Hello, and welcome to the Teachers Inspire podcast. Organised and run by Dublin City University, Teachers Inspire is an Ireland wide initiative that seeks to celebrate teachers and to recognise the transformative role they play in our lives and in our communities.
My name is Louise O'Neill and I am delighted that I have been asked once again to curate, and share with you, the many uplifting stories about teachers who have made a difference in your life. Check out these stories and more on the website, Teachersinspire.ie
Every year we receive nominations that make you stop and think. They remind us of the role teachers can play and how sometimes even a single sentence can impact a student in a deeply profound way.
The nominations are being reviewed at the moment but I thought it would be nice to introduce you to two of the nominators.
Joining me now on the line is Sarah Doran. Sarah is based in the UK but she went to secondary school in Baldoyle in Dublin.
And now Sarah, please don't be upset with me if I butcher some of these names, Irish was not my strongest subject in school!
[laughter from Louise and Sarah]
But you've nominated a teacher from that school, Pobalscoil Neasáin, and she is Aisling Mhig Shamhráin
Did I, did I, did I do an okay job of that or is Aisling going to come after me?!
I don't know, I always refer to her as Bean Mhig Shamhráin so you know, I think you did fine!
[laughter from both]
Well, I'm looking forward to hearing more about her. So welcome to Teachers Inspire.
Thank you. Pleasure to join you. Thanks for having me.
Of course. So yeah, so I suppose you know, first of all I'd love to know why you decided to nominate Aisling? I'm gonna, we're gonna be on first terms, first name terms with Aisling!
The best way to be!
The thing I'd love to know is why you decided to nominate Aisling and, you know, what it was about her that left such a big impact on you?
Yeah, I suppose it comes down to, basically, and this is gonna sound a bit perhaps extreme, but she essentially saved my life.
And that's because when I was a teenager, I think like a lot of people, (I) had a little bit of a tough start at secondary school, it didn't quite go to plan.
And ultimately, I ended up dropping out of school for a year, didn't sit the Junior Cert - can you believe there's a way around it?!
Oh, my god Sarah, I wish I had known - I mean, I don't obviously wish that I'd had a terrible time in school.
Sarah: I know, I know.
Louise: Like I wish I had known there was a way around the Junior Cert!
Sarah: I didn't (know), believe me, I didn't realise till about halfway through the year that I could get around it!
I was at home, I was quite depressed. And I had a tutor and stuff like that, who did her best, she was absolutely brilliant. Shout out to her. She was amazing. She'll know who she is.
And so my parents just decided, in kind of, you know, altogether, that this pretty turbulent 15-year-old probably needed not (to have) the pressure of the State Examinations Commission, who are a lovely board of people, I'm sure!
So, we decided I'd kind of just sit it all out and for a long time it was looking like I wasn't going back to secondary school, I'll be honest. I had, you know, the right people looking after me from the right places.
And it was a real shame because I'd always really loved school, I'd been a bit of a teacher's pet - full disclosure! I wonder why now I'm nominating a teacher?!
[laughter from both]
But, essentially, we were, mom had taken me on a holiday to try and cheer me up a bit, it was very lucky, (and) we got a phone call from a school in Baldoyle called Pobalscoil Neasáin.
And they said, oh, we'll take her. Which at first, I was horrified by because I was like, oh, I'm 15, I thought I'm not going back to school, that would be great.
But no, here was the chance to go. And so I went in, and I met this woman, Bean Mhig Shamhráin, as I came to know, her, and the principal at the time, Mary Carroll, who was an amazing, amazing woman.
And they just said, if you want to come back, give it a go, come back for transition year, it's really low pressure, see how you get on?
And genuinely it was 100% the best decision of my life to go there. Because they took me in, they looked after me, they gave me the kind of fresh start that so many people don't get.
And I think ultimately, they just made me trust in myself and believe in myself again. And Aisling was my form tutor/ year head. And she looked after me the whole way through and honestly, she just helped me put my life back together.
Louise: Yeah, I know, we were joking earlier about, like, you know, skipping the junior cert, but like, I can't imagine at 15 thinking, I'm never going to be able to go back to school again.
And they just, you know, how difficult that must have been for your parents. And, and, I would, I would assume for Aisling and you know, for your other teachers at the school, that they, I suppose that they felt that responsibility of wanting to make sure that you felt safe again, and that the school environment felt like it was a one where you could feel like you were protected..
Sarah: Completely. And I think that was the thing. I remember it was the night before my 15th birthday that I said to my mam, I was like Mammy, I don't want to go back.
And she just looked at me and she could just see what I was like and she just said, okay, you're not going back then, we'll figure it out.
And she fought so hard for me throughout it to get me back into school and I can't tell you how many places we went to, how many interviews we kind of sat through and how many times we tried to explain…
I remember the real issue was that I had done Spanish at Junior Cert level, and nobody else had teachers who taught Spanish and, (they said), we can't fit her in.
But Pobalscoil Neasáin didn't have a teacher who did Spanish and they still took me anyway, you know what I mean?
So, the thing I would say about that school, and particularly about the kind of ethos it had, and, and I think Aisling was just the embodiment of this, was that the pastoral care was their top priority.
Sarah: It really was, you've got a great education, don't get me wrong, but it was a family and you very much got out of it, what you put in, and by God, they made you want to put it in, they really did.
Louise: Wow, because I was about to ask, you know, if you've gone to all of those interviews, what was it about this school that stood out, but like, as you said, obviously, the pastoral care was obviously, it must have been just essential given this was the point that you were at.
One of the questions that nominators are asked, you know, when they're completing the online form to nominate a teacher at Teachers Inspire is what did this teacher teach you that has stayed with you?
Sarah: I think, and this might sound a little weird, but she taught me to stand on my own two feet again, if you know what I mean. I was very, I had been so vulnerable and I'd been so dependent on, on everyone else that I kind of forgot, not quite how to do things for myself but you know, what I mean, just how to exist for myself, believe in myself and kind of be my own champion.
And I remember, I always say that she had this kind of very gentle philosophy of, you know, I'll hold your hand when you need it held, but I'm not going to hold it, if you don't need me to, you know, if you can get out there and do that yourself, you can do it, go on, give it a go and if you're really stuck, then come back to me.
But it was just the best thing she ever did for me, it's like you know they say that thing, you know, ‘give a man a fish, feed him for a day teach him to fish, feed him for life.’
Whether people agree with that, or not, who knows. But she did that, for me, she just showed me that, I don't mean to say the impossible was possible, but what I felt like the impossible was possible, and that I didn't need to be wrapped in cotton wool, that I could, you know, have edges, and I could grow a thick skin.
But at the same time, I'm not saying that in the sense that, you know, the support wasn't there, or the emotional support wasn't there. Of course, it was and when things were tough or I got very low, you know, she would say to me, it's absolutely fine to be emotional, it's absolutely fine to cry, it's absolutely fine to let it out. There's no harm in that either.
But it was just a good mix of the two and she had such a good balance and she just had such a good skill at just reminding you not to give up on yourself and not to let it drag you down.
Louise: Sarah, this woman should be a life coach!
These are skills, like, as you said, like, you know, like the sense of, you know, being able to do, you know, stand on your own two feet and that sort of bravery, but also the, the, I suppose, like the permission to feel emotional and to ‘feel your feelings’ as my therapist would say -
Louise: - you know, if you're down, like, I mean, those are skills that people in their 30s, 40s and beyond are sort of still, you know, struggling with or trying to learn. I mean, that's an incredible thing to be told as a 15 year old.
Sarah: Yeah. And I think as well, like, this woman, she never taught me a single, like, actual lesson in my life. I never had her for Irish, I had another teacher, another brilliant teacher, she was just my form tutor to her, but I had that kind of access to her, she was my year head, you know, and it didn't matter, I could wander down to her room, knock on the door after her class and go in and chat to her.
You know, it was just this kind of unbridled access… people can be a year head and it can be a very symbolic kind of thing and it can be the kind of person that someone just gets sent if they, you know, they've done something bad or they're in trouble or you know, there's something admin wise to sort out but she was there.
I mean, she was like another mammy, you know, she really was in the, in the best kind of way, a very professional mammy, don't get me wrong, but she was just she was just there. And like you say, bless her, the poor woman must have felt like my therapist at times.
Louise: You're living in London now, living in the big city Sarah!
And, you know, you're working as a communications manager, but you know, even to make that move from Dublin to London. You know, that's, that's a big, that's a big move. And I think you know, when you talks about there again, I suppose, the bravery piece of this or like the I'm not even sure if that's the right word, but I suppose the standing on your own two feet and sort of believing in yourself, like, do you think that you would have been able to move to London? Do you think that you would have achieved all that you have if you've not had the experience of going to Pobalscoil Neasáin and having Aisling as your year head and I suppose, I don't know, having at least some sort of positive experiences and memories of school?
Sarah: Absolutely not Louise, I wouldn't be alive. I genuinely would not be alive without those people.
Louise: Oh Sarah
Sarah: And I don't say that in like a sad way I say that in a kind of very proud way, to be honest. Because they gave me back my life. They really did.
And I know it's as much as what you make it yourself but there was a team of teachers in that school. Aisling was my year head so probably, you know, the kind of the standout one for me but I had a fantastic debating coach, I had a hilarious geography teacher, I had a brilliant Irish teacher who taught me how to debate as Gaeilge and I didn't even speak a proper word of Irish until I was about 16.
You know, even the teachers who didn't teach me I knew and that is, for the number of students that they would deal with, for the number of issues that they would deal with, you know, for this little community school, on a council estate in North Dublin, just what they would put out, they punch so high above their weight.
And without them, you know, I stayed at home with my mammy until I was twenty-five, I'm not gonna lie, before I moved to London.
Louise: that's fine. Twenty-five, you know, your brain isn't fully developed till you're twenty-five, that’s science Sarah!
Sarah: Exactly. And cost of living lads, I mean, we see it now you know, I mean, there's no shame in living with your parents. It’s great if you can get away with it, an only child like me, you know, spoiled rotten.
But, like, when it came to making that decision to move overseas, I'd had another little bad patch, you know, I think anybody who has mental health issues will know you live with it, right?
Sarah: You never get rid of it and you can be proud of it, right, it's all part of what we go through. I had another little bad patch, and I really had to dig deep and look down and just remember where I had been.
I think it was kind of poetic, it was 15 and 25, you know, when I made the decision to move, and I just looked back, and I remembered being 15 and I kind of did think to myself, like, right, what would Bean Mhig Shamhráin tell me to do here?
And I just went and did it and, as I've said to a few people, I came here for two weeks. And I'm still here eight years later!
So, I think without the skills, and I think the word I probably would use is the resilience and I hate the word resilience sometimes because I feel like it requires you to look after yourself and nobody else to look after you as well, but ultimately, I think it's a really good thing.
Without the resilience she taught me and the ability to just, just be myself and not worry about it, you know, just not be afraid (and) you are who you are.
Everyone is somebody's villain, everyone is somebody's hero, you just have to get on with it, you know. And without that, I think I just would not be where I am. They were, Aisling and the entire team at that school, and the principal Mary Carroll, and they were just an amazing group of people. And I, genuinely don't say it lightly, when I say I owe my life to them.
Louise: God Sarah that's so, so moving. I think there's going to be like a run on parents trying to get their kids into Pobalscoil Neasáin and I'm about to like, try and find Aisling and like hire her as my life coach!
[laughter from both]
Sarah: I think it got a bit sad when I kept going back for the open nights like five years after I left to just stand there and go ‘look at them, they're great, ignore league tables, they're fantastic!’
Louise: Honestly, I mean, is there any, there's no higher praise, truly. Sarah, thank you so much for coming on the Teachers Inspire podcast and for speaking with me so openly and honestly, I just, I really appreciate it.
Sarah: It's been a real pleasure. And thank you for giving me the platform to just say to everyone out there how fantastic a school Pobalscoil Neasáin is, how brilliant the teaching staff is and how much we need teachers like Bean Mhig Shamhráin to remind people just how brilliant people within this profession are. They give so much of themselves to so many young people for so many years of their lives, often for little or no reward and I just think they're worth celebrating.
Louise: Well, what a gorgeous way to end it. Thank you, Sarah.
Sarah: Thanks, Louise.
Music fades up and then down.
Louise: So many of the nominations that we have received over the years have focused on a teacher ‘being there’ and offering support in a way that has nothing to do with the curriculum or exam preparation.
So, joining me now to tell me more about why she has nominated her former teacher is Caitlin Green.
Caitlin, welcome to the Teachers Inspire podcast.
Louise: So, Caitlin you nominated Marianne O’Reilly, she was your teacher at Mercy College, Beaumont in Dublin, and you first met Marianne when she taught you from first year to third year. Would you mind maybe just telling our listeners a little bit about what was happening in your life at that time?
Caitlin: Um, so I suppose the first big thing was that I was the only student from my primary school to go to this secondary school. And I was so nervous, but I really wanted a fresh start.
I had a good time in primary school but I really just wanted to go and find my own people in secondary school. And, so I went and she was a teacher that I had maybe four or five or six times a week in first to third year because she was my religion teacher, and she was my CSPE teacher. So, I seen her quite a lot every day.
And she just, from the minute I walked into her classroom, she just made me feel so welcome and so as ease. She was really like a mammy to not just me, to all of us. And she was nicknamed mother hen in the school. And she was just absolutely fantastic. And she just really helped me settle in. And if I was ever lost, or if I needed help, I knew I could always knock on her door, and I'd be greeted with a smile. And she was always willing to go the extra mile to make sure everyone was okay.
Louise: She taught you from first year to third year. And now I know in your nomination form you mentioned that, and I'm so sorry that you lost your, your nanny, your grandmother, when you were in transition year. And I mean, it's just it's such a loss I think of a grandparent, particularly if you're very close to them. But, so was it was Marianne was it who noticed that you were not yourself?
Caitlin: Yes, I lost my nanny in March of 2015 when I was in transition year. And then I went into fifth year in the September and Marianne ended up being my year head for fifth and sixth year.
And I ended up having her for non-exam religion. So, I think I had her three times a week and at the time in my school, in fifth and sixth year you went to the parent teacher meetings with your parents, which was absolutely horrific.
Louise: Oh my god, oh my God. That's like a form of torture. Like, they made you do that.
Caitlin: Yeah! And, and I remember sitting, it was probably the November time and sitting with my parents with Ms O’Reilly and her asking me, could she talk to my parents alone?
And I was like, what have I done like, I haven't done anything! I wasn't a child that got into trouble… I talk and talk and talk but I was never a troublemaker, I don't think.
And I remember just kind of standing outside the hall like my heart going ninety. And then my parents came out and they didn't really say anything. They just said oh like she was just saying that you're doing well and stuff.
And the next day my mam collected me from school and she was like, right don't lose the plot now but we're gonna go get some counselling. And I was like, ‘absolutely not.’
And I went anyways and when I came out, I said, where did this all come from and she said, Miss O'Reilly's noticed a change in you and she doesn't think you're yourself, like you're not as outgoing as you were, you're kind of like withdrawn, withdrawn and stuff.
So, she said, we said that we'd we take you to counselling, see, see what happened.
And I went into school the next day, I was always in school quite early and so was she, I remember waiting outside the staff room, and she walked in, and I was like, ‘you betrayed me, you should have told me’ she was like, I'm sorry. She was like, but I was trying to help. I was like, okay, I forgive you.
I knew that she was doing it for all the right reasons.
And to be honest, it was a really, it was a really crucial moment in my life, like I was I was kind of just hiding it from everyone. And for her to know, it was just absolutely amazing because I thought it was doing such a good job at hiding it but I obviously wasn't.
I suppose that she had seen me from first to third year, she knew the type of girl I was. And I'd suppose maybe it was easy to see a change.
But maybe it was because she knew me so well that she was able to see it in only a few weeks of being back in the classroom with me because I didn't have her in transition year, so she didn't see me then.
Which was honestly like, I'm so grateful to her like because it really did help in the long run after I gave in.
Louise: Yeah, and I was because I mean I am a huge proponent for therapy and counselling and I think there should be sort of mandatory counseling for all students in secondary school.
Like what was the impact that that kind of thing had on you? Like did it really, did it help you deal with your grief? Like how do you think it impacted on you both personally, I suppose and in the, in your, in your school setting?
Caitlin: And I suppose it just really let me… like I felt validated, you know, like because I was kind of, I was like, oh, like I shouldn't be this sad like I'm not the only one to have lost a grandparent and I need to get over this.
But like the counselling really just helped me validate it because like I did have a really close relationship with my nanny. I used to stay with her a few times a week and stuff like that. So, it just really helped me to accept it and then, and I was able to move on as such, because I'd accepted it and I had kind of dealt with it and I was able to talk it out.
And then this, like, my schoolwork started to improve, because I actually was like, you know what, I'm sad, but I'm gonna turn this sadness and make my nanny proud.
So, I was able to turn that corner and kind of deal with it for all the right reasons rather than moping about and just not interacting in school and just kind of enjoying then my last year and a half, two years of school, because I just kind of really withdrawn like, even at weekends, it wasn't going out my friends from school, I just was really, really depressed.
But the counselling really helped me to come out of that and to kind of accept that, yes, it was hard, it was sad, and certainly bad days, but I couldn't let it take over my life anymore.
Louise: And Caitlin, I know that you're, well this is what I've heard anyway, you can correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe you're studying and you're hoping to become a teacher in the future. Is that right?
Caitlin: Yeah. So I am currently in my final year of my undergrad and the applications have started for my Masters in Primary Teaching, (I’m) hoping to start in September.
Louise: Oh, wow, congratulations. Well, you know, I hope that goes, I hope that goes really well for you.
And I suppose, like, I'd love to hear… I mean, do you think that having Marianne O’Reilly as your teacher, do you think that inspired you to want to become a teacher and if so, what do you think that you learnt from having Marianne as your teacher that you would hope to bring into your own classroom?
Caitlin: Ehm, I've always wanted to be a teacher from the time I've been able to talk… I used to play school with my teddies, it has always been a desire. I suppose like, having Marianne, as my teacher just really taught me that, yes, it's important to teach the curriculum but it's even more important to teach your students that, like, they can do anything that they put their mind to.
Like, she was so good for that, like she taught us to be strong women and to stand up for what we believed in and even if that meant we were standing on our own.
So, I really want my classroom to be a safe space and I want them to feel welcome and to feel loved more than anything, because you don't know what your students are coming from in their own personal life.
So, I want school to be a good place, not a place that they dread coming to and that was the case in, in secondary school, I always knew well, I have her and I'm going to come out smiling no matter what way I go in.
Louise: Oh, I love that. And I think, you know, so much of the work that we're doing with Teachers Inspire is really highlighting the importance of teachers.
But I think also wanting to encourage more people to become teachers, because we need more people like you in the classroom, who I suppose are centering the children and wanting to make it as a safe space as possible so the children will, will, you know, feel happy and in school and want to go to school and yeah, so I just think that's really wonderful Caitlin and good luck, like you know, your, your future pupils are very lucky, are very lucky children. So thank you so much for coming on the Teachers Inspire podcast.
Caitlin: No problem. Thank you for having me.
Louise: I'm Louise O'Neill. And thank you for joining me for this episode of the Teachers Inspire Ireland podcast. You can hear all of the episodes wherever you get your podcasts, and you can find out more at teachers inspire.ie. Until the next time…