Staff Spotlight - Eleanor Whyte
Every Friday we feature a member of our staff in our Staff Spotlight! This week, we spoke to Irish and PE teacher Eleanor Whyte about her teaching career.
What interested you in teaching?
I suppose I really only started thinking about it around CAO time in 6th Year. It wasn’t my first choice, but my mum saw teaching PE as a subject at University of Limerick and I was always really sporty so she said “Why don’t you look at that?” Once I saw that you could also pick Irish as your second teaching subject along with it I put it down, got the points, and off to UL I went! So I fell into it accidentally really but then when I got to college I found I was actually quite good at it. When I was in school we’d never do any presenting in class, and then in college we were presenting on all sorts of topics - because teaching is really all presenting. It was really stressful at the time to be thrown into that, but I found that I enjoyed presenting, being in front of people and talking about things that I enjoy. PE and Irish are both subjects that I really enjoy, so now I get to talk all about the things I like all day, and that’s what I really love about it.
What makes teaching Irish and PE exciting for you?
I started playing hockey when I was younger and I got into Athletics when I was 10, and played both super competitively until I was in college where I started to focus a bit more on Athletics. Sport and PE go hand in hand, really. I was able to see for myself the benefits of sport and physical activity like feeling better about yourself, being more focused, sleeping better, and having better time management skills, and I enjoy sharing that with people. I gained a better understanding of nutrition and physical health through sport, and I think it would be great if everyone got to experience that. You only really get to experience it when you actually do it and sometimes the lack of education and knowledge on sport, both young and old, is surprising and something I take for granted.
With Irish, to be honest I think our national language is just amazing. I didn’t go to a gaelscoil, but I have such an appreciation for the language. Once you’ve learned a grammar rule in Irish, for the most part that’s it - it’s there and in force all the time so it all starts making sense. Some people can think Irish is so hard, but it’s not when you have your rules in place. The more you practice it, the more confident you get with it. Some people feel like they’re not good at it and in turn they have a poor attitude to it, when really it’s just that they lack confidence in it. It can be tricky for teachers in secondary school sometimes, because in 1st Year they all come in from different schools and different teachers might have spent more or less time on Irish so you’re trying to get everyone up to base. More and more work is being done in primary schools to help this, and a load of our girls go to an Rinn in sixth class or TY so there’s a good standard there. Overall there’s a great standard of Irish in the College.
Why did you choose to join the Alex community?
I figured out fairly early on that I really enjoyed working with girls better than I do boys. This really comes back to low women’s participation in sport, which I think needs to be addressed and promoted and really spoken about. There’s so much to it - there’s research coming out now that women’s bodies aren’t just smaller men, and their body needs in sport are very different to men’s. I really enjoy getting girls confident in sport because sometimes they can feel like it’s a horrible experience and that they’re not good at sport, particularly if they were with boys in primary school. A position in Alex came up in both my subjects, and I always knew I wanted to keep both, I never wanted to just do PE or Irish, so when I saw both in an all-girls school I went for it. I knew the sport facilities in Alex were really good as well, and obviously you want to work somewhere where the facilities are really good so that you can deliver high quality PE teaching - and Irish - and so here I am!
How have you adapted your teaching for Covid-19?
I suppose we just had to become a lot more technology friendly. We were so lucky here that all of the teachers had laptops, and all the students had iPads. We were straight away on the forefront with that, and I don’t think it would have been half as successful if we didn’t already have those measures in place and for the most part the girls had good WiFi. I’m very aware that how we delivered remote teaching really was the exception, and the girls received such a good experience from the school. So it was really important that we learn how to use Google Classroom and Zoom more efficiently, and work out little tips and tricks like posting a question or sharing documents so that all the girls could work on them together and they can all see each other’s answers. Zoom helped massively as well because the girls were able to see their peers, and that was an important element to remote teaching. PE was quite difficult but we did a lot of theory, which will hopefully set up the girls who are looking at doing Leaving Cert PE. We also had the girls think about how they would teach a skill to someone else, and so they got to think of different routines. We just had to be innovative, really.
What has been the highlight of your time in Alex so far?
In my first year of teaching we won the Irish Life Health Schools Fitness Challenge! We won Most Improved All-Girls School in the whole of Ireland with a brilliant 3rd Year group. I think what made it amazing was that I wasn’t expecting it, but the girls did their absolute best. So many schools entered the competition - and we beat Mount Anville, who had won it two years in a row - that to win it was really class.
It’s also always great to see former students and stop and chat, see how they’re getting on. It’s great to hear what course they’re doing - and one or two have gone on to study Irish, which to me is just a massive highlight.