like a pain-in-the-arse. Now I’ve had many ambitions in my life but turning into an insufferable pain-in-the-arse-narcissist is not one of them!

So why didn’t I just stop? Well, first of all, that’s not the O’Connor way. We’ll just keep ploughing away at something once we’ve started because giving up feels too much like failure. Also, I was trying to stay away from blogging and generally give myself a much needed rest from my always-on-brain, so this became a not-very-difficult project that didn’t-matter-at-all but which stopped me from doing actual work. It’s a bit sad that I needed this to keep me from my manic self but it was effective, so who cares!

I also liked the way the photo gave each day a flavour, a memory, a personality. All too often over Christmas the days blur into each other and this became a way of differentiating them into the party night, the wedding, the shopping trip, the girly night out, present wrapping day, snowman hat silliness, SANTA!, feeling full n fat, family dinner for 18!













Family photo Xmas 2013








Looking back, I’m aware that I’m blessed. Just look at all the people I’m lucky enough to call family and friends. Don’t worry though, I’m not about to get sappy on ye. After 9 photos I pretty much lost the will to live.







I was so thoroughly sick and tired of my own face that I resorted to hiding behind my hair (no. 10) under presents in a Where’s Wally style challenge (no. 11), and finally back behind my laptop (no. 12!).

Despite the fact that I now kind of hate my own face, I’m grateful to Michelle for her “12 Selfies of Christmas” challenge as it, along with copious amounts of food, drink, board games, books, banter and fun!, kept me out from behind my laptop for a record breaking 12 days.  That’s the longest I’ve gone native since I started my blog in April 2011 and boy did I need the break!

NOTE: This post comes in at 500-ish words which is about the length you’d be expected to write for a QB. It could be adapted into a radio talk, an interview, a diary entry or a blog post or it could be lengthened into a personal essay (to about 1000 words). I think recently there was an essay title which asked you to write about a series of glimpsed moments and what is a selfie but a glimpsed moment?

My point is that you can write about anything as long as it’s in some way relevant to the essay title and obeys the conventions of the given genre. My final tip is that writing about something you’ve actually done or experienced is much easier than writing something from nothing! So write what you know if at all possible…