Teachers Inspire Ireland 20232024
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2023 Podcasts

A million reasons to nominate...Ep 1, Joe McAndrew and Ann Loughney

There is no better way to start the 2023 podcast series than with one of our most recent awardees. Louise is joined by Joe McAndrew who may have retired over twenty years ago from Banagher National School but his influence on former pupil Ann Loughney never faded.

Ann tells Louise, “it wasn't hard to think of a million reasons to nominate Joe. He’s just been so inspirational to me all of my life.”

Joe’s classroom was welcoming and supportive and even though it was the 1980s he never discriminated against girls. They were taught about car engines and computers just as the boys were and Ann said, ‘he never made you feel small or silly for asking any question.’

Joe tells Louise about his love of technology and how, as he prepared his pupils for the changing world of technology, he shared his love of engineering, tech and science with them.

‘I realised that in this new technological age there will be no difference, or no reason for any difference, in gender or whether you are rich or poor, or anything else….I was very anxious that everybody should be treated with fair play,’ he said.

Teachers Inspire is now open for nominations for 2023 at teachersinspire.ie

Click here to listen to the podcast

Hello, and welcome to the first episode of the Teachers Inspire podcast series for 2023. I'm Louise O'Neill and I curate Teachers Inspire, which is organised and run by Dublin City University.

I am delighted to be back behind the microphone and meeting some of the amazing teachers behind the Teachers Inspire awards and nominations for 2023 are open now. So visit teachersinspire.ie and tell us about the teacher who made a difference in your life or in your child's life.

We receive many nominations for Teachers Inspire from right around the country, all of them are special and I know that they have great meaning to the person who made the nomination. And as you can imagine most of the nominations come from a former student.

One that really stood out to me last year was for a teacher who retired quite a few years ago. But the passage of time did not diminish the memories his former students had of him, or how committed he was to preparing his primary school pupils for what the future would bring.

But as always with those extra special teachers who are Teachers Inspire awardees, there was a lot more to his influence than that.

I am delighted to be joined by Joe McAndrew, retired teacher from Banagher National School in county Mayo and by his former pupil, who nominated him, Ann Loughney.

Okay, Ann, I'll go to you first. I am delighted that you can join us today, can you maybe remind us what your primary school was like when you joined it in fourth class?

Hi, Louise, I'm very happy to be on the podcast too, especially to give more praise to my wonderful neighbour and teacher Joe.

And so I arrived in Banagher National School in…I actually can't remember (the year) but I was in fourth class.

And my father had, and my mother, had moved back to his original parish and this was his original school. So I think we might have been the first second generation family, if you know what I mean, that Joe might have taught.

So, I had come from a school where you know each classroom had one class. So like, third class was in a room for third class and I arrived to a school with just two rooms and third, fourth, fifth and sixth were in one room and taught by Joe.

So it was a bit of a learning curve first coming into a room with (where) you're kind of the middle of the age groups and there were only seven in the class and it was just one row for fourth class.

And I really remember my first day because I was an absolute nervous wreck. You know, when you're that age in your life, and you don't know anybody, you have no friends and the first thing we had been asked to do was write a story about our summer holidays.

And, of course, I had gone off on some creative spin and spoken about some magical lands that I had visited during my school holidays and everyone in the class was reading theirs and it was all about what they actually had done and then I was sweating in the back of the class going this (story) is going to sound so stupid.

And I just remembered the first thing I said was Master I think, I think I might have got it wrong. He said, ‘there's nothing wrong about an essay. It's your words, you just read it out.’

And as I started reading this, obviously I became a little less anxious about it. And at the very end, he said, isn’t it just wonderful to hear a story from your imagination? Very well done Ann and that was the start of my fourth class in Banagher National School.

Oh, that's so lovely. I think it's so important for children and creativity, to be almost given, you know, that permission and to be told that they're, you can't really make a mistake when it comes to creative endeavours.

So Joe sounds like an absolutely amazing teacher. But do you want to just talk a little bit more about what prompted you to go onto our website and to nominate Joe for a Teachers Inspire award?

Louise it wasn't hard to think of a million reasons to nominate Joe. He, he's just been so inspirational to me all of my life. I mean, Joe's retired 20 years but he's still one of the friends or people I would call a friend that I would call to I'm home. He has been the one of the first people that I've phoned anytime that I've had some academic success - which came to me quite late in life. And he's always so supportive.

And I think it was more because my oldest child has started teacher training and I see the amount of work that he puts into lesson plans and everything that comes with teaching, as opposed to just standing in front of a class and rattling off information, which is one thing Joe never did.

He never made us feel that we were, you know, really learning. He had ways around everything, you never felt afraid to go and ask him like, we could be doing fractions for three weeks and it could be on the fourth week that I still wouldn't have it and I'd still go back and ask him, and it was never a problem. He never made you feel small or silly for asking any question.

Yeah. And you know Ann when I was reading your entry, something that really struck me was that, you know, the (as) part of I suppose the award, we ask, ‘Was there anything that the teacher taught you that stayed with you?’ and you replied that the lesson that you had learned in Joe's class was that girls have equal rights and, you know, I mean, I suppose how important was that to you, and to the other boys and girls in the class to hear that in in 1980s Ireland where, you know, I'm going to take a wild guess and presume that wasn't a common sentiment at that time?

Definitely not Louise and you're lucky not to have remembered the 1980s or been around for it because they were very different times!

But no, Joe was just fantastic. So there were two things. So as I said, he used to go off his remit a lot. And you know, he'd be doing things like…sl all of a sudden you would be doing, you know, The Lake Isle of Innisfree, and then he’d just go, ‘okay let's talk about car engines,’ and we'd be looking around going what? (He would go) you're all going to break down at some stage in a car and that includes the girls as well so I want you all just have a look at the board here.

And he would draw a car engine and explain what pieces generally went wrong in it and how to fix them. You know, so we were never excluded, we were always brought into everything.

You know there were no girls GAA teams that time. So, you know, we didn't have a reason to play football, but he would go down to the football pitch himself and he'd round us all up and say, right, come on, we're going to play, how many do we have? Okay, we will have 10 aside now. So he picked, he'd organise the teams, girls and boys, regardless of who or what was on the team, and off we’d go and play game football.

And it was the same when he brought, I think it could have been one of the first computers that it was ever in a school in the 1980s that he owned himself. He used to bring it up to the school once a week and he would teach us all how to run programs and you know, which basically entailed writing your name about 6000 times on a screen, a green screen.

But nothing was segregated with Joe, he was just phenomenal in that he listened to all of us equally. We all had ideas about different things. And he never rushed to an answer, there was always a pause because he would think about what he was going to say next. And generally it was the right thing, needless to say, but he was just brilliant. That really stands out to me that we all are treated equally.

Amazing. Okay, now, Joe to the man himself. Congratulations again on your Teachers Inspire award. I haven't seen you since May. I'd love to know how did you find out that you had been nominated?

Well, it came right out of the blue. I got a phone call from Ann, I hadn't been in touch with Ann since my wife Mary died - it was three years before that when she wrote me this lovely letter of condolence, I still have it.

And I got a phone call from her. We had a chat first and then she told me, ‘do you know, Joe, I have put you forward for Teachers Inspire award,’ and she says, ‘I hope you don't mind.’ And I said, well go ahead. And I was thinking, well, I will get nowhere anyway so go ahead.

[laughter from Louise]

That’s a very Irish thing - you're just saying ‘no, I'll be fine!’

[laughter from Joe]

Anyway, it was a complete surprise to me. I was really flabbergasted that anybody would or should think of me after all these years. But as well as that it was gratifying for me because I always thought teachers were never given credit for the great work they did. And, of course, when Ann got off the phone, what's the first thing I did, I asked Mr. Google about Teachers Inspire and I got all the information from him.

[laughter from Louise]

And I was delighted that there was such an organisation because I've seen some of the finest teachers in my lifetime, secondary, primary and even at third level and they never got credit for the great work they did.

And the way they managed to change the educational system in Ireland to cater for the new technology that was coming down the road.

I totally agree with you and I think that's the point really of this initiative – that we really do believe that teachers should be recognised for their contribution, you know, not just in our lives but in a community as a whole.

Joe, when did you retire?

I retired 23 years ago.

And like Ann is, you know, she's talking about the 1980s so we're talking 40 years ago, I suppose what does it feel like to know that 40 years later that the impact that you made on that child is something that she still remembers to this day? Like, I mean, you know, you did change her life?

Yeah. I'll tell you, when I started teaching Louise, Ireland was a completely different place. We had a country, which really (was) a third world country, there was poverty in my area, in the rural area in Mayo and in the West, there was terrible poverty. There was no employment. The only thing when I started teaching that the children had in mind, (when) leaving sixth class was the boat or the plane away from Ireland to get work in England. And it was very, very difficult to motivate them at that stage.

But anyway, one of the things I did when I went to college - I went to England every year to earn a few bob for the next term. And I dug up the streets of London and I built roads, I built houses and we laid cables.

And there, it was a great education for me because I met some of the finest Irish lads you'd ever meet. Big, strong lads and as bright as could be and talented.

And I said to myself, My God, you should not be here, you should be at university, you should be lecturers, you should be teachers, you should be doctors. And it saddened me to see that this was happening to Ireland and therefore I vowed at that time that when I go home I was going to do something about it because I was very patriotic and idealistic at the time. When I came home, it was a big shock.

But anyway, when I did come home, you see, I had bought all those books, I could because I was a born engineer and I had this fascination with engineering all my life.

And because I had that love of engineering and technology and science, I brought a lot of that into the school because I said, well I realised because I saw the picture of the first microprocessor that was ever made - a small little chip - and I could not believe, because I'd followed electronics and electricity all my life, that they were able to put 7600 transistors on a small little chip of silicon.

And I read about what it could do and I said this is going to change the world and how right I was but I didn’t know it was going to change it so much.

[laughter from both]

Anyway, when I came home, I said, well, right, I'm going to make a start on my own school and I'm going to give the children experience of all this new technology which they will be using as soon as they leave school.

And I realised that in this new technological age, there will be no difference or no reason for any difference in gender or whether you are rich or poor, or anything else, that everybody should get the same chance because what in my time, the students I met, these people I met in London never got a chance.

And I was very anxious that everybody should be treated with fair play.

I suppose, if, if you were talking to someone who, you know, is in teacher training, or who is interested in becoming a teacher, like what would be the one piece of advice that you would have for teachers that are starting their career today?

The one thing I would say to them is this - know your own worth because that is something that teachers should know; how important that they are in society.

It's really underestimated because the Ireland that I knew in abject poverty, to the fifth wealthiest country in the world, in my lifetime is a huge change. And what did it was education, and what drove the education, the teachers did and in my lifetime I've seen so many wonderful teachers really, really great (teachers).

And they had this dedication to teaching and to making kids feel that they were as good as anybody else. It gives them self confidence in themselves.

So, I would say to the young teachers, that they have an extremely important role to play and to realise the influence they have on young youth growing up.

And as well as that, to keep the technology going as well, because in every generation teachers have to face different problems. We faced problems when we started off, now they have their own problems because the world is changing again.

You have now the internet, which is a huge store of knowledge, like an encyclopedia in the air.

And of late they have now added to that algorithms which is able to think and use that use that all the information it has at hand there in seconds, from all the information that's on the net, to do things.

I use it all the time and it's frightening and they (teachers) will have a job to cope with that and bring into that mix as well the development in quantum mechanics and quantum computers, which are up to a million times faster than the ones we have now, it's just mind boggling to think of it.

That's the world the new teachers are going to have to deal with and it's not going to be easy.

And, you know, it has it's dangers. And okay, when you come to think of it, I'll just say this as well, the new technology is great and all that but in all our rush for wealth and a nicer life and all that we have forgotten the one thing that is most important of all and that's Mother Nature.

We have neglected our planet. And then you we'd have to go back to the times with the druids when they were custodians of nature and we have to go back to that again and the teachers will have to really make that point very, very forcibly what the children are teaching now because it is very, very serious this global warming, people don't realise it.

Joe, I could I honestly, I could sit here and talk to you for hours, you're so fascinating. And I also think you sort of perfectly exemplify what Teachers Inspire is all about and what I think we're trying to do with these awards, so thank you so much for talking to me today.

Thank you so much for like the years of dedicated service that you've given in the classroom and outside of it by the sounds of it. So yeah, I just, you know, I think if, if, if every classroom in Ireland had a teacher like you, I think we'd be the, you know that our future will be safe.

Thank you Louise, I don't think I deserve so much praise.

Oh, no, I think you do!

[music starts to build underneath Louise]

And that brings us to the end of the first episode of our new series. Now remember, you can find out more about Teachers Inspire and you can nominate a teacher at teacherinspire.ie and while you're there, you'll also find links to other episodes of the podcast, or if it's easier, you can listen wherever you get your podcasts. Until the next time…


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