Staff Spotlight - Kate Richardson
Every Friday we feature a member of our staff in our Staff Spotlight! This week, we spoke to J5 teacher Kate Richardson about her teaching career.
What got you interested in teaching?
I really like helping people and helping them solve problems, and mostly I really enjoy spending time with children. When I finished my degree in History, I started looking at what I should do next. The obvious answer was to become a secondary school teacher, so I started working in summer camps with teenagers to get experience. Then they asked me if I would do a primary school-aged camp as well, and I had a lot of fun! I thought about it, and if I became a History teacher, I would have to grade the same 1st Year essay on A Day in the Life of a Roman again, and again, and again. But if I became a primary school teacher, I could do different projects each year. I had a rethink, and I started volunteering in primary schools. I really enjoyed that, so I went back and trained to be a primary school teacher.
What makes teaching exciting for you?
Spending time with children and getting them excited about learning; about reading, writing stories, and showing them that they can do things. Even if they find something hard at first, that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to do it. I love helping them with whatever they’re finding challenging, whether it’s maths, learning their spellings, Irish, or managing their emotions. Seeing the difference from the start of the year to the end is really satisfying, especially in some of the year-round programmes that we do like Accelerated Reader.
A few years ago, Ms Lamplugh asked me to sit in on a meeting about a new programme called Accelerated Reader, and we both thought it sounded promising. Before I knew it, I was the administrator of a school-wide programme. Accelerated Reader is really amazing; it gets children reading actual published books, not readers that have been designed to be specifically levelled, which tend to be a bit boring. The authors have written what they want and created a really interesting and enjoyable story, and then someone has come along later and said “The level of this book is X.” Children don’t have to be restricted to the five books they’re ready for now, they can choose books that they enjoy, answer questions on them, and be rewarded for their progress. It’s also extremely differentiated; everyone has their own target of books that they’re trying to read, and everyone is doing their own book quizzes that are suitable for them, so everyone can achieve success. We sometimes have students come in from other schools where they haven’t had the programme and they feel that they just can’t read. Then suddenly they’re being given books at their level, and they start really enjoying it.
Another area where we see a lot of improvement is in the Green Schools program. I got involved in the Green Schools Committee because I really care about the environment. I spend a lot of time in my garden and I try to encourage biodiversity in it, by using organic methods, planting pollinator-friendly flowers and leaving room for a few weeds. Recently, I've started seeing dragonflies, bats, goldfinches and all sorts of different insects that I wouldn’t have seen a couple of years ago. I grow different fruit and vegetables all year round and I share them with the slugs and birds. It’s really important to me to share that with the children and encourage them to look after the environment as well. They don’t need much persuading, as they all care about the animals and plants on our planet, and they want to keep them safe. They’re really excited to do whatever they can to help the planet, and it gives them a lot of agency. Last year we started the Travel Flag for Green Schools and were working hard towards that goal when Covid-19 hit, so we weren’t able to do everything we had planned. So we’re starting the Travel Flag anew this year, and we’ll be setting up some cycling workshops for J5, and encouraging everyone in the school to walk, cycle, or scoot to school on Wednesdays. We’re doing a traffic survey to see how people are getting to school, and we’ll be repeating it at the end of the year in hopes that we will see lots more people walking, cycling, and scooting to school. If people live far away, we’re encouraging them to park and stride, which is where you park a little further from school and walk the rest of the way. This will improve the air quality around the school, and everyone will be able to get a bit of exercise during the day. There will also be lots of quizzes and competitions to create posters, poems and songs, encouraging everyone to consider how they travel to school.
Why did you choose to teach at Alex?
When I qualified as a teacher, I spent a year subbing all across Dublin (and occasionally dipping into Kildare). Some of the schools were quite far away so I decided that I would just send my CV to schools in my local area. When I sent it to Alex, I didn’t have any particular expectations, but Ms Airey, who was the secretary at the time, showed me around the school. When I came in I saw the kind of teaching that you learn about in college but never actually see in practice, where the children are given the opportunity to work with manipulatives, engage in group work, access the outdoors and are given so many opportunities for creativity and free-thinking. Then I met Ms Lamplugh and she was such a supportive and kind person, and such a wonderful leader. The community is so open and friendly, the staff are so supportive, and everyone works as a team. We have a really positive community.
How have you adapted your teaching for Covid-19?
It has been a lot of hard work to figure out how to teach in the new world of Covid-19. A large part of it was partitioning everything into groups since we can share materials within pods, and then finding a system of quarantining or disinfecting items before they’re shared across pods. Another main aspect has been trying to use the outdoors as much as possible. If we’re doing an Irish lesson we may start inside, but we’ll finish it outside with games where everyone can interact with each other, they can talk to each other more, and they get a chance to communicate with every member of the class without having to be worried about restrictions. It’s a lot of organisation, and teaching students to help as well, they’re a large part of it. They’re very good about disinfecting their hands and maintaining distance. Even if they forget and creep closer, I put up a hand and they’re very good at immediately taking steps back. We couldn’t do it without their support, and of course, parents have been really supportive and understanding as well.
What has been the highlight of your teaching career so far?
I think the thing I enjoy most is seeing children who are struggling with something at the beginning of the year, and by June, they’re feeling really good about it. Whether it’s anxiety, or reining in their emotions, or maths, Irish, reading, writing; we all have things that we struggle with. It’s incredibly satisfying when a student has something that she needs to work on, and she’s then willing to work with the teacher to fix it, and they can look back at the end of the year and take great pride in the progress they’ve made.