STEM education for teachersEpisode 7
Professor Deirdre Butler from the School of STEM Education, Innovation and Global Studies, DCU joins Louise to talk about DCU’s ground breaking STEM Teacher Internship (STInt) Programme. Primary school teacher Niamh O’Malley who has completed two of specialist internships, shares her experience.
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
Celebrating the influence and impact teachers have had on their students is at the heart of Teachers Inspire. We have heard from hundreds of people who shared their stories, who have happily told us about that one teacher who helped to change their life or how their life looked or felt.
Some of the teachers nominatied for a Teachers Inspire award were retired, others are still working in schools, primary and secondary, around the country. And a great many of them trained to be teachers at DCU’s Institute of Education, and on St. Patrick's campus.
I am delighted to be joined today by Professor Anne Looney, Executive Dean of Dublin City University's Institute of Education. Hi, Anne.
Thank you so much for coming.
Not at all, delighted to be here. Always, always happy to talk about teachers and teaching.
I suppose what I find interesting is that obviously, you know, we've been hearing all of these stories about incredible teachers. And so many, I suppose, of the teachers in Ireland today, have come through your Institute of Education. So, I suppose, how do you teach the teachers?
So, it's a great question. So, I've had the privilege of running in and out of lecture theatres, welcoming them to DCU. And what I say to them is, I congratulate them on choosing DCU, and I congratulate them on choosing education, because, you know, we need to kind of do the PR piece.
Then we talk to them a bit about becoming the teacher. And it's very easy to get their attention, because you just begin by saying, ‘Why are you here?’ because you're here, because somewhere along the way, you met a teacher, and you thought I really want to be like that, you know, and I said, think about what it was, that inspired you to think about being a teacher, and I'm gonna bet, I always say to them, I'm gonna bet it wasn't their in-depth knowledge of the classics, or just how much they knew about French grammar, or the quality of their PowerPoint presentations.
It was the person, it was how they connected with you, their interest in young people, their sense of humor, their joy in their job. And it wasn't, you know, they weren't joyful, and happy five days a week, you know, all the days of the school term. But it was the human being side of things, and what we say to our students in DCU, and we've said to them, you know, in the tradition, you know the history of the DCU Institute of Education Louise.. it was born six years ago, but out of a number of smaller institutions with hundreds of years of Teacher Education. And they all had that emphasis on ‘the person’.
So what I say to our teachers on that first day, our student teachers is, yeah we will give you the skills, we will show you how to teach someone to read, we will show you how to teach someone to do long division, you know, we will show you all of that, you leave technically competent, but along the way, we're going to challenge you on the people front.
Who are you as a person? Why do you want to teach? What do you embody when you stand in front of a child or young person? Do you make that child or young person feel relaxed or do you make them feel afraid?
Now, I think in a, in an Irish context, the days of feeling afraid, afraid in front of a teacher, they're long gone. And you've seen that from the stories, you know, especially from adults, or who look at their, you know, look at their children now, and say how happy they are in school.
So, I think it's about the human dimension. And then we also find when we they go into the classroom for the first time. Oh, that's a great moment right, so they go out on school placement, or into you know, they may be going to an early childhood setting or a school and this is their first time if you like, being in role as the teacher. The first time they're ever going to be called Sir or Miss or Múinteoir and very quickly, they realise that the job of a teacher is to make it look easy.
And that what they saw when they were sitting there going, I really want to do that, they saw a teacher making it look easy. They didn't see the blood, sweat and tears. They didn't see the planning, they
didn't see the need to think about how is everyone in the class going to achieve?
And that's a big moment as well, because they suddenly realise this is really hard work. And most stick with it. But even again, at that point, you'll have some people go, maybe I just want to do Arts.
(laughter) Yeah. I remember once being asked to give a, it was like a creative writing class for, I think they were, they were teenagers, maybe 15/16. It was a one-day course and it was a favour to a friend. And leaving, I think it was at five o'clock, I was supposed to be meet friends for dinner, I could not speak, I was so exhausted, like I was just so completely drained.
And I think that's maybe something that people who I suppose joke about teachers, with the hours and with the, with the holidays, that they don't realise that it's like you have to be on, you can't, for a moment let up, you know.
yeah you have to be on all the time. It is a it is a performance in the biggest sense of the word. You know, I was secondary school teacher myself for 15 years or so. And then I moved to work in education policy. And I remember, after my first couple of weeks, not being in the classroom, trying to work out what, what is different here? And the difference was that on a Friday evening, I could still make a coherent sentence.
Whereas after a week’s teaching on a Friday evening, you were just rung out. Now it was, you know, it was a, it was it was a great school to work in, and you had great colleagues, but you were physically exhausted, because standing in front of that class group or working with them, you know, and moving from one group to another, and you know, the students are merciless, they don't care what's happened in your last class, they want 100% in this one. I was a secondary school teacher. But you're physically completely wrung out.
Whereas you can be tired at the end of a week in something else, but that physicality that comes out of teaching, it's a very, I've colleagues in DCU talk about teaching as an embodied profession. You know, you're, you're in the room wholly, and very often you're there on your own. And, yeah, it's the wear and tear is, the wear and tear is great with the satisfaction is amazing.
Yeah, you know, doing this podcast, I have spoken to a number of academics and researchers from the Institute of Education. You know, their research has focused on Irish Sign Language and Early Education for Children and STEM and education. And honestly, the conversations have been so fascinating, I feel like I've learned so much.
And it's just really exciting to kind of hear what's happening in DCU. And, and I suppose I'm wondering, like, how does that research feed into how you're like shaping the kind of the teachers of the future? Or does it?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, it's one of, the Irish government puts a high priority on preparing teachers in higher education settings. So, and for us, we're really privileged to be a full Faculty of Education. And that means that within DCU - unusually in universities - education is a faculty alongside the Business School, the Faculty of Science and Health, the Faculty of Engineering and Computing, and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. That's really unusual.
Usually, education is a tiny piece of the faculty of social sciences across universities. DCU says education is really at the centre of DCU’s ambition to transform lives and societies. So, the fundamental unit of transformation is the educational experience, the bottom line.
But being within a university, and you've met some of the researchers, they are working with our students. So those researchers, those people who are conducting that research, they're also teaching the teachers of tomorrow.
So, they're, the students who sit in the classrooms are encountering that new, that research, they're encountering the things that researchers find about how people talk about science to children, you know, how people communicate with each other, how people interact with STEM, all of that is informing the teaching and learning.
And I think that's really important, because it means that when the students go out as teachers, when they graduate, they're going out with new ideas, and they're bringing those into their schools. So that that, that filters out.
And at the institute, like what is, what's like a typical Institute of Education student, like, what is, like I suppose, really, who is the next generation of students.
So, that is changing. And we're, you know, it's changing very slowly. So, if you take a typical kind of primary teacher, a primary teacher education candidate. So, to go to become a primary teacher, to get into the programme, you have to do exceptionally well in Irish and mathematics. Right. Now I know why that is. And I, I think there are two, because Irish and mathematics are the part of the languages of how you learn everything else.
You know, maths is a basic language of science, it's, it's understanding coding, it's understanding the world. And within an Irish context, we have two languages, I mean we have an integrated language curriculum. So, I do understand the policy, but the consequences of it are quite significant.
One of the consequences are that there are schools that do not offer a higher level maths, or there are schools that higher level maths is offered to a very few, very few students, or there are schools, which for a variety of reasons, they don't have a tradition of students doing well in maths. So that makes it exceptionally difficult for those students to get that standard.
And Irish, well, it's kind of obvious that if you are, if you were not born in Ireland, or you're a first-generation immigrant, while you, while you could learn and acquire language, the chances of you getting to the level acquired to enter into primary teaching, I think they are limited.
And I think that affects the, the ethnic make-up of our groups and I think that's a problem.
Yeah, I would agree.
Now, we're doing some work with, with schools, where we provide supports, especially in neighbourhoods near DCU, supports for students who want to teach, we give them extra tuition in maths, we give them extra tuition in Irish, we have them right across from the time they're in second and third year in school.
They come to our hubs, it's funded by the HEA, they come to our hubs, and we support them in trying to try to meet the requirements to get in.
So, we certainly see some of those students coming through and we are thrilled. Students who come from communities where they never had a tradition of sending somebody to be a primary teacher - really important.
But I still, there's still too big a gap between what the students look like and what a class looks like, so there is more work to be done there.
What would you think that it would look like?
I think we, well, I think when it comes to the Irish language, I know it's a radical suggestion, but I certainly think I, we, might need to think about focusing on the standard of Irish they have when they leave college rather than standard of Irish they have when they come in.
That's a good idea.
You know, so we say, we say it's a threshold, you have to meet the target to get in. But what if we were able to say well give us 10 students who've have got some Irish or 20 students who have got some Irish and we really work on the Gaeilge with them and when they leave, they'll have the, the Irish that they need. I think that that's, that's one, that's one component I think of a solution.
I think it is changing though Louise, we also do, we have a lot of relationships with further education colleges, DCU has.
So we've, we bring in students who've got a, might have done a PLC course before they come in and so you can certainly see that variety, there.
There is much more diversity in post-primary where there isn't a requirement to have Irish.
That’s interesting isn’t it.
Yeah, you can see far more, you can see far more headscarves, you see far more different languages, different surnames, bigger, even a bigger gender diversity on the, on the post-primary side, than you do on the primary side.
So, there's something about Irish that's acting as a filter and a block. So that is on my agenda, I'd love to see us trying to beginning beginning to tackle that one.
I also wonder if there's something about the way Irish has taught in schools? I mean, I know that, that DCU has a pilot for Deaf teachers. And I mean, obviously, that is really crucial. Because up until now, deaf children have not been taught will have traditionally not been taught by teachers who are deaf.
And I suppose it just really goes to show how important representation is and that I suppose if you are a child, you know, who is from a working class background, or a Traveller background, or, you know, if you're a black or brown child that, like, I suppose to see yourself in the person standing at the top of the class, and just to think, well, if they can do it than I can, too. I mean, I think that must be huge.
It's huge. And the, the work that Elizabeth, my colleague Elizabeth Matthews, did around that programme is really significant, but the background battle that we had around that programme, with around Irish, because, because so these students came in with English and Irish Sign Language as their two languages instead of having English and Irish.
And, so these students were the first to enter a BEd program without Irish and to say that the policymakers were nervous about it, because it was such a departure in the State, and they said, well one cohort, just one group, one group, keep it small.
Now you know, we're going to have a second group of Irish sign language, language users, which is fantastic.
But they were extremely nervous about moving away from Irish because Irish is not just a language in Ireland, there is a whole set of political historical baggage around, around Irish and we're still not able to address some of those, I think, but I think it's definitely impacting on the diversity of the teaching of the teaching profession and we have to find some more creative ways I think
of respecting both sides really
Anne: exactly. And it's say, maybe there might be some students who could come in with a with a poorer standard of Irish but who are committed to the language because it is that it is one of the two national languages and it’s important.
But maybe we could work with them to graduate, to graduate with Irish, instead of saying, you have to get to X standard before you come in. But you (student) haven't a hope of it, because, you know, because of the school that you go to, or, though your own experience of Irish in schools as well.
So, I think it's a, it's a complicated one, but it is definitely related to diversity in the, in the teaching force.
But then we also have a great tradition and DCU of working with communities, as I said, to, to, to get opportunities for people who might not otherwise have that opportunity to become, to become teachers. And that's, that's great to see.
And in our post primary teacher education programmes, we have mature students, we've people who convert from other, other careers, because they want to work with ‘real human beings’ as one said to me, I want to make, I want to, really I'm tired of working with machines, I want to work with people.
So, you do get that as well. But yeah, the diversity project is, is a way to go.
It's, I can even see, I started in DCU maybe six years ago, so I see the first years every, every year. I go in and say hello to them. And I can definitely see changes. So, I can certainly see that, because the school demographic is changing,
So even without policy interventions around teaching, you're starting to see some changes which, which is great,
which is brilliant, yeah.
Anne: but we could we could do better, as they say on a good school report, could do better in this area!
(Laughter)I think we can all say, you know, in life in general, you know, we could do better!
I just, I really appreciate you coming in today. I really appreciate you giving your time. And that was just such a great conversation. So, thank you so much.
Not at all, Louise. And now I give you some homework (laughter from both)
No, what is it, no the Cigire was in, the Cigire says we've no homework today!
Not at all, Louise, enjoy talking to you.
Thank you so much
It was lovely to hear from Anne Loony about the student teachers currently at the Institute of Education in DCU.
What about their thoughts about wanting to teach? Our producer Elaine Keogh chatted to some of them.
So, my name is Niamh Cullen. I'm in third year doing teaching in DCU.
And my name is Katie McCabe and I'm in first year doing teaching in DCU.
I think I've always wanted to become a teacher, but I've always loved like the school environment. I had a really positive experience in school. And I always loved the idea of working with kids, I think it's a real, happy environment to be working in.
And I think like different teachers, like my principal Ms Marry, she was definitely a big influence she, she was always so great and helpful, and I know it just made school so happy for me, so I think I'd love to do that as well for other children.
Were you always thinking about primary school teaching as opposed to secondary?
Yeah, it was always primary school teaching. I think I like the younger children.
Elaine: What about yourself, Katie, you’re, you’re also studying primary school teaching.
I would say I had fairly positive experience in primary school as well, but my mam also worked in a primary school. I'd spend a lot of time there in the summer and I'd always go into the classrooms and I'd pretend I was a teacher.
And I'd stand at the top of the room like I had a whole class in front of me and I always just felt like so comfortable and so right in that position. And then I went on and I was doing work experience in schools and I just completely fell in love with it. I just couldn't imagine doing anything else.
Is there anything about training to be a primary school teacher that you hadn't anticipated or, or that really has made you realize that perhaps the job you know, was much broader or requires perhaps more of yourselves than you thought before you started?
I think the course is definitely very intense, more intense than I expected and placement, placement can be quite difficult. But I think..…I really I'm enjoying the course, there's a lot to it. There's a lot of different aspects to it that I wasn't expecting like different subjects, but also it like philosophy and sociology, like there's a lot more to it than I was expecting there to be, but I'm really liking it and there's definitely different areas you can branch off into, like psychology, children's stuff like that, like if you wanted to in the future, if you wanted to do more. But ya know, I think it's really broad.
Ehm, I was completely shocked when I went in because I had no idea we had like philosophy like intellectual studies or anything like that. And even like looking at pedagogy of teaching, I had no idea it was so advanced, the thinking behind the teaching. I just thought that they walked in the room and it was like, right, we're doing this today. It was just, I was completely shocked by the amount of work and thought that was put into everything that we have to do in the classroom.
How do you feel then in terms of your futures as teachers in
Ireland, in terms of both you know, what it will be like when you're out teaching in primary schools, as well as perhaps, how you feel maybe you know, the education you're getting now, will prepare you for that?
I feel like the education I'm getting at the moment is like incredible, like, it's so in-depth and so useful in the classroom, like we do so many seminars and workshops where we are the students and our lecturers are the teachers.
So, we're actually being immersed in the experience. So we completely understand like, what is actually happening in the moment. So, I feel like I'm going be completely prepared for Ireland and other countries to teach.
I think I definitely feel fully prepared with what we've done in DCU. I think, definitely the seminars and workshops have been brilliant, it's, it's a much better way of like learning and really being able to put yourself in the shoes of the kids to see what is best for their learning. And I think I'll definitely be fully prepared for the future like Katie said, in Ireland, and another countries, definitely.
The voices of some of the teachers of the future. Thanks to them all for chatting to Teachers Inspire.
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 and maybe tell us about a teacher that made a difference in your life, at teachersinspire.ie. Until the next time.