Activating potentialRecognising the spark in each student
She saw my potential, offered me more challenging material, brought me books from her own collection to point me in the right direction. I particularly enjoyed the way she spoke to me – as if I was already grown-up. I blossomed under her tutelage.
“Some people are born to teach though. Miss Kirby was one of those wonderful people,” according to Evelyn Walsh who was in her 6th class in Mother of Divine Grace national school, Ballygal, Dublin 11.
“She came into my life when I was eleven, on the cusp of that leap from what once was to what may someday be.”
Evelyn had missed a lot of school the previous year as she was a patient in the then Clonskeagh Fever Hospital. “I was very, very nervous going back to school.”
Evelyn said she did not have many friends and “I was dreading going back to the cruelty of the schoolyard.”
On the first day back “Miss Kirby took me by the hand and led me gently into the class. I loved her instantly. She saw my potential, offered me more challenging material, brought me books from her own collection to point me in the right direction. I particularly enjoyed the way she spoke to me – as if I was already grown-up. I blossomed under her tutelage.”
In October 1973 she set the class English homework. Evelyn recalls “we were to write to her as if she were a visitor from another country and tell her something about St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We had been working on a project about it and I had become fascinated with Jonathan Swift, St Patrick’s most famous Dean.”
She began writing in her copy with her pencil and said, “I loved, still love, the sound of a pencil scratching across the blank page, and I wrote and wrote.”
In her essay, she described a time-traveling adventure with friends where they were befriended by Jonathan Swift.
In the story, “we lived with him for a while, met his lady friends Stella and Vanessa, toured about early eighteenth century Dublin with him and he discussed his writings with us. Ten copy pages later, cramp in my hand forced me to time travel us back to 1973 and The Ha’penny Bridge. I was amazed that almost two hours had passed since I began and was enormously proud of myself. I hoped I’d get a gold star for it.”
She got three gold stars and “Miss Kirby made the most enormous fuss of me. I was sent to each fifth and sixth class to read out my essay. I died inside at this, but did it.”
Miss Kirby got the story typed up and sent, with illustrations of St Patrick’s to the Dean of St Patrick’s. “He visited the class to look at our work and to shake my hand. He was a lovely man and we were all surprised. We thought Protestants were completely different to us, but the Dean looked just like everybody’s Grandad! He was a kindly gentleman and enthused greatly over our work.”
Evelyn returned to creative writing in her forties and said, “I have never forgotten Miss Kirby, her interest in me and the love she gave me for the written word.”
Through her she learnt that “no matter how frightening the world is we have to live in it. Knowledge is power and emotional intelligence (is) paramount,” and “That I would find every answer to every question between the covers of a book. Give a child the gift of words and you give them a friend for life.”