Every Friday we feature a member of our staff in our Staff Spotlight! This week, we spoke to Spanish, Irish and PE teacher Zachary Waters about his teaching career.
What interested you in teaching?
The reason I became interested in teaching actually stemmed from when I was in school myself; as part of my GAISCE President’s Award, I started coaching hockey in my club. It made me see a whole new side to the sport; I was able to see progression in players as a result of my coaching and to see that they were taking my points on board. Imparting knowledge is a valuable skill that I didn’t fully realise at the time but value now. As I became older, I thought to myself that teaching isn’t dissimilar to coaching, apart from dressing a little fancier. I enjoyed coaching so much that I had never considered it a job even though I was being paid. This was why I decided to pursue a career in teaching, and I truly believe that it is a career that suits me!
I think another reason I decided to choose a career in teaching was that some of my role models in life are teachers that I had myself in school, and to this day, I still look up to these people. As a teacher myself, I often refer to some of these people and use some of their methodologies in my own classes.
What makes teaching Spanish, Irish, and PE exciting for you?
I have always loved languages since primary school. I remember going abroad with my parents to places such as Tunisia, Germany, and Cyprus, to name a few, and wanting to converse in that place’s language, even if I only could order my dinner in the language. Throughout my school and college days, I studied many languages such as Spanish, French, Irish, Latin, Russian, Chinese and Portuguese, all of which I didn’t find too challenging… except for maybe Chinese!
I find teaching languages exciting as they are so much more than just a language; there is the culture, the customs, the festivals, the music, the literature, among many others. It is thrilling to see the students converse through the target language and watch them explore more about the culture and identify the similarities they have in their lives with those from a different country. Languages are something that students can and definitely should use after they complete 6th Year, as they are so essential in terms of perhaps securing a job in an international company in Ireland or abroad, or even just living in a different country.
Similarly, I have always played sports growing up, mixing between solo sports and team sports, both of which I think instil different essential life skills for individuals in modern society. Sports allow individuals to develop essential life skills,such as team work, leadership, time management, competition and sportsmanship, dealing with pressure, responsibility and commitment. I like coaching sports as it allows students to let off steam at the end of the day and be free from the stresses and worries of school life. It is particularly exciting to watch certain students who may not be the most academically gifted excel on the sports fields and see a different confidence in them that they might not have in the classroom.
Why did you choose to teach at Alex?
It was an easy choice for me to come to Alex; having gone to a school in Dublin 6 myself, we would have done many cross-curricular activities together, so I already knew a lot about the school. I believe that the philosophy, mission and ethos of Alex are all values that I would try to live my own personal life like before having joined this community.
The other big attractions for me were the International Department and the history of hockey in the school. Having an International Department is fantastic as it means that we have native language speakers at every corner who we can set up language exchanges with or even just chat about their time in Ireland. Even as a teacher, I am still learning new words and phraseology from our international students. I am privileged to now be working in a very experienced MFL department, a group with many years of teaching and who are so supportive of me in my teaching. In terms of Alex’s legacy in hockey, it has been at the forefront for an exceptionally long time, which is something that I wanted to be a part of. I am also eager to see which current students will turn out to be future international players!
How have you adapted your teaching for Covid-19? Is there anything you think you’ll continue going forward?
I think that as a result of COVID – 19 I have become more tech-savvy; I was already quite good at using ICT in the classroom, but since the pandemic, I have had to find new ways of doing certain things. Both through speaking with colleagues in Alex and in my previous experience, I have learned of many different websites that I can use in my teaching to make the classroom interactive without physical movement in the class. Some of these sites are particularly good for differentiated learning as they allow students to work at their own pace.
While all these technological tools are great, I still believe that they can’t replace face to face learning. Activity-based learning through games or movement around the classroom can help to make the lesson exciting and fun, and the students are learning without even realising. I am happy that the restrictions in school are now easing, meaning that we can do more activity-based learning; however, I still will use some of the websites from the pandemic days for things such as differentiation.
What has been the highlight of your teaching career so far?
I am not sure at this point I can pinpoint a stand out highlight, but something that I really value is feedback from both students and parents. Any feedback I have received to date has been all positive, and some of the comments that students and parents have said to me about my teaching at times have really thrilled me and brightened up my day.
Another thing that I think could be considered as a highlight is building a professional relationship and trust with students. I enjoy figuring out their likes and dislikes outside of the classroom so that when they have to write about themselves or speak about themselves that there is a starting point. If a student likes a particular band, I can find an article about that band in the target language and that will hopefully make the language and material more accessible for that student.