Staff Spotlight - Aisling Gorry
Every Friday, we feature a member of our staff in our Staff Spotlight! This week, we spoke to the J2R teacher Aisling Gorry about her teaching career and her new role as Assistant to the Head of the Junior School.
What interested you in teaching?
I think my interest in teaching began as a child. I played teacher with my teddies, dolls and my chalkboard all the time. I enjoyed learning new information and reading. When I did Transition Year in secondary school, it gave me an opportunity to try out different careers and I even explored sound engineering during work experience which I did in RTÉ. While I enjoyed that experience and benefited from it, I really found that I enjoyed working with children from a social work placement in the charity Barnardos and it was very rewarding. There was no history of teaching in my family; I’m the first to do a teaching qualification as my family is involved in picture restoration and running an art gallery. I knew growing up that there was always a place for me in the family business and I enjoy helping out in my spare time. My parents were very supportive and I decided to go on my own career path and that led me to primary school teaching. During my training, I taught Junior Infants and 6th Class in my old primary school with the teachers who had taught me. Many of their teaching methods are woven into my own methodology today. My many visits to the Gaeltacht over the years fostered a love of the Irish language, culture, music and dance and now I am proud to speak Irish with my class every day and to compére our Seachtain na Gaeilge celebrations.
What makes teaching exciting for you?
Every day is different and each child is unique. It’s a profession where you might expect to teach a lesson in a certain way, but due to the Froebelian approach we use in our school, the lesson can go off in a different direction and that may be more beneficial than what you’d originally planned. You’re facilitating the childrens’ learning; rather than it being ‘chalk and talk’ and filling children full of information, it’s discovery learning, so it’s hands on, practical and creative. Every child is on an individualised programme and achieving their own potential. While we do follow the primary school curriculum, we’re doing it in a very child-centred Froebelian way. I have seen the benefit of this holistic approach to education and it brings out the best in children academically, socially, emotionally, artistically, musically and in their sporting ability.
Why did you choose to join the Alex community?
When I qualified as a teacher, I knew that I wanted to be in a setting that was the right fit for me. So while I’d trained to work as a primary school teacher in a state school, I wanted to work in a school that followed the national curriculum but did it in their own individualised way. When an opportunity came up to work at Alex and I visited the school, I realised that this was where I was meant to be. It felt like a community where individuality is embraced, we’re all working together as a team and I liked the values as represented by the school crest. I felt that this was a place where I could develop my teaching skills and assist the children in their learning.
I’ve been here for 26 years, and I really feel that it is a happy place where I can be myself and I can do what I do best in my teaching. Over the years, I’ve taught a wide range of classes including J2, J3, J5 and J6. I have had many past pupils return to my class on their own teaching practice and as I grow older, I now have many past pupils sending their daughters to our school, so I am teaching the next generation. I have had the opportunity to work with the Kindergarten classes through Family Reading, which is where the younger girls read with the older girls. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with the J2-J6s when we’re doing collaborative Family Group work. We aren’t able to do those activities at the moment due to Covid-19 restrictions, but in a normal year, we’d have the opportunity to work with all age groups.
How has working with all of these different age groups shaped your teaching experience?
I think when you’ve taught in a number of different classes, you have the benefit and the experience of teaching the younger girls and the older students, but you’re constantly gathering resources. When you’re working collaboratively with different age groups, you know the skill sets that are required for each age group.
I’m very keen on mentoring, and when I first came to the school I was mentored by a number of colleagues. That really stood out to me and I appreciated it, so I value mentoring new teachers and giving back. I have gathered a lot of resources over the past 26 years of teaching and I happily share them with my colleagues, as they also share theirs with me. I’m involved in the Droichead program, which mentors newly qualified teachers. It’s a collaborative process where we observe each other’s teaching and at the end of it, the Professional Support Team signs off that the participant is inducted into the teaching profession.
One of the highlights of my own career was that I was one of the first people in Ireland who did their Higher Diploma in Education in a private school; when I first qualified, you weren’t able to do that. So I know how important it is for a teacher’s professional development to achieve all of their qualifications. Now that I have gone through that process myself years ago and I’m able to support a newly qualified teacher, I find that very rewarding. I’m learning from the newly qualified teachers as well, because they’re sharing their knowledge and questions with me, and I’m able to share my experience but also have new learning from them as a result.
You’ve also taken on a new role this academic year as the Assistant to the Head of the Junior School - how’s it going?
I’m enjoying the challenge; it brings new opportunities and learning experiences. I’ve always worked collaboratively with the Head of the Junior School over the years, and I thought that the timing of this new role was right at this stage of my career. I’ve always taken on extra responsibilities and duties and project managed tasks, so I thought that particularly in these Covid-19 times when things are extra challenging, that it would be a great opportunity to officially be in a role where I can support not only Avril Lamplugh, Head of the Junior School, but also my colleagues and the Junior School community. I have previously been on the Board of Management and I am the Deputy Liaison Officer for Child Protection. This new role allows me the opportunity to get involved in everything including the childrens’ learning, supporting parents, JACA (the Junior School parent association), the Junior School Committee and assisting my colleagues. I’ve seen the Junior School go through many changes over the years, and I value the opportunity to help shape the direction and future of the school. I continue to be the J2R class teacher while taking on additional duties and responsibilities.
What’s it been like to begin this new role during Covid-19?
I find it very interesting because you have to approach the things you do day-to-day differently. You’ve also got to really think about everything in minute detail and consider the greater good of the children and the school. There are things that we can go ahead and do just like a normal year, activities that we can do in a different way, and there are just some events that we aren’t able to do at the moment. I’ve found it very inspiring to see the resilience of the children, the support of the parents, and the collegiality in the Junior School team that there’s a common goal of doing what we do as normally as possible and we’re happy to be teaching in the classroom and keeping each other safe. While we embraced teaching remotely last year, the classroom is where we’re supposed to be and the staff and the children are happy to be here and parents have been incredibly supportive. It feels like the school is a little bubble away from the rest of the world, and I think we have done an exceptional job as a school and a community to support the children, the parents, our colleagues, each other and we have held our own. We have stepped up and done whatever is necessary to continue teaching and learning. It’s a ‘new normal’ for all of us, and it does add additional layers and challenges, but this is the place we want to be rather than teaching virtually.
What has been the highlight of your teaching career so far?
There have been a few highlights in my teaching career so far; the most recent is certainly becoming the Assistant to the Head of the Junior School. If I was to go back further, I’ve had the opportunity to represent the school internationally when I participated in a Comenius teacher’s exchange in Sweden a number of years ago and I also brought J6 students on a French exchange as well.
I feel that while I’m teaching, I’m also still a learner. I completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Educational Leadership at NUI Maynooth a number of years ago. This involved an action research project on higher order thinking skills and reflecting on my management style. I found the course very beneficial for managing challenging situations and problem solving. I think this training set me up to rise to the challenges that may come up day to day in my new role as Assistant to the Head of the Junior School. Teaching and learning are ongoing processes, so I’m looking forward to new and exciting challenges ahead.