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Every Friday we feature a member of our staff in our Staff Spotlight! This week, we spoke to English and Geography teacher Niamh O'Connell about her teaching career.

A woman with dark tied hair smiles at the camera. Text contains a quote from interview.

What interested you in teaching?

When I finished school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do! I always had such a keen interest in English and Geography. When I sat down and asked myself what I wanted to do, I was immediately drawn to both subjects. I decided to go on and study both subjects as well as psychology after school. I knew I could only continue on with two subjects so I dropped psychology. The more I was learning about the two subjects, the more I fell in love with them and wanted to teach them. I absolutely loved English in school. I have such lovely memories of learning in a supportive environment. I remember my teacher had arranged the tables in a big square around the room so we students could see each other. If we were reading a novel with an unexpected twist, a funny poem or reading a Shakespearean tragedy, we were able to see each other’s reactions. This, for me, is what I think back on when thinking of studying English in school. It made studying English feel personal in an intimate environment. Such an environment inspired me to go into teaching as I really believe your school experience shapes how you view the subject long after you leave school.


What makes teaching English and Geography exciting for you?

I love teaching both subjects for different reasons. Geography is a subject that is so applicable to everyday life. When we wake up in the morning until we go to sleep at night, we are interacting with geography in some way even without thinking about it. Learning geographical skills, no matter how simple, will always stay with you. From being able to use Google Maps to walk somewhere, to examining maps in the local park, to interpreting graphs for information, these are all skills that we have learned without thinking twice. Learning about the world we live in can be fascinating. Teaching about a world that is constantly changing is amazing as it really gets the students thinking about the world both locally, nationally and internationally. It makes it easier to learn about something when it’s relatable so I find making geography as relatable as possible works best, asking them if they’ve had any experiences of X, Y, Z and what they learned from it!

With English, I believe the more you delve into it, the more you love it! Teaching English is great because if a student doesn’t like a certain aspect of it, they’ll find another more suited to them. I, personally, love teaching and studying poetry because it teaches us that the more we examine something, the more we realise there’s a greater meaning behind it.

Why did you choose to teach at Alex?

I went to an all-girls secondary school myself when I was younger so teaching in one really appealed to me. I have great memories of school both in and outside the classroom, from learning my favourite subjects to just having fun at breaktime with my friends! The environment at Alex is very similar to my old school; the girls are able to have fun and enjoy themselves but know when to put their heads down and do their work. Since my first day at Alex, I have really enjoyed teaching here as the school represents everything school should be - learning but also enjoying that learning!

Since the Covid-19 restrictions have eased, it has really made a difference to the spirit of the school. From attending assemblies in the concourse to being able to be able to see staff and students’ faces without wearing masks, it has made the world of difference to the school community.

How have you adapted your teaching for Covid-19? Is there anything you think you’ll continue going forward?

Teaching during Covid-19 was hard for both students and teachers. Fortunately, in today’s world, the majority of staff and students will have some form of technology that is useful in education. With all the useful resources that are available for English and Geography, I have always incorporated ICT into my teaching as much as I can. Whether it’s a simple Powerpoint projected onto the board, audio of W.B. Yeats reading one of his poems, showing the students our location on Google Earth or even a video of a volcano exploding, technology makes learning more interesting. Since Covid-19, I have increased my use of technology whether it was to suit online learning or to keep students interested in learning at a time when of restrictions.

I wrote my thesis on the importance of including ICT in second-level education, so I am a true believer in using technology in all aspects of education. Covid-19 has really shown me that adapting teaching methodologies to include ICT has been of benefit to everyone.

What has been the highlight of your teaching career so far?

For me, the highlight of my teaching career so far has been the people that I have met. I have met a lot of interesting people from all different backgrounds who have a lot of different perspectives, knowledge and advice to offer. Working in different schools, I have met management, teachers, office staff, parents and students who give different insights into how schools work. Different insights are great because they can often open discussions and allow you to think of something from a different perspective. I think it is important to have good relationships with everyone because it makes the school experience more enjoyable.