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Alexandra College

Staff Spotlight - Deirdre Smith

Every Friday we feature a member of our staff in our Staff Spotlight! This week, we spoke to Art teacher Deirdre Smith about her teaching career. 

Why did you begin teaching?

I came to teaching late in life. I first started a career as a graphic designer after graduating from IADT with a Bachelor of Design. I worked for 20 years as a graphic designer starting in London and then returning to Ireland to work with TV3 when they were first launching before moving into publication design, working a lot with Independent News & Media. When my children came along I began to freelance as a graphic designer and during this time I opened up a flower shop in Dundrum which I sold as a going concern and is still up and running today. During my design career, I always had an interest in teaching; I very much enjoyed mentoring younger designers and running floral workshops, but the time was never right between work and family commitments. It was when I took a career break, I decided to embrace teaching, and completed the Professional Master of Education, and now I’m teaching in Alexandra College Junior School as a specialist art teacher working with all the girls from KG Lower-J6. I’m also on the Education and Tour Guide Panel in the National Gallery of Ireland, which is something I’m very interested in, and I've been accepted onto a PhD programme with NCAD exploring the Froebel ethos of teaching and learning along with the connection between visual art education and the gallery experience for children. For me I like to bring all my creative work experience into the classroom.


What makes teaching Art exciting for you?

Art has always been my passion, and it’s very exciting to share my passion with the girls where I learn something new every day. Art for me does not stand alone; it is very much cross-curricular and diverse, and it feeds into many other subjects. I like when there is a collaborative approach where learning goes beyond the classroom that enriches education. I don’t always think of art as the finished product. I love the process, and I love the fact that all the girls from J2 to J6 have a sketchbook this year. They document the art process in their sketchbooks, and reflect on and evaluate it, and when I look in those notebooks and then look at the finished piece it’s interesting to see their thought process. I like to think that art enables the girls with their development of their motor skills, language skills, imagination and all things creative in a positive and fun way.


Why did you choose to teach at Alex?

I’ve always known that Alex has a fantastic reputation and valued all parts of the curriculum. The Froebel ethos in the Junior School is important to me and how the autonomy of the students feeds into their art. I was trained as a post primary art teacher but always interested in primary school education from a visual art perspective, but very few schools in Ireland have a dedicated art teacher in primary school. Peer learning and mentoring from my colleagues was a great start to my teaching by assisting me through the Droichead programme. I really appreciated the guidance and shared knowledge from the Professional Support Team and teaching staff.


This year, you’ve started an art gallery at the entrance to the Junior School - how did that come about? 

It’s very much a social space, I know we don’t have many of those now, in that it is a transient space where the girls pass as they enter the school every day. It is hoped it will capture the attention of the different audiences in the school. My interests are in gallery education along with visual art education, so that’s really where the idea came from. It’s a place for the girls to collaborate and showcase their work, and it’s an area for other areas of the curriculum to display their learning. It is hoped that it will support the curriculum and add some fun to themed days or celebrations in the school. It is a place that will hopefully ignite imaginations, stimulate curiosity, and get the girls looking and celebrating each other’s work from other classrooms. It’s nice for each girl to respond to each other’s work, and I enjoy that. It’s a shared visual space that I hope everyone in the school enjoys that is just new and evolving.


How have you adapted your teaching for Covid-19? 

When we came back to school in September, JACA kindly supported individual art packs for each girl with all of the art materials needed for the year. This meant that none of the strands of the visual art curriculum were neglected, and we were able to continue with projects using varied art materials where ordinarily the girls would have to share. Currently I’m back in the school with some classes and it’s great to be back, but I’m also online still with the older classes and hopefully those girls will be returning in one week as well. I was nervous starting to teach art via Zoom as I’m usually hands on with the girls during my lessons, but to say that they were amazing is an understatement when it came to teaching them online the last few months. Particularly the younger girls who were able to do everything they needed to do and having everything prepared for art class, it was brilliant. I think Covid-19 has made us all adapt and reinvent ourselves, and rethink our methodologies and pedagogies. 

What has been the highlight of your teaching career so far?

My highlight every day is going into the school and each day is so different and varied. Mrs. Lamplugh is so supportive and giving of her time, and happy to facilitate new ideas. The staff are amazing; I’m in every classroom and the collaboration there is really important and I’m grateful for that. If I had to pick a highlight, I’d pick last year when I brought every class from KG Lower to J6 into the National Gallery of Ireland to look and respond to artwork with the support of the class teachers. For the girls to go in and explore art, going in each day with a different class, seeing the different perspectives that came from each person on similar artworks was really interesting. It was a lovely experience for the girls and myself as well. This year we embarked on virtual tours this year, exploring the Museum of Modern Art in New York City among others. I also enjoyed working with the Drama and Music Departments along with the TY students at Christmas for the Junior School Christmas show. Designing the props and collaborating with the other departments was a great experience. For me I would like to think art creates a happy and purposeful atmosphere in the school and it’s an honour and privilege for me to work with the amazingly creative girls with the support of Mrs. Lamplugh, the teaching staff and Alex community that makes a school so special and a creative place to teach and learn.