Tag Archives: ireland

Connecting Teachers: Whose job is it anyway?

Collaboration is the new black. Every conference I attend; every commentator I hear trumpeting the success of coder dojo; every colleague who has tried it in their teaching agrees. Collaboration works.

I’m not talking about glorified group work. I know what that is; I’ve done it. It’s where I the teacher set a task so I can feel that my students’ opinions are valued when all the while I know I’ll end up feeding them my answer in the end so why should they bother? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending the fact that this happens in my classroom. There are days when I hate myself for it. But sadly, unlike J Alfred Prufrock , I’m not always convinced that “there will be time, there will be time, for decisions and revisions that a minute will reverse” particularly at senior cycle. So I plough ahead because after all there is a course to cover and if I don’t get it covered I’ll be hanging up my “Teacher of the Year 2012” boots and adopting a rather fetching “Jackass of the Year 2013” limited edition instead.

No, I’m not talking about group work; I’m talking about the really meaty process of collaboration where people work together to create something that didn’t previously exist; something that fills them with the overwhelming urge to share.”Look at this thing we created. Look how great it is“.

But now that we know how valuable collaboration is; now that the research tells us what an effective learning tool it is, I find myself asking why the enormous potential of this wonderful invention known as the world wide web isn’t being used more effectively to facilitate greater collaboration between teachers in Ireland? Better connections, shared expertise, opportunities to connect.

I know it’s happening in pockets. I’m on the CESI list; I’ve conversed with hundreds of Irish teachers on twitter thanks to #edchatie; I’ve joined the INOTE facebook group to share ideas and resources and to tease out both new and old ways to teach effectively. But I’m also aware that there are thousands of teachers out there completely oblivious to the help and expertise that’s right there within their grasp if they just reach out and touch it. I know this because for eight years I was that person, living in a cave of my own invention and I wish, how I wish I had seen sooner what was just out of sight. Don’t assume reluctance, or laziness or complacency. For now, just assume ignorance – you can’t miss something you don’t know exists.

So what do I want?

Well a national database of English teachers would be a start (hell, let’s do it for every subject for that matter). This already exists. The Teaching Council have all of these details and I’m pretty sure there’s a smart computer programme out there somewhere which could cull this data into a usable list of email addresses. I think English would be a good place to start because ours is the first subject which will change in the new Junior Cycle so surely we’ll need to be kept in the loop and informed of new developments? Or am I just being a crazy person expecting to actually be informed about the changes which I will be introducing and implementing in my classroom? The teaching council website informs me that CPD is part of their remit. One of their aims is to facilitate networking among teachers. But I’m told they won’t give out this information to INOTE, the English teachers association (probably because of issues around confidentiality) and they won’t use it themselves. But goddamn it, listen to the voice of the people I say. Give us what we want. An Irish TES where we can share and connect and collaborate. You’ve got 10 million in the bank. What’s the problem?

So that’s two things on my wish list. A database of email addresses for English teachers and an Irish TES. But then I think, well maybe it’s not really the Teaching Council’s job? Maybe I should be looking to the PDST? Their job is definitely to facilitate CPD for teachers. They’re low on funding I know and swamped trying to deliver literacy and numeracy in-service (I attended a day long session recently that was just amazing). I also know they too have been compiling a list of English teachers in an effort to ensure that all teachers attend these literacy for English teachers in-services. Maybe they contacted the Teaching Council looking for this info and they too were refused. Who knows. Word on the street is they can’t share this list with the English teachers association either. Confidentiality I presume. We need to be protected from each other it would seem!

And what about the NCCA? They’re the ones driving the change and I know they’ve got a teachers network going among the pilot schools who are trying out ideas for the new Junior Cycle. I hear it’s great. But I’m on the outside not looking in but staring at a blank wall. I’ve been told that the new English syllabus / specification will be available for consultation in April/May. But don’t for a moment think that this means a letter will be sent to all English teachers. Or an email (from the list that exists but must not speak its name). It will most likely appear silently one day, I predict just as the State Examinations kick off. It will quietly lurk on a website unseen, unheard of by the vast majority of English teachers in this country (assume what you want about whether or not this is their own fault for not obsessively checking the NCCA website daily for updates). The book publishers will probably get their spoke in. And then with a flourish the new Junior Cycle English Specification will be introduced with minimal input from the people it effects the most – teachers and students – unless you’re in one of the pilot schools (and even then I’m told, by teachers in the know, that the consultation process often involves offering your input and then being completely ignored. Forgive me if I sound cynical – I try so hard not to be).

Perhaps I am naive. Perhaps I am too demanding; too vocal; too politically incorrect. Perhaps I am foolish to think for a second that anything I say makes the slightest ripple of a difference to anyone in these organisations. Maybe if I care so much I should be taking this on myself? Free and gratis. Just the way this government likes us to operate. More for less. More and more and more and more for less.

Or perhaps  I’m right. Perhaps it’s time the hand started speaking to the arm and the arm to the body and the whole lot to the bloody head. If I’m making it sound terribly straightforward that’s because I believe it should be. Today we learned that a baby was cured of HIV; surely this is not beyond us?


CESI 2013

[youtube_sc url =http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQfFp9ZRI1Q]

Here are the bare bones of the presentation I gave at CESI 2013 on using IT to help our students develop the key skills of the new Junior Cycle.

Tone (personal essay)

I love this cartoon from Natalie Dee on fanpop.com

Before Christmas I got my TYs (over 50 of them) and my Leaving Certs to write personal essays. Their essays for the most part were funny, sad, moving, at times mad and in many cases very very brave. Among other things I read about a childhood obsession with goldfish; a superhero granny; being an only child; falling into a river in front of the boy you absolutely love love love; suicide; a haunted church; spontaneous uncontrollable crying spells; and being wrapped in tin foil and carried off a volleyball court on a stretcher…

I also discovered that “a commode is the love child of a wheelchair and a portaloo!

I did notice however that very occasionally a personal essay didn’t ‘ring true‘. It’s hard for me to explain how I knew that the writer was inventing or embellishing a sad story (leaning towards or sometimes completely inventing a fiction) rather than drawing on real life experiences (fact) but when I asked a couple of students about it sure enough they said what they’d written about hadn’t actually happened but they felt compelled to give the personal essay a tragic ending in order to engage the reader emotionally.

Oddly, it had the opposite effect – I enjoyed these essays up to the point where they transformed into melodrama and then I just somehow knew that the writer was trying to force a reaction out of me.

Have a look at this beautiful personal essay – but be warned:

(1) It will make you cry


(2) You could never write this. You are not a thirty-something-yr-old widower with a toddler and a dead wife. You are a 17 or 18yr old Irish leaving cert student and this is the perspective you MUST write from when you write a personal essay in the exams because fundamentally a personal essay IS NOT A SHORT STORY and IS NOT FICTION. Of course you can write about something funny that happened to someone else and pretend it happened to you; of course you can exaggerate for dramatic or humorous effect. But try to write what you know or your essay is in danger of coming across as insincere and false.

Here it is: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2013/jan/19/telling-toddler-mummys-dead?CMP=twt_gu

Now have a look at this personal essay, whose tone is much more philosophical and opinionated rather than emotional – the tone is completely different but there is no question that it also falls into the category of personal essay.

Here it is (with the longest url in the history of life the universe and everything):


I guess I just want you to realise that you can write a serious opinion piece; an emotional admission; or a funny satire and ALL will still qualify as ‘personal essays’ as long as you write in the first person (“I”) and as long as you are yourself (Irish teenager) not a fictional narrator (a witchdoctor, a talking rubbish bin or a homeless wino).

For clarification of the difference between the personal essay and memoir check this out: http://meghanward.com/blog/2012/08/21/personal-essay-vs-memoir/

That’s all for now folks. Good luck with the mocks revision!



If you are being bullied or just need someone to talk to click on this link www.teenline.ie  or call 1800 833 634

Bernardos also have a great list of places to access help here: http://www.barnardos.ie/information-centre/young-people/teen-help/finding-help.html


Words are powerful. We must never forget that.

That was about five or six years ago. I don’t remember a single question about the internet or social networks. A few of them were using bebo – back then facebook was still considered the old person version of social networking. Ask.fm didn’t exist. If we had exactly the same class today things would be very different. I teach a TY module on digital media and I know last year we looked at cases where young people lost control of their online identity, or were harassed and bullied by online trolls. But those cases were American – those of Phoebe Prince and Kiki Kannibal. We should have looked closer to home. We need to start connecting what happens to ‘other people’ with what we do, or don’t do, or don’t try to stop others doing online.

I know as a teacher I have a huge responsibility to educate my students about the world they live in; to do my utmost to teach them how to be safe online and how to be a good online citizen. I like to think I lead by example but for the past few days I’ve been asking myself ‘am I doing enough?’ The thing is, I really like my students, all of them. I find it hard to believe that any of them would engage in the kind of horrendously cruel behaviour which led to the tragic suicide of Erin Gallagher last Saturday night and Ciara Pugsley in September. Yet to deny that these things are happening would be the ultimate betrayal of my students, of my role as a teacher and of my heartbreak as a parent when I think of the families who have to live through the most awful experience life can inflict – the loss of a child.

So please, please, if you are being hurt online tell someone. If you are hurting others online, stop.

Words are powerful. We must never forget that.












  1. WIN €3,000! Write a short film script – submit an original concept for a short film that tackles the serious issue of mobile phone use while driving. Winner also gets the chance to work with a team of professional film producers to turn their short film concept into a reality. Must be over 15 to enter. See website www.keepdramaofftheroads.ie The road safety authority and setanta are promoting this competition. Closing date for entries is Friday 16th Nov @ 6pm.
  2. Create an advertising campaign. Total prize fund is €5,000. The Milk It Awards want a team of up to 6 students to promote dairy products to students in your school – you can focus on milk or cheese or yoghurt or all three. You make a 2 minute video pitch with a creative idea. If you are chosen you implement your campaign in your school and may be invited to the National Finals to sell your idea to the client. See website www.milkitawards.ie Closing date for video pitch is 23rd Nov.
  3. UCC law faculty essay competition: €200 for the best essay(s) in each category. Senior students only. Closing date is the 23rd Nov. Application forms are available at www.ucc.ie/law (I can’t find them but I”m told they’re there!). Competition encourages students to consider the relevance and impact of law on their lives and society generally. Write 1000 words on any one of the following topics: (a) “It is now time for Seanad Eireann to be abolished” Discuss. / (b). “The State & not the Family is the ultimate guardian of Irish children” Discuss / (c). “Gay Marriage – the obvious next step?” Discuss / (d). “Should debt forgiveness be introduced?” / (e). It has been argued that because the household charge is bad law citizens do not have to respect it. Do you agree? / (f). Should Ireland have sentencing guidelines for criminal cases?
  4. Fantasy Writing Competition – write a short story in this genre. The theme for this year is “Under the Sea” – think mermaids, sea monsters, creatures from the deep, pirates. There are 3 categories Primary, Junior students and Senior students. Length is 800 – 1200 words. The winner wins a tablet (must be a Galaxy tab or something similar) and a meeting with a top Irish literary agent (in other words the opportunity to get signed and published!!!). Runner up prizes of an ipod touch. See www.facebook.com/johnwestfantastwriting for application forms. Closing date 30th Nov.
  5. Think of a renewable energy idea: The primary school competition is over already so if you log on to the website www.tellthefuture.eu you’ll see examples. Complete the following in 500 words or less (Junior Category)
or 750 words or less (Senior Category): “A global plea has been issued to all young people to submit their practical ideas on how to power their country into the future in a sustainable, environmentally-friendly way. My plan for my country is…” Closing date for entries is the 30th Nov.
  6. Design a cover art project – your aim is to promote positive mental health. Use landscape on A4 size white card in oil, watercolour, crayon or ink. See www.mentalhealthireland.ie closing date for entries is 7th Dec. There is also a photographic competition to promote positive mental health – photos must be taken with a 6 megapixel camera or greater and must be printed A4 landscape 12 inch x 8 inch and a caption/title for your entry must be included. If there’s a person in the photo you must get written permission from them and include it with your entry. Closing date for both competitions is the 7th December.