Staff Spotlight - Katie Fanagan
Every Friday we feature a member of our staff in our Staff Spotlight! This week, we spoke to TY Coordinator and English Teacher Katie Fanagan about her teaching career.
What interested you in teaching?
It’s one of those cliché answers but I didn’t always want to be a teacher; I actually really wanted to be a performer, or a TV presenter for a long time. I ended up doing English and History in college because I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. Those were my favourite subjects in school, and my parents encouraged me to do a general Arts degree so that I could have the chance to experience everything. Then in college I got very involved in Players, the Drama society - I was directing, writing, producing, just getting involved in everything and I loved it. Through that I realized I actually really loved teaching people; I was working a lot with first and second year students while on the society’s committee and I realized that I enjoyed the relationship there and feeling like I was helping them. When I finished college it was the last year that you could become a qualified teacher through the one year P.D.E. programme so I just decided to go ahead and do it, and I absolutely loved every second of it. I did my teaching experience in a boys’ school, which kept me on my toes, but I knew then that teaching was 100% what I wanted to do. I always loved every part of school, both the structured parts and the fun parts, and I still love being in a school environment every day. So I can’t say that I was destined to be a teacher forever, but I look back now and think that it makes total sense.
What makes teaching English exciting?
In an English class you cover so much about life, and you get to know your students so well because you’re talking about big issues that characters and authors faced in their lives. Even when you teach the same texts, every group reacts differently and brings their own experiences to it. Social media has also allowed students to become so much more knowledgeable over the years about the issues they’re facing today, and so the conversations that we’re having in class are becoming more deep and meaningful, which makes sure things are always interesting. English is always moving with the times as well and becoming more contemporary. The texts are always changing and it’s really cool that we can adjust them to keep things contemporary and relevant. An English class is never boring, and there’s always something that surprises you. When you’re teaching you have to be really flexible, and there are so many ways you can cover different subjects like rap and slam poetry, so it’s really versatile. They’ll always remember certain characters and texts throughout their life; I always say this to the girls and they might not believe me, but they will! The texts are always going to be relevant in some way, so they’re really timeless. I find with the older years that we’ll be covering texts where women are oppressed or there are patriarchal issues, and they’re just so passionate about it. You can see how times are changing every year, and how they’re reacting to texts differently to the students even a few years before, and I find that I’m always learning from them as well.
What is involved in being TY Coordinator?
Each year group in Alex has a Year Head who takes care of attendance, pastoral care, etc. In TY, we also have the TY Coordinator and so I get to do a bit more of the fun stuff - arranging work experience, workshops, activities, trips, etc. I also oversee the TY assessment such as the Portfolio projects that they complete throughout the year. We have a great TY programme here in Alex, and every week there’s something different and exciting for the girls. Being TY Coordinator is such a challenge, but I love it. It’s outside of my usual timetable, but I get to know the girls so well through it and keeping it fresh and exciting is always an interesting challenge for me in any year. I love having another project to work on alongside teaching, and I think it comes back to enjoying seeing students engage in non-academic activities and growing through that. There’s always a conversation in the media about whether TY is worthwhile, but I get to see how much the girls have developed over the programme because of all of the new things they’ve tried, how much they’ve had to work in teams (and it’s not always fun, sometimes it’s very challenging), and it’s like they get a snippet of real life and I can see how that helps them grow. It is definitely worthwhile! It is also great getting to know the girls on a different level through modules like World of Work and all of the trips we go on as well. It’s definitely challenging though because we’re always trying to do right by them and make it a great year, but I find that the girls and also parents are so great at coming up with ideas of new things we can include in the programme. There’s so much out there for TY students that it’s also about figuring out what’s worthwhile for the girls to get involved in as well, which can be quite difficult sometimes, but seeing the girls grow through the year is the cherry on top of teaching for me. One of the great things about TY in Alex is that the girls are really engaged and want to make the most of their year, and they know that the experiences are valuable, and I love to see how much they can achieve in the year.
Why did you choose to teach at Alex?
I actually went to Mount Anville, which is a bit of an archenemy of Alex if you will (I joke!), but I always had friends in Alex and I was always very familiar with the school. Then when I finished in college I saw that there was a position open here and I knew that there was such excellence in education, and that the school was very forward thinking with regard to women in the world, so I was very interested in teaching here. When I actually came and started teaching though, I realized that I didn’t know the half of it! I was absolutely bowled over by the environment in the school because there is such a lovely, inclusive atmosphere of acceptance here. Until I taught here I never knew that the relationship between students and teachers could be so great; I remember being in school and there was a bit of division between the students and the teachers and that wasn’t a good or bad thing, but as a teacher I can really see the benefits of having a collegiate relationship. And there’s always such a level of respect on both sides as well, because no one ever crosses the line, but you can have a really friendly, respectful, and fulfilling relationship and it just makes everything so much more enjoyable. School life is so much fun in Alex because the girls are so driven and studious, that there’s also an element of enjoyment to school life that can sometimes get lost when things get competitive. There’s a nice balance in Alex, with Fun Days, the Culwick Choral Competition, and all these other events throughout the year that keeps the fun from getting lost from school life. The daily assemblies are a particular highlight!!
How have you adapted your teaching for Covid-19?
I do think we were really fortunate with how quickly Alex pivoted to online learning and how fantastic our IT department is, which made things a lot easier. From a classroom perspective, I find it incredible that we were able to read novels on Zoom and that’s really all down to the students and the work they put in. From a TY perspective, it was pretty tough but we just had to find new ways to engage the girls. We came up with different things we could do with different challenges, virtual experiences etc. While the motivation side of things was of course difficult, from an accessibility perspective there were a lot of interesting virtual experiences that popped up. We participated in the RCSI Mini Med Programme and where normally only two girls from the year would get to go in person, this year the entire year was able to participate virtually and that was a really great benefit to the girls. So there were a few silver linings in there, though we’re very happy to be back in the classroom.
What has been the highlight of your teaching career so far?
Becoming TY Coordinator was really great because I was able to take on a lot more responsibility and I absolutely love being able to facilitate the way the girls develop and grow through the TY Programme. Another highlight is that the girls in 6th Year now were in 1st Year when I started teaching in Alex, and it’s an amazing thing to see them go through the entire Senior School. I still teach some of the girls I taught in 1st Year, and it’s a very cool feeling to know that I helped facilitate their time in school and see them grow and go on. It’s one of the biggest highlights of being a teacher.