Pharmacist and influencer Laura Dowling says that empathy is the most important lesson of all, writes Ciara McDonnell
I have discovered, over the last few weeks, that I am good at many things, but a home-school teacher I am not. I have three boys, aged 11, 8, and 6, and they are all at different levels. I have been reading a lot and am trying not to stress too much, because children learn so much from just being around us.
I grew up in Dundrum, in Dublin, and I went to a primary school called St Olaf’s, in Balally, which was a girls’ and boys’ school. My brothers and my sister were there, too, after me: I was the eldest. I was one of those people who really liked school. I loved learning and I loved the social aspect of it, as well. I did some after-school activities, like Brownies and speech and drama, and they really stood to me, in terms of fostering confidence.
I have a bit of a Northern Irish accent, despite growing up in Dublin, because both of my parents are from there and my uncle lived with us, from when I was two to when I was twelve. At speech and drama, the teacher tried her hardest to rid me of my accent, but she failed dismally!
I was a high-achiever; I liked doing well in school. I have a bit of a competitive nature, and that definitely influenced how I approached my schoolwork. I went to Muckross College for secondary school, and it was a great experience. I loved most subjects; I think I was lucky that way. I adored English — I loved writing essays and reading — but I think I would have gotten ideas from other people rather than come up with my own, if you know what I mean? Even though I loved the creative side of things, I think, if you home in a little bit more on that, you would find that I have always had a more analytical mind.
I was not what you would call sporty. I loved to dance and I always kept fit, and loved going to step classes with my mum, from around the age of thirteen. I wasn’t into team sports; my sister was really into them and actually played soccer for Ireland.
Throughout my teenage years, all I wanted to do was to become an actress. I was so determined that, for my French oral exam for the Leaving Cert, I prepared this whole thing around me being an actress. I am good at seeing the wood for the trees, though, and, at some stage, I realised that I wasn’t that talented of an actress and that it was very likely that I would find myself scraping a living.
I was always really into chemistry and maths and I loved healthcare and helping people, but I was not too into blood and guts. I didn’t really want to go down the medicine route, but I did want to do something in the healthcare field that would utilise my ability at science and maths, and that’s how I found pharmacy. My dad actually said to me, ‘Laura, pharmacy is a great job! And it pays well!’ and that was it!
My teachers really had an impact on me throughout school. I had an incredible teacher, called Mrs Stafford, for fifth and sixth class. She has since died, but she was just wonderful. She was one of those teachers who pushed you, but in a very nice way. She made us see our abilities. She would say things like, ‘write an essay starting with, ‘If...’ She encouraged us to use our imagination in ways that we handn’t considered before. She pushed me in all the right ways; she was very motherly, but also quite stern: the best combination.
I was absolutely appalling at Irish throughout school. It was never something that was deemed important in our home, because my parents didn’t speak it themselves. My Irish teacher at Muckross was called Mr Moloney and he was amazing. He was from Donegal and had the most beautiful accent. Even though I was shockingly bad at Irish, he was so encouraging. He stands out for sheer loveliness; I think you remember the teachers who were kind and caring more so than the ones who drilled subjects into you.
Even though I communicate daily through social media, trying to debunk myths when it comes to medication and help people navigate their fears and worries surrounding the coronavirus, when it comes to my children, I am really really strict about screens and social media. I let them play chess and that’s it. I really subscribe to the fact that when I was a child, my brain really expanded through reading and playing, and I want my children to have that experience.
Lots of my job is communication and I think it is the most important thing for young people to learn, both in school and at home. When you get into the workforce, you can’t have your head buried in a phone or a screen. I deal with people from all aspects of life and it’s one of the great joys of my job. If you can learn to respect everyone you meet, and treat them with compassion and empathy, then that’s the most important lesson to learn in life, I think.
I think the big thing to come out of this time, when we are all at home, watching our children learn, is that everybody learns in different ways, and everyone is different. If we can accept and respect that, then we are doing great!
With over 25,000 followers, pharmacist Laura Dowling daily offers sensible, evidence-based advice on her instagram page. Check her out @fabulouspharmacist