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Alexandra College

Staff Spotlight - Catherine Evans

Every Friday we feature a member of our staff in our Staff Spotlight! This week, we spoke to Junior School Learning Support teacher Catherine Evans about her teaching career.

 

What interested you in teaching?

It’s quite funny actually because my son is in 6th Year at the moment and doesn’t really know what he wants to do, and that was me at 17 as well! I hadn’t a clue what I wanted to do when filling in the forms to go to university. Then my best friend said to me “Cath, you love sport, and you love working with children,” and at that point, I had volunteered with children’s summer camps, and I used to help out at a disabled swimming class on Sunday mornings with my brothers, who were disabled, so I said, “Yeah, you’re right!” and she said “Well, why not be a PE teacher?” and I said “That’s a great idea, that’s what I’ll do!” and that’s literally how I fell into teaching. It was the best choice I ever made, and I can’t really imagine doing anything else. At one point while I was in the UK, in Bath, I also worked as a Sports Development Officer, which I absolutely adored, but even then there was still an element of teaching and working with children. I could never imagine not working with children or teaching in some capacity. So I trained as a primary teacher with PE as my specialist subject, which is unusual in Ireland. I taught as a class teacher in London for two years, and since then I’ve taught PE to all age groups from 4-year-olds right up to adults. I taught for a year and a half in the prison system here in Ireland, and I taught in Kenya for 2 years which is where I met my Irish husband! I taught PE here in Alex for 15 years before I changed to Learning Support. I’ve always loved working with children and adults who learn differently and who have challenges when they’re learning, that’s always been my passion. 

 

What makes teaching Learning Support exciting for you?

The best thing about my job is that the girls I teach make it exciting. The girls come flying in here full of energy and enthusiasm, just ready for action, and I love it. My husband is a secondary school teacher and he says that at the moment with Covid-19 it can be quite difficult because he has to almost bring the energy into the classroom to try and energise the students, but I don’t have that at all. I’m just so lucky to work with these kids, they’re brilliant. It’s so exciting to see the progression over the years in my students. I can work with a child at 6 when they’re struggling to learn the alphabet and we keep working together and now at 9 she’s reading fluently and spelling brilliantly, and her confidence has gone through the roof; that’s incredible to see. I feel very privileged that I’m in a position to see that progression over the years when as a classroom teacher I might see them for only one year. I’m full of admiration for my students, who work so hard despite their challenges and achieve so much. Working in Learning Support has been a really exciting part of my career as I’ve learned all about dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and all of these other challenges students might face.

I’m also very excited whenever I discover a new programme that I think will work in our school. At the moment we’ve got a maths resource called Numicon, which is a tactile concrete resource that I’ve introduced in our younger classes, which really helps students understand maths concepts by seeing and feeling. We’ve been using a touch typing programme called Touch-Type Read and Spell which has been a great success. I've been running it for a few years now and we’ve got 72 students using the programme, including both of our J6 classes. My greatest excitement this year has been starting the Literacy Lift Off programme. I tried to start it two years ago but then along came Covid-19, so we started it this September in J1. It’s a literacy programme that involves guided reading, writing, phonics and literacy games. It’s worked wonders in J1 and really increased the reading level of the majority of students. We’re incredibly lucky in the Junior School to have Ms Lamplugh, who’s always so supportive of these programmes.

Why did you choose to join the Alex community? 

When I first applied to work in Alex I was actually applying to work as a PE teacher to cover maternity leave. Gladys Ruddock, the principal at the time, told me that it would be PE generally: hockey, tennis, basketball etc and then she said I’d also be coaching the first basketball team and I said “oh no, I don’t think that’s going to work because basketball’s not really my thing”. Two years later I applied to cover maternity leave again, and it was the same teacher, so more basketball! Then Gladys took a closer look at my CV and said “Actually, since you’re trained as a primary school teacher, I’m looking for a class teacher at the moment.” I didn’t even know there was a  primary school in Alex at the time! So I met Trudy, the principal of the Junior School at the time, and visited the primary school. I was so impressed, because all of my training in the UK was very much child-centred, though not specifically Froebelian. It was very much about children being active learners, and so when I came and saw these girls learning in the Froebelian way I went “Oh yes, I want to be a part of this, this is fantastic.” This is my 24th year in Alex and I love the Junior School, the way the kids learn, the opportunities they have and the different aspects of the curriculum. The cherry on top is the staff in the Junior School - the teachers, our wonderful principal, our fabulous secretary, our cleaning staff, everyone is just so supportive and so friendly. Basically my best friends in Ireland now are the people that I teach with! It’s a wonderful community. 

 

How have you adapted your teaching for Covid-19? Is there anything that you think you’ll continue doing after the pandemic?

Teaching wise, absolutely not! Thanks to Erwin and David we were able to manage doing lessons online through Zoom, and bringing in the visualizers made it easier to teach learning support, but online learning just doesn’t come close to face-to-face. Children who have challenges in their learning need concrete materials that they can touch and move around, and they need me to interact with them - not necessarily every step of the way, but a lot of them, depending on the child. It’s extremely difficult to give the same support to a child on Zoom as you’d be able to in a classroom. 

One thing that’s been brilliant is the increase in online webinars, so I’m able to keep learning at any time. Who knew I could go to a webinar up in Donegal, on a Tuesday evening! They come up in my inbox all the time now, and I love how accessible it’s become now that travel isn’t a factor. 

 

What has been the highlight of your time in Alex so far?

24 years means a lot of highlights! When I was a PE teacher, one of the highlights was that I coached the first team to win the Leinster hockey league, so that was very exciting. Another has been introducing the Carlingford trip for J6 students. I wanted to introduce outdoor education into the curriculum, and we did various orienteering and stuff around campus, but I really wanted to take them away to explore and so I took the 6th class to Carlingford, and now it’s an annual trip! 

However, in my current job, I have so many highlights every week. I know it sounds really corny, but every time a kid has a lightbulb moment and goes “Yes! I understand!” it’s an incredible highlight. The progression of children, and their delight when they realise that they’re moving forward, is just wonderful and I get that several times a week, so there really are so many highlights in Learning Support.