Staff Spotlight - Niamh Murray
Every Friday we feature a member of our staff in our Staff Spotlight! This week, we spoke to J2 teacher Niamh Murray about her teaching career.
Why did you begin teaching?
I wasn’t someone who knew exactly what I wanted to do from a young age; I knew I wanted a career in helping other people but I wasn’t really sure how. The idea to go into teaching came about when one of my teachers in TY was asking my parents what I might do after school. My parents told them that I wasn’t really sure yet my teacher was surprised - they said they’d always presumed I would be a teacher because they’d always pictured me in a classroom. My parents shared this with me when they came home and I thought, “Oh that actually sounds quite nice, I like that idea.” So as part of my Transition Year I chose to do some work experience in several primary schools, and I really enjoyed the experience.
What makes teaching exciting for you?
For me what I love about teaching is how every day is different. You arrive each morning with a plan for how the day will go and you can have everything prepared, but at the back of your mind you know that there will be all of these lively discussions, debates and knowledge shared by the students that you could never have planned on paper. The Froebelian teaching methods that we use in the Junior School really lend themselves nicely to that because the girls have the freedom to explore and discover in their learning and engage creatively with their peers which means that each day brings something new.
Another part of teaching that really I enjoy is that even if you’re often the only adult in a classroom, you really are working in a team. There’s so much collaboration between class teachers whether it’s team teaching or sharing ideas and resources. It really makes teaching exciting because every teacher will bring a slightly different perspective to a topic and that makes the lessons even richer.
Why did you choose to teach at Alex?
It was a very easy choice for me because I was a student in Alex, both in Junior School and Senior School. Alex isn’t just a school, it’s a community of people where we’re all working towards a common goal and the community spirit is just lovely. It’s a place where young girls can feel empowered to do anything they want in life so long as they put their mind to it. I think being able to be a part of that and giving that opportunity to students now is a really powerful thing. You can excel in any area that interests you whether that’s music or drama, debating or STEAM, and the school really supports every child to learn and grow in a way that suits them.
I also found it really interesting that while I was in teacher training college, the lecturers presented us with current best practice in teaching. We were to focus specifically on group and pair work, self-directed learning, project work, and hands-on learning and we needed to move away from the traditional lecture style teaching. As I listened, I realised that was just a description of the learning environment that I’d had in the Alex Junior School! That made me realise how valuable the Froebelian ethos really was because it made that experience possible.
What has it been like to experience Alex as both a student and a teacher?
It’s been really interesting to experience life at Alex from both sides of the coin. I have nothing but happy memories from my time in both the Junior School and the Senior School. Of course I find some things have changed and others not at all but really, those happy memories and that sense of community was what brought me back to Alex. As a student I always found it a friendly and welcoming place where everyone knew each other and you were always encouraged to find your “thing”. For me that was music and I enjoyed my time in various choirs and learning several instruments. I love that I’ve also been able to take that experience and give it back as well as a teacher. I developed a love for choral singing during my time in school which has continued on, and it has been so rewarding to use that experience now as a co-conductor of the Junior School choir. I’m so fortunate to work with such a wonderful team of colleagues in such a positive environment and to have the freedom to contribute to the school in areas that interest me.
How have you adapted your teaching for Covid-19?
Certainly we have had to make changes over the past year to accommodate Covid-19. We’ve had to change how we do things with more of a focus on the children working as individuals, which goes a bit against our Froebelian instincts of learning together. That being said, in Alex you feel part of a team and that’s something I’ve particularly felt this year with everyone pulling together to share ideas, resources and continue to provide the girls with learning opportunities.
At the moment we are live teaching using Zoom each day which is of course far from what we’re all used to as both teachers and students. I have been blown away by the resilience of the girls in adapting pretty much overnight to working this way. It is undeniably hard for them to be apart from their friends and the routine of normal school life and we’re all looking forward to getting back into the classroom when it’s safe, but the positivity and hard work which beams through my laptop screen every day has been such a joy.
What has been the highlight of your teaching career so far?
For me there have been so many highlights along the way. Something that really stands out has been being able to run the Junior School Choir alongside Ms Fitzgerald. We have had many lovely experiences with the choir recording songs for a school-wide CD and singing at Christmas time to the residents of a local nursing home in December 2019. Another annual highlight for me is coaching the J5 and J6 Table quiz team who prepare for the AIJS table quiz competition each year. There have been a lot of highlights in the classroom as well and for me those have been a bit more special because it’s not always big events such as school trips or the annual Christmas play, but instead it’s those moments during the day when the students are really enthusiastic and engaged in their learning. It’s so rewarding to work together with a new class and see them grow in confidence and abilities over the course of the year.