Staff Spotlight - Una Clay
Every Friday we feature a member of our staff in our Staff Spotlight! This week, we spoke to Learning Support teacher Una Clay about her teaching career.
What interested you in teaching?
When I was in primary school, the P.E. teacher in the secondary school invited our class over to the Gym. She said “We’re gonna play a game called Pirates,” which is where you run around, over, on top of, under, all of the big pieces of equipment. I loved it and I won, and she made a big deal of me when I did. From that minute I said, “I want to be a P.E. teacher. I love this, this is me.” It was the 1980s, and all the way through school I was told “It’s not a job for women, you might get injured, it’s not really a long term job, you can only coach for so many years.” Me being me of course, that only made me more determined. I started coaching my sister’s team when I was twelve (she still hasn’t forgiven me for that, by the way) and I stuck with it all the way through school. Then I went to Thomond College of Physical Education (now University of Limerick), did my degree in P.E. and Geography, and loved it. So I have coached for 42 years and taught for 33 years; so to all the naysayers who said “Not a job for women and you won’t have a long career” - tough! I’ve absolutely loved it.
What makes teaching Learning Support exciting for you?
After 31 years here I can say that teaching Learning Support is the most rewarding thing I’ve done in Alex, I think I’ve really seen my niche. I see a lot of girls who label themselves and sometimes put a stigma on themselves. I had a conversation with a fabulous 6th Year a few years ago who said, “I consider myself stupid because I have dyslexia. From the age of 7, I’ve had trouble reading, and I think I’m stupid.” We worked together to break that because it’s just another way of learning; it’s a different way of approaching education and I don’t believe it should ever be used as a label or as any form of stigma. The girls are wonderful, they give so much, and the fact that Learning Support happens in small groups makes it rewarding. I give the girls emotional support as well, and I’ll help with anything like that they need. I find that when you help the girls with their self-esteem and affirm them, they give you a million percent back. It’s a long time coming; I was head of hockey for 15 years, I taught P.E., SPHE, Philosophy, English, and Geography, but I love Learning Support. I really enjoy our girls and how much they commit. For me, the rewards from Learning Support have been greater than A’s or H1’s with big class groups.
Why did you choose to join the Alex community?
I was fortunate enough when I was younger to play Irish Hockey at school and Irish U21s, and through that, I came to know former College Principal Gladys Ruddock. She is a wonderful lady and she was a spectacular principal, and she headhunted me for Alex. I spent my first two years out of college at a school near here, and she came in for me twice. The second time I said, “Right, I’m coming to Alex.” It’s my spiritual home here I think because I’m an ardent feminist. My late dad always taught me that you have to look out for those less fortunate, which echoed something that Henrietta White said in 1892, “We must look out for those less fortunate than us.” So between the hockey, the feminism, and the philanthropy, I was made for this College and I adore it. I’m as passionate about Alex now as I was when I walked through the door in 1987. I was like Harry Potter in Hogwarts, just struck by the magic, and the magic’s still there.
How have you adapted your teaching for Covid-19?
Covid-19 was really impactful for me because I wasn’t allowed in as I was very high risk. It was a long, lonely, isolated streak of time where I badly missed the Alex community. I Zoomed the whole way through it and never missed a class, and it’s a measure of how great our girls are that all my Learning Support girls and last year’s 3B English were brilliant and really supportive. So I kept going with Zoom, but I think it’s really enhanced my empathy for the girls and what people went through during the pandemic because it was really isolating to be cut off from my community that way. It really reinforced my belief that the key quality that education must have is empathy.
What has been the highlight of your time in Alex so far?
There are two massive highlights that immediately come to mind. I took over basketball after 15 years as Head of Hockey, and I said to the girls, “Right, you have to show the same commitment and work ethic; stop looking at it as a Cinderella sport and believe in yourselves,” and we won the All-Ireland tournament that year. That was absolutely outstanding; we came back from Tallaght Arena and Mr Murray was in the Concourse doing the 4th Year play, and they gave us a spontaneous standing ovation. Everything around that win was just an outstanding memory.
My second highlight was the Fun Day we had out here on a Sunday for girls from St. Louise De Marillac National School in Ballyfermot, which is a DEIS school. I started a charity with great support from Ms Ennis and Ms Corr called Back to the Future. I wanted us to go back to our roots when Alex would look after the tenement kids in the city and their families. Every year group in the school was asked to donate different items for goody bags, staff gave up their time, and we had a Fun Day for the girls from St. Louise’s. Mr Cooney brought his Ballymun Lullaby students who performed for us, the Junior School paid for an ice cream van, we gave them Dominoes pizza; it was a brilliant day and truly memorable. The entire Alex community came together and donated funds, time, or effort, which was completely overwhelming and it’s a measure of our generosity. It’s one of my standout memories because I just glowed with pride, it was right back to our roots and was the best of Alex. I have loads of other highlights, Fun Days, other wins with hockey, cricket, and badminton, and just other brilliant days here, days where the girls make you feel 10 foot tall, but those are the two standouts.