Staff Spotlight - Jennifer McGarry
Every Friday we feature a member of our staff in our Staff Spotlight! This week, we spoke to e-Learning coordinator in the Junior School and J5 teacher Jennifer McGarry about her career as a teacher and incorporating STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths) into the curriculum.
Why did you begin teaching?
In the back of my mind I always thought that I’d like to get into teaching. I grew up with horses, and I completed teaching exams so that I could help the younger kids at the yard to learn to ride. During college, studying for my degree in Economics, Finance and German, I gave grinds to students preparing for the state exams and really enjoyed this. After graduating with my degree, I worked in banking for a bit before moving on to work with Perigord, which is an Irish company that supplies artwork and other digital/software solutions to the Life Sciences industries. These were both super opportunities; I learned so much from working in a variety of environments that demanded different things from you - from meeting tight deadlines for international customers, to training new staff and working across different computer platforms. This is where I managed to merge my Economics and Finance degree with my creative and design side. I started as an artworker and then moved up to a Junior Project Management role, I really enjoyed my time there. As I moved up in the company, I had more opportunities for training and I really enjoyed this, but that also made me think about how I loved the teaching aspects the most, as well as remembering the enjoyment I had when giving grinds or training with the horses. So I decided to go into teaching instead! Everything I’ve done in the past all ties together when I’m teaching.
What makes teaching exciting for you?
As a child, I always enjoyed school - the excitement of new stationary at the start of a new school year, beginning a new science or art project, learning a new topic in Maths or celebrating achievements and birthdays with friends. There was always so much going on and so much to learn! Now as a teacher, it is this energy that I love working with day in and day out; the sense of possibility and the opportunity to constantly learn from and with those around you. Each day really is so very different and each person you work with - whether it is another staff member or student - brings something new to the table that helps you learn and broaden your knowledge.
I think working in Alex adds an extra buzz of excitement too! I feel very fortunate to work in a school with such a great reputation for being pioneers and leaders in their field. There’s also a super collaborative spirit amongst the staff here in the Junior School and the support from Avril and my colleagues is fantastic.
What is your favourite thing about teaching STEAM?
The best thing about STEAM, is that the sense of possibility in teaching is brought to another level. You can literally see your ideas and imagination brought to life through coding a sprite or perhaps a robotic device, or using 3D modelling software. As I’ve seen with the girls in class, there’s no preconceived conceptions with STEAM. Everyone knows it’s kind of arty, or something to do with science, or it might include some Maths; but the students don’t have a set idea of what exactly STEAM is, the way they might do with say Maths. Then, they see Maths being used in a really cool new way to make a Sphero device move across the floor or, for example, they realise that they have to understand the basic maths operations in order to code something on a Micro:bit. They see it used in a real world, practical application and they realise “Oh wait, I am actually good at this” or “I do understand that.” STEAM is an integrated framework of education, so it’s taking a bit from each subject and includes other things like teamwork skills, building positive dispositions towards your work and developing good studying and working habits. All these things then come together when working on a project, so it’s very much a collaborative effort and each person’s strengths get a chance to be drawn on.
Why did you choose to teach at Alex?
When I’d learned about STEAM in teacher college, it was like a lightbulb went on and it brought everything together for me. I knew I had found my niche area in education and I remember when I was in my final year of teacher college and I was looking at all these different schools, I knew I wanted to try and find a school that mirrored this way of teaching that I loved. When I saw the Alex website, I knew straight away that I’d love to work here. Alex had already cultivated a long-standing holistic environment in the Junior School and recognises that all aspects of education are important, not just certain subjects. Developing the student as a whole person and looking outward at the world was really important to me as well. The Froebelian nature of the Junior School works amazingly with STEAM. I feel so lucky to come in everyday and work with everyone here in Alex, I definitely made the right choice after teacher college!
How have you adapted your teaching for Covid-19?
Typically STEAM work is based around group work, but we obviously have had to go about projects individually because of public health guidelines. The fact that we have access to so many different technologies and peripheral devices, especially because JACA have been incredibly generous in funding the STEAM program in Alex, has meant that the girls aren’t missing out at all. Instead of manipulating one device between two students, they are fortunate to have their own and they simply talk about what they’re doing or the problems they’re having and help each solve the issue through talking about it and experimenting with their own device. We’re also making a lot more use of Google Classroom, and we’re teaching outside a lot more, which is a nice thing. It’s had to be adapted in small ways, but overall the continuity of the day has largely remained the same and the main thing is that the girls are at the centre of the learning.
What has been the highlight of your teaching career so far?
One highlight has been completing our first European project in collaboration with the PDST, which was a fantastic experience. It was great to work with experts in the areas of technology and STEAM. We then brought that knowledge back to the classroom and to the school, so it’s really beneficial for both the students that are directly working on that project and the school as a whole.
Another highlight for me, has definitely been being made the e-Learning coordinator in the Junior School and developing our STEAM program with Avril. This a really exciting development; we’re only getting started so watch this space!