A new initiative honours teachers who have inspired their pupils, says Rowena Walsh.
AS far as teacher Teresa Toolan was concerned, she was just doing her job. For Frances Dodd, her pupil in fifth and sixth class, it was so much more than that.
When Frances heard an ad for Teachers Inspire, a new initiative by DCU to honour teachers who have inspired their students in and out of the classroom, she kept thinking of Teresa.
Ann Moriarty, who runs a group called Smart Agers in Dublin where she teaches senior citizens how to use smart technology, says she was “gobsmacked” to be included in Teachers Inspire.
She was nominated by 74-year-old Phyllis Lawlor, who says Ann opened up a whole new world and made it easy for her to keep in touch with her son and his family in Australia.
More than 400 Irish teachers were nominated by students, parents and former students for the inaugural Teachers Inspire Awards, with their stories highlighting the ability of teachers to motivate their pupils in myriad ways.
Twenty teachers made it to the shortlist, with one from each of the four provinces of the country receiving the ultimate accolade.
Teresa and Ann, who were both on the shortlist, attended the awards night in Dublin’s Helix and loved it the experience.
For those who nominated them, it was the obvious thing to do.
Frances was struck when she heard of Teachers Inspire because, she says, so few people ever thank teachers.
She says that Teresa was so dynamic and a big part of the local community.
Frances, who herself has taught for over 30 years, attended Mullaghroe National School in Co Sligo, and she feels that Teresa’s innate kindness really marked her out as someone special.
“The older I get, the more I think that, yes, education is really important, it’s more important the way you treat the child. You treat them as individuals, and kindness goes a long way, it’s much more important than what’s on the curriculum.”
Both Frances and her older sister Kathleen were in the same class in school. She says that there was never an issue about sharing books or not having money.
“You can Google anything, you can find out anything, but if you make the child feel bad in the classroom, they’re not going to learn. I suppose I learned that from her. Did she inspire me? Yes, she did.
This view is echoed by Ann who says meeting the other nominated teachers at the Helix opened her eyes to what people take away from a class.
“It’s not so much what they learn in the class, because 50% of what you learn you forget as soon as you walk out the door,” she says. “It was more about how they felt when they were in the class and when they left.”
For Ann’s pupil Phyllis, the Smart Agers community group has been a lifeline to her family in Australia.
Ann started the group to encourage people, as they age, to incorporate smart technology into their life to give them more independence.
She says it’s a type of book club for IT skills. Demand grew and the group is now almost 100-strong. Ann says she feels inspired by the members, adding that “they have life skills that we’d kill for”.
Phyllis first came to the class to learn how to FaceTime. Today, she does her banking online, monitors her medication and shares a calendar with her family
Frances says that Teresa, who is now 89 years old, lives on her own and is still involved in the local community, was always a force to be reckoned with.
“I started thinking that I’m teaching now, I sing in a choir now, I love reading, I love poetry – and they’re all things I feel I learned back in primary school or was introduced to there.
Details of the 2020 Teachers Inspire initiative will be announced in the coming months. Go to teachersinspire.ie for further information.