Staff Spotlight - Malachi Friel
Every Friday we will be featuring a member of our staff in our new Staff Spotlight! This week, we spoke to English teacher Malachi Friel about his teaching career.
Why did you begin teaching?
Teaching was always in the back of my mind, even a few years after I left school, but I began my working career as an industrial engineer. I worked in a clothing factory and my job was to find the most efficient way each task could be done. Labour was the most costly part of manufacturing, so making each task time efficient was key. After 12 years I found myself thinking, “You know, I would love to teach.” I had always enjoyed literature and drama, and so I chose to become qualified to teach Drama. For a while I was teaching Drama in a number of schools, and I loved it. I decided to go back to college in UCD for a degree in English and History so that I could teach more of the literature I enjoyed. I came to Alex around that time, and began teaching both English and Drama.
Why is teaching your subject exciting?
I’ve always been a reader. Growing up, I always used to walk down to the Blackrock Library once a week and left with 8 books each time. One of the things I find most exciting about teaching English is that I am teaching my favourite books, poems, and films and sharing them with students. Sometimes, I have even fallen in love with books after teaching them! Even after teaching a book for 20 years, it’s like a bottomless ocean and something fresh will hit you that you’ve never seen before. Sometimes that happens over time because of life experience as well, because you’ve come into contact with the book at a certain point in your life. All great literature deals with the issues that really matter: love, loss, friendship, family, regret, hopes, fears, dreams. English is such an exciting subject to teach because I feel that I am sharing something meaningful, that they can relate to and that lessons can be learned from.
How have you adapted your teaching for Covid-19?
One of the biggest challenges I have faced is to communicate with students through masks, screens, and all of the PPE that we have had to adapt to keep ourselves safe. It can be so difficult to communicate with people when you can’t see their whole face, and the emotional distance they create makes teaching a new challenge. One of the ways I have found myself adapting is to make sure I am more animated, articulate and clear when I communicate to ensure I’ve gotten the message across and make that connection.
What has been the highlight of your teaching career so far?
One of the most humbling experiences I’ve had in my teaching career has been when students tell me I’ve made a difference in their life because I was there. It’s something you don’t ever expect; you see yourself as a teacher of a subject, you don’t see yourself as a person. Someone once said you don’t teach a subject, you teach who you are. I received a card from a student once that said, “Thank you for your cheerful smile in the corridor every morning.” There are so many ways that a teacher can make an impact in a student’s life.
Other times it’s rewarding when you are teaching complex concepts to students and for whatever reason, they are grappling with them. When you see the lightbulb moment as they understand the concept, at the moment they’re ready to understand, and you hear the words “Now I get it.” That is one of the most rewarding moments.
Once in a very blue moon, you walk into a classroom and there’s just a glow of love, acceptance, and delight. It’s such a pleasant experience to be teaching in that environment and connecting with students.
Why did you choose to teach at Alex?
The moment I walked into the school, I felt I’d come home. It did and has always felt like a home. There’s a real, genuine warmth and ease between staff and students that builds the school community. I feel that I have met the best of humanity in the staffroom and the classroom.