Paul has taught English and History for the past 20 years. He has been teaching both Leaving and Junior Cert at the Institute since 1999, and has designed and delivered accessible and structured exam preparation courses for the last 14 years. He is the co-author of Uncovering History, a successful Junior Cert History textbook, and has contributed the model answers to the Folens Leaving Cert Shakespeare series.
We asked him for some of his thoughts on the current situation facing teachers and how he has been able to adapt to his new online teaching environment. Here’s what he had to say:
Eavan Boland died this week and I can’t stop thinking about the last line of her poem ‘This Moment’ – ‘Apples sweeten in the dark.’ The first time I read this line, twenty years ago, it had an impact, making me think about all of those wonderful little everyday miracles that go unnoticed and are taken for granted but which add magic and richness to every single day.
I don’t think there can be too much of an argument that these are ‘dark’ times. The sudden restrictions we have all had to cope with have been difficult and challenging and we are all missing ordinary things we took for granted, like the day-to-day contact between students and teachers. When the announcement was made that schools were to shut, I think every teacher had the same question – what can I do to ease the stress, to support my students, to convey a sense of normality in the most unpredictable and bizarre circumstances?
The first thing I did was set up a YouTube channel. I then learned how to record lessons. These videos mimic the reality of class – each has a particular topic, each is accompanied by a note or a document for students to work with, and each has a clear exam focus. I let students know about the YouTube tutorials through Moodle, and am grateful that so many students have accessed these videos and found them useful.
Apples sweeten in the dark.
The work we as teachers do always has been impossible without the support of the dedicated team in the office, and their work made the next step of bridging the gap so easy. Not long after the shut-down, I received a video tutorial on how to use Google Meets. I am a born technophobe, but the guidance was so clear and so easy to follow that I was soon able to live-stream classes to students, keeping to the scheduled timetable.
The platform is so clever. Students join the lesson. I communicate the subject of the lesson through Moodle (another example of the incredible amount of work that was done in such a short time to prepare Moodle for this – more apples, more sweetness…) and then, at the scheduled time, we all join the lesson. This platform is really effective, and mimics the reality of the classroom to an uncanny degree. Of particular interest is the ‘chat’ application. Often in class, when I ask for ideas, or responses, or observations, students are (understandably) shy or reluctant to contribute, but now, with the ‘chat’ application, I find that students are so willing to contribute, to respond to questions, to voice their opinion.
There is no doubt that these are difficult times. There is no doubt that our Leaving Cert students are unfortunate that their preparation has been interrupted and I empathise greatly with the stress and the frustration that they must feel. But we are, through technology and determination, bridging the gap.
And yesterday, I received an email from a student asking me to list some of my favourite poets and poems. I had a good think and sent him a reply. In normal circumstances, the student probably wouldn’t have asked the question – he’d be rushing to the next class or I’d be too busy to approach. Yesterday, he had time to ask and I had time to respond. On that list, of course was ‘This Moment’, a wonderful, thoughtful, meaningful poem by a supremely talented writer.
Apples sweeten in the dark.
These words from Paul not only show us that in dark times great things can still happen but, that as a collective, we can adapt and overcome what lies in front of us. It is through the network of support we have and the adoption of new ways of doing what we are doing that we will overcome these challenges.