Category Archives: MSM students

Some thoughts, suggestions etc.. aimed specifically at my students.

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’.

@beoireland song

[youtube_sc url=]

Here’s Mt. St. Michael’s entry in the @beoireland ( songwriting competition. If you want to listen to the audio only here’s the link:

[soundcloud url=””]



Cuimhin leat an lá sin taobh amuigh,
Nuair a d’iarr tú orm ar cuma liom.
Dúirt tú nach dtogfadh sé i bhfad
Ach ní raibh níos mo ama de mo dhith.

Mothaím beo nuair a táim in eindí leat (x4)

Cuimhin leat gur shuíomar amuigh
Is d’fhan me i di chuideachta.
B’fhéidir gur treoir a bhí uaim
Is b’fheidir go mba chuma liom.

Mothaím beo nuair a táim in eindí leat (x4)

Ba gheall le soilse ionracha tú
D’imigh tú uaim as radharc
Tuigimid go léir nach bhfuil sé ceart
Mar ar ndoigh ní cuma lion.

Mothaím beo nuair a táim in eindí leat (x4)

Here’s the English version of the song

[soundcloud url=””]

Remember that day outside,
when you asked if I wouldn’t mind,
you said it would take a short while,
but that’s all I needed was a while.

You make me feel alive,
you make me feel alive,
you make me feel alive,
you make me feel alive.

Remember we were sitting outside,
when I went along for the ride,
maybe I needed a guide,
and maybe I did mind


you are like twinkly lights,
you just flicker from my sight ,
we all know that’s just not right,
and yes I did mind.


Filter Bubbles

Filter bubbles exist when we are fed only the info that we want to see and read, the views and content that interests us and corresponds with our view of the world.


If I use facebook, I’m only going to be exposed to posts by my friends and family. So let’s say they’ve all got bad grammar? Then I’m going to end up drowning in a sea of sentence fragments, poor spelling and indiscriminate mis-use of your / you’re / there / their / they’re. The danger is that this becomes so ‘normal’ to me that eventually I won’t even notice it. Perhaps it’s ALWAYS been normal to me, in which case good grammar, and an emphasis on the importance of good grammar at school will baffle me completely.

Or let’s say I want to search for something on the internet. If I happen to be logged in to gmail or youtube when I do my search, when I google something I’ll get personalised results. Instead of just getting the results which are most relevant to my search terms, the search will also take into account my location, previous search terms, the websites I most frequently visit etc.

The problem with filter bubbles in general is that we are less likely to be exposed to viewpoints which disagree with our view of the world, with our sense of ‘normal’.

filiter bubble comment

Filter bubbles aren’t new and they aren’t limited to the internet. My sister works in theatre in London and joked on a visit home recently that every single person she works with reads the Guardian. This means she gets a very liberal view of the world both from the people she works with (they’re all in theatre daahling so theoretically they ‘all’ support funding for the arts, gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose and wealth taxes) and from what she reads (the Guardian writers are pretty much the same as the theatre buffs in their political viewpoint). To balance out her world view, she’s started buying the Telegraph just so she can read opposing opinions to her own (she can’t quite bring herself to buy the Daily Mail, bless her. For more on newspapers and their political stance see here and here).

But let me repeat, in case you missed it the first time: filter bubbles aren’t new. Every child grows up in a household which is in itself a filter bubble. If I grow up surrounded by books and people who enjoy reading, then to me that’s normal. If I overhear and/or participate in conversations where the speakers use sophisticated vocabulary and express their opinions without fear of censure or ridicule, just a healthy level of debate, then that will also seem ‘normal’ to me. If healthy eating and participation in sport are a given in my household, then in most (but not all) cases, the kids who emerge from this household will also place a value on reading, conversation, healthy eating and sport (at least that’s what I’m hoping for in the case of my lil daughter!).

I had the depressing experience recently where we were reading an article in class and I asked the students to highlight any words they didn’t understand and promised I’d explain them once we finished reading the article. I ended up feeling like I was translating a passage of French. I wasn’t angry with my students; it’s not their fault if their vocabulary is limited, any more than it’s my fault if I’m not a trained ballet dancer. They live in a digital era where reading levels are plummeting and where casual spoken language (texting, youtube, facebook) dominates.

But it scared me. A lot. Our entire education system is built on a foundation which demands the ability to read, understand, interpret and respond to complex written data and information. Writing is more complex than speech, it demands greater sophistication of thought and expression. Without the precise words to capture, express and interrogate our reality, we cannot truly understand the world. And we certainly cannot succeed in the Leaving Cert.

Anyway, all of this brings me in a roundabout way to this warning. This website is in itself a filter bubble. It gives you one teacher’s perspective on Leaving Cert English. If you assimilated everything that’s on this site I have no doubt that it would assist you in achieving a good grade in Leaving Cert English.

However, I do worry sometimes when I overhear students’ conversations at school. If you’ll allow me to grossly over-generalise for a moment, students these days are OBSESSED with the ‘right’ way of approaching an exam question. They are OBSESSED with the idea that there is one revision book, or one website, or one disgustingly overpriced completely passive Easter revision course which will magically lead them to the mythical A1 standard sample answer for every possible exam question that could possibly come up in every single one of their subjects and all they need to do is learn them all off by heart and before you know it they have 600 points and a prestigious college course and a job for life and all the happiness in the universe guaranteed for life.

This is an illusion.

Take for example the topics I’ve covered for Macbeth – his soliloquies, his relationship with his wife, Kingship, imagery and the various outside influences on Macbeth’s decisions and behaviour. However, if you look at the list of common questions which come up on Macbeth, you’ll notice you also need to be able to verbalise your levels of sympathy for Macbeth and for his wife Lady Macbeth; you need to understand Banquo’s character and his role as a foil to Macbeth; you must have a detailed knowledge of the role and function of the Witches in the drama; which in itself leads into a more general discussion of the theme of the supernatural in the play; you may be asked to discuss good versus evil or any variation of that issue including your interpretation of the depiction of human beings offered by Shakespeare or a focus purely on the good characters who oppose Macbeth; you’ve got the theme of appearance vs reality; the relevance of the play to a modern audience and the question of what makes the entire play (or just one individual scene) compelling drama.

These are just the questions which have come up previously on Macbeth. We might see a new question we’ve never seen before. I’m not telling you this to freak you out – if anything I think the depth and scope of what you’re supposed to know is mind-boggling to the extent of being laughable, almost absurd. And if you are freaking out reading this, read this right now to get some perspective. With all due respect it’s only the leaving cert, it’s not life or death.

So don’t rely exclusively on what I’ve covered on the site. I’ve tried to be as exhaustive as I can, particularly for Paper 1, but I can’t predict the paper. I don’t have any spidey-tingly-feeling-in-my-bones about what might come up. I never offer predictions nor should you ever listen to them. If you cut the course and take short cuts because time and desperation demand it, that’s your decision, and hopefully it will work out for you.

But if it bites you on the ass,don’t cast around for people to blame, as thousands of students did last year when neither Heaney nor Plath were on the paper. Be pissed off if a poet you like doesn’t come up, but don’t be ‘outraged’ or ‘shocked’ or ‘appalled’.

And if you’re on twitter or facebook the night before the exams and people are offering predictions, remember, that is your filter bubble and you need to remember that when people tell you that they know what’s coming up, like all filter bubblers, they are just telling you what you want to hear, rather than something which is true.


Seeing Blind

For their house exam, my students have 1hr 30mins to write a work of inspired creative genius. So no pressure then! They’ll have to choose between a speech, a debate, a personal essay, a newspaper article or a descriptive essay and they have no idea what the topics will be… eek! (I’ll post them here on Friday after the exam).

So today, with the exams looming tomorrow, they asked me how the hell they can prepare. As well as revising the stylistic features required of each genre (speech, article, personal essay, descriptive writing) and the six rules of essay writing, here’s what we came up with:

How to prepare when you don’t know what the topic will be…

  • List of personal anecdotes you might use… (remember sights, sounds, smells, taste, touch)
  • List of quotes you might use…
  • List of techniques you will use…
  • List of official organisations (O.E.C.D., E.R.S.I., W.H.O., C.S.O..) & names of Ministers of State (minister for education, minister for children, minister for social affairs etc). When making up quotes and stats from experts give the person a title and attach them to a university or organisation to make them sound believable…
  • Ideas on topical issues (see this list) plus any quirky news stories that catch your eye!
  • Funny jokes! (if you’re writing a more lighthearted piece you might be able to work one in to your essay)

Update: as promised, here are the essay topics my students faced into for their house exams on Friday last:

Write a composition on any ONE of the following:

1. “Write a lighthearted speech, to be delivered to your classmates, on your pet hates in life

2. “Write a newspaper article in which you uncover and expose a scandal

3. “Write an entertaining descriptive essay for a competition under the title “If I ran this school“.

4. “Write a debate speech in which you argue for or against the motion that “The future of publishing is digital” (I got this from a mock paper)

5. “Write a personal essay entitled “I’m weird but that’s OK“.





  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 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 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 (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 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 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 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.