Staff Spotlight - Hugh O'Connor
Every Friday we feature a member of our staff in our Staff Spotlight! This week, we spoke to J6 teacher Hugh O’Connor about his teaching career.
What got you interested in teaching?
I don’t think that I ever even considered becoming a teacher between the ages of 10 and 30. After studying Business and Law in college, I qualified as a barrister and worked in the criminal courts for five years. While I was there, I started volunteering in LauraLynn Children’s Hospice, and quite quickly realised that I wanted to work with children. I ultimately left law and found a job with LauraLynn, where I worked very closely with the families of children suffering from life-limiting conditions. Even at that point, teaching was far from my mind, as I wanted to work with children affected by serious illness. During my time there, however, I had a lot of contact with the healthy siblings of these children, who have such a challenging role to play in their early lives. I ended up volunteering in Barretstown, which is another charity for children with serious illnesses and their families, and very quickly discovered that many of the volunteers there were primary school teachers. From talking to them, I decided to go back to college part-time while I was working in LauraLynn and complete my teaching masters.
What makes teaching exciting for you?
The excitement is in the uncertainty, the potential, maybe even the apprehension…there are so many unknowns in teaching, whether it’s at the start of a year, a term, a day, or even a lesson. No matter how well-planned your lesson is (or not, as the case may be), you simply cannot predict what path you will go down once the students engage with, and give input into, that lesson. I have started Maths lessons that have turned into History lessons, and vice versa. I think that if you ever see an opportunity to go somewhere that, unexpected as it may be, has the potential to be educational and interesting, you’re doing a disservice to everyone if you don’t take the plunge and see where you end up. My students continue to surprise me all the time, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Why did you choose to teach at Alex?
Despite applying very late in the day, I started my final teaching practice placement at Alex, teaching in J6. Although the first Covid-19 lockdown cut that placement very short, that time was enough to get a feel for the culture of the school. It’s such a happy and welcoming place to work, and when the opportunity arrived to apply for a job it wasn’t even a decision. There were times while I was doing my masters that I had serious doubts about changing career again, but I can safely say that, since coming into Alex, I have never had a single regret.
How have you adapted your teaching for Covid-19? Is there anything you’ve changed that you’ll keep doing going forward?
I’m a teacher that came of age during Covid-19, so I never really knew teaching before it! Moving online last January was difficult, but it was far better than I expected, which is mainly due to the resilience of the students I was teaching. It’s clear that certain subjects are much harder to teach and learn over Zoom, but the growing comfort with online and computer-based work is definitely a positive to come out of the last couple of years. I can be quite old-fashioned in a lot of my teaching, but it’s a no-brainer to move a certain amount of classwork and homework online, simply because there are so many resources available now that didn’t exist in the past.
What has been the highlight of your teaching career so far?
Many of my J6 students might cite the Carlingford trip as a highlight of this year, and I would have to agree that it was fantastic, even if it involved the girls seeing me shaking like a leaf 30 feet up on the high ropes. There have been far too many laughs in the classroom to even remember, but I love the fun that you can have with a class. As someone who loves music, though, I think my highlights have been when my class, this year and last year, have learnt a song, and then let it rip in front of the whole school. For me, the energy and joy I get out of that is worth all the homework corrections and early mornings.