Cork teachers: Changing the way we teach

Covid-19 has changed the way we’re learning with the click of a mouse. The innovation being shown by teachers and students is nothing short of amazing, but it’s not without its worries and challenges, as EMMA CONNOLLY finds out
Cork teachers: Changing the way we teach
Teachers have had to change the way they teach since schools shut due to Covid-19. Picture: Stock

PRIMARY SCHOOL

Aoife Healy, 5th & 6th class teacher, Rockboro Primary School, Boreenmanna Road, Cork

“MISS Healy, how do you know what is real? And what is not real? Are we in reality or are we dreaming now?” A question from a fifth class pupil. If only we were just simply dreaming now about these ‘not normal’ circumstances that as a worldwide community we find ourselves in.

As a teacher in Rockboro Primary School, I consider myself privileged to be amidst the enquiring minds of children. To teach is the most terrific thing there is. Being in a position to inspire and open the minds of young people to the endless possibilities that they can achieve is incredibly humbling.

At Rockboro, as an enthusiastic teaching team we believe in nurturing the whole individual and now that we find ourselves in a ‘new reality’, remote teaching is challenging in enabling us to accomplish our objective.

The children deserve the best, the very best and I find that I am perturbed by the fact I cannot remotely personalise my approach to the optimum to cater for the varying learning styles in my class.

We all learn in different ways. A child in my class may be a visual learner, another an aural learner, another a verbal learner and as an educator your teaching approach will reflect this in the classroom.

Aoife Healy, 5 th and 6 th class teacher, Rockboro Primary School, Boreenmanna Road
Aoife Healy, 5 th and 6 th class teacher, Rockboro Primary School, Boreenmanna Road

This is exacting in a virtual classroom. Nothing compares to being present with the children of your class, encouarging and motivating. The determining of their facial expressions and movements is a mirror to their thoughts, their level of comprehension and ease with the subject matter in hand.

The power of a teacher’s reaction cannot be estimated as a child requires an inspiring word that aspires them to persevere.

As a school, we have a Learning Manangement System in place that allows for continued communication with the classes. We share audio recordings, assignments, project photographs to maintain connection amongst the children themselves and their teachers.

However, we accept that a certain environment is required for learning that cannot be upheld at home. We are cognisant of the fact that there is a lack of devices, access to broadband and working parents in households that cannot support such a virtual learning platform.

Families also have their own stresses in this current climate. The effects of this crisis have transformed every household.

As an educator, I would implore parents to try and not get stressed about school work. Life has been exhausting and trying enough for you these past weeks. Take care of yourselves.

Learning objectives will be achieved. Use this time to focus on children learning practical life skills, embracing nature, imaginative play and simply doing nothing at all, embracing stillness is beneficial for the mind. Children learning to just be.

A fifth class student asked me: ‘Miss Healy, isn’t it bad for the mind if we are not with people?’ Being at home now since Friday, March 13 , that comment resonates with me daily. I recognised how frightened and anxious the children were on that Thursday and I struggle as a teacher with the loss of connection with the children. It cannot be stressed enough how valuable and important the relationship and human connection with your class is.

The engagement I had daily in spending up to six and half hours with the children, perceiving any mood changes, emotional stress and upset, is now absent. Remote teaching may allow the instruction upon academia, but fails glaringly to consider the mental health of the pupils.

Rockboro is so proud of all school children who are staying at home and remaining cheerful. This is their legacy in helping all those in their community.

Niamh Ní Dhrisceoil, Chemistry (through Irish) teacher and Múinteoir i bhFeighil Gaelcholáiste Choilm, Ballincollig
Niamh Ní Dhrisceoil, Chemistry (through Irish) teacher and Múinteoir i bhFeighil Gaelcholáiste Choilm, Ballincollig

SECOND LEVEL

Niamh Ní Dhrisceoil, Chemistry (through Irish) teacher and Múinteoir i bhFeighil, Gaelcholáiste Choilm, Ballincollig

We are several weeks into our new norm of distance teaching. It has been a steep learning curve for us all — students, parents and teachers. As teachers, we have had to become even more innovative and inventive, creating new ways to stimulate and engage our students from afar. We have been zooming and looming, up-skilling and relearning, sharing and creating, supporting and being supported.

I am lucky that I work in a school that has always been well known for its collegiality. This has flourished ten-fold in these past few weeks — we have been sharing our ideas, our resources, our stresses, our do’s and don’ts! It hasn’t stopped there. Teachers all over Ireland are working together, pooling resources and ideas with complete strangers. We’re all very much in this together.

There have been many positives to our current circumstances. We have learned new skills and recognised abilities we didn’t realise we had. We are spending quality time with our families in between. My ranganna Ceimice agus Eolaíochta are very different to what they used to be. My ‘classroom’ is now my parent’s commandeered sunroom on Oiléan Chléire, overlooking the beautiful Roaring Water Bay. My work commute takes all of one minute and there is zero traffic! No more sitting in my car, bumper to bumper, navigating my way through city traffic to work.

I’m enjoying the challenge of creating new and effective ways to teach online, albeit it has trebled my workload. Adaptability is an important life skill and here we are, globally, putting that into practice.

There have been stressful moments too. They say teaching is one of the few professions where you lose sleep worrying about someone else’s children — I can attest to that. It’s been difficult to get the balance just right — not too much work to over-burden but not too little that progress is halted.

As a whole, my own students have been outstanding. They have rolled up their sleeves and have gotten stuck in as much as we have. Juniors have been following instructions and are developing an important skill that will stand to them forever more — that of the life-long independent learner.

Seniors in particular have shown themselves to be mature, reliable, independent learners. They have been kind, patient, encouraging and honest. Their feedback has been invaluable — what is working, what is not, what needs tweaking, what’s just right, what they like and what they don’t. These are worrying times for them too. Their entire future will be shaped by the long-lasting consequences this virus will leave in its wake. But I have no doubt they will come through this crisis stronger and more capable, ready to take on the world.

This time next year, when the Class of 2020 are enjoying college or working life, they will look back and realise in the grand scheme of things, it’s really only a few short weeks extra and they will fly.

I love being at home on Cape Clear, or Costa del Cape as I like to call it, but I really miss the hustle and bustle of school life. Teaching is so much more than teaching a subject. I miss ‘my kids’ and I miss my friends and colleagues on staff. I miss being in the classroom and the rapport with my students. I miss the banter and the brainstorming. I miss that ‘ta da’ moment when a struggling student finally gets it. I miss being able to read my students and making sure they are doing OK. I even miss nagging them to clean up after themselves! But this is only for a little while and when we return to school, I hope we all appreciate the little things that much more.

Dr Gabriela Mayer Head of the Keyboard Studies department at the CIT Cork School of Music. She lectures in piano performance and chamber music and is an active performer.
Dr Gabriela Mayer Head of the Keyboard Studies department at the CIT Cork School of Music. She lectures in piano performance and chamber music and is an active performer.

THIRD LEVEL

Dr. Gabriela Mayer, Head of the Keyboard Studies department at the CIT Cork School of Music. She lectures in piano performance and chamber music and is an active performer.

WHILE clearly there are many drawbacks to our current situation, our students have been encouraged to use this time for reflecting, experimenting with new ideas and developing an effective learning style.

The CIT Cork School of Music is Ireland’s largest conservatory of music and drama, delivering specialist tuition to a wide variety of age groups.

Its third level programme encompass classical, jazz, traditional Irish music, pop, drama and musical theatre. Masters programmes are offered as performance specialisms in these areas, as well as conducting, composition, music and technology and research.

The ‘live lesson’ element has been at the centre of our move to remote delivery for the instrumental music lessons. Lecturers have embraced this challenge, and are using a wide variety of apps, depending on the age profile of their students and their available equipment.

Some of the platforms used are Big Blue Button, Zoom, Facetime, Whatsapp and Skype. in addition, students were sent relevant material in electronic format and asked to submit recordings of work in progress.

Project work, which will be submitted electronically, can combine practical research, multi-media, and diary-style entries on the learning process itself.

Large performance projects involving groups are clearly not feasible at the moment and have had to be postponed. In some instances, particularly for singers, backing tracks can provide an interim tool for learning.

Having a sense of purpose and connection to their learning goals has helped provide continuity and some normality to many students in these difficult times.

Nothing compares to being present with the children of our class, encouraging and motivating.

Covid-19 has changed the way we’re learning with the click of a mouse. The innovation being shown by teachers and students is nothing short of amazing, but it’s not without its worries and challenges, as EMMA CONNOLLY finds out

Teaching is so much more than teaching a subject. I miss ‘my kids’ and I miss my friends and colleagues on staff. I miss being in the classroom...

 John O'Connor. Picture. John Allen
 John O'Connor. Picture. John Allen

John O'Connor, Head of Pop, Jazz, Trad, Voice and Theatre Studies at CIT

THE international norm for conservatoire performance training is a highly interactive face-to-face teaching and learning session where feedback and instruction are based on sophisticated observation and swift correction.

There is a huge compromise involved in trying to achieve this over interactive internet-based video communication where you’re at the mercy of overstretched broadband or mobile data connections and limited by rudimentary camera and microphone systems.

We are fortunate that, at this stage of the year, students and teachers have a reasonable understanding of each other – allowing the current regime of remote learning to be essentially an incremental process, building on work already done.

One-to-one music lessons continue as students play and sing in their home spaces as their teachers engage in a cyber call-and-response – even if it’s rendered a little surreal by the digital delay that precludes the real-time accompaniment or rhythmic assistance.

Lecturers and students have both found themselves working harder and longer on- line than they would have done in normal circumstances. When permitted to return to traditional methods they will have pushed the boundaries of learning to new realms and will undoubtedly find their process enriched in unforeseen ways. Most importantly – they will embrace the face-to-face intimacy of performing together with enthusiasm and a new joy.

Dr Pio Fenton, Head of Department of Marketing and International Business CIT. Picture: Darragh Kane
Dr Pio Fenton, Head of Department of Marketing and International Business CIT. Picture: Darragh Kane

Pio Fenton, Head of Marketing and International Business Department at Cork Institute of Technology 

I’VE long been of the view that the essence of education is taking people outside of their comfort zones and making them think about things that they previously would not have considered. You can really only learn if you are at least a little uncomfortable and a little challenged. I would never have expected that the opportunity would arise so quickly for so many to put that into practice in daily life. For those of us in third level education it has been the steepest of learning curves but one which we have ascended with that sense of purpose that seems to have pervaded the country like never before.

In normal times – my day started in CIT’s gym at 7am and that has now been replaced by a brisk walk around Blackrock where I live. I’ve started to hear the birds sing in ways that I can’t recall hearing other than when I was a primary school child. My day used to be about meetings with students and lecturers and external industry groups. During this unprecedented crisis the majority of my focus has been on keeping the show on the road as best I can for my students in the Department of Marketing and International Business – in that I find myself meeting with students, lecturers and industry groups - all that has changed has been the technology. CIT has been lucky in this respect – it has a long tradition of providing online and blended courses – and as such had the infrastructure in place to be able to meet this challenge. 

My colleagues, who continue to inspire me with their continued focus on students, have been adapting to new ways of doing things but this has always been their way – it all driven by our desire to do our best for our students. Perhaps not all has changed as dramatically as we think.

A large part of what our students are worried about now is how this will impact their degrees and what the future holds. My colleagues and I are now spending more time than ever reassuring our students that their hard work and effort will continue to count. 

I’ve always been proud to work with students – so many of them have so much to balance; be it part-time work, family commitments or the pressures of being young in a world that puts every move you make through the lens of social media. In these times I have been impressed by their adaptability and resilience. It will stand them in good stead. We have no frame of reference for where we are now – we are firmly outside our comfort zone – we can only operate with that sense of purpose, community and decency that is now our civic duty.

Our students have responded so well to this. This experience, I reassure them, will come and go and we will ultimately be better for having had the time to slow down. Listen to the birds sing – this might be the best lesson of all.

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