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June 2019
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2003-10-28 Only a handful of teachers affected me in positive way

Ponder this: `Teaching is one quarter hard work and preparation, and the rest is theatre'. So if it is 75 per cent performing, why then did I do a `road-runner' out of those classrooms all those years ago leaving behind me nothing more than a cloud of chalk-dust?


For four years after my qualification as a Music and French teacher, I was part of the music department of a South Dublin school, as well as teaching piano privately.


When I moved to London to further my singing, I taught for a time at the famed "Italia Conti school" near the Barbican. There I tutored several members of the cast of "Eastenders" - and many others - in music theory and class-singing. So there are soap-stars out there who know how many beats a minim has, and that D Minor is the relative minor of F Major!


We Irish have a natural ability for communication, and thus, ought to be good teachers, so why is it then that I was affected in a positive way by only a handful of those who taught me? So many of my own teachers exercised a patronising and condescending pomposity, many had extreme problems with discipline and spent most of the time trying desperately to exercise control in the classroom - maybe they ought to have started-off strict and eased off later, as it's harder to do it the other way round.


Others just spent time handing out detentions and punishments, some were a melange of paranoias and bitterness, several were lazy and for them it was merely a job with generous holidays (a vacation instead of a vocation), and a handful of teachers were just a minefield of eccentricities. Is it any wonder that the staffroom at morning breaktime was just like the final dress rehearsal of a lavish fully-costumed production of "Carry on Teaching" using a cast of method actors?


Yes, there are many decent and honorable teachers out there in the profession for whom it truly is a vocation. But so often we hear the teachers unions discussing pay, and very little else. It would be encouraging if they were to deal with the wider issues such as bettering our schools, the pros and cons of the transition year, school uniforms, sex education and a host of other issues.

If teachers could treat parents as allies, and vice-versa, it would be easier to give the good teachers the recognition they so deserve, while extracting the bad eggs from the profession, thus constantly aiming for higher standards. Children from disadvantaged homes, and those with learning diffculties would get the attention they need.


Maybe there ought to be more frequent `inspection' or at least assessment of second level education. I suppose if I am to be entirely honest, one of the main reasons I was happy to be given an escape route from teaching, was because I was finding myself turning into the very teachers who had been poor role models for me in my schooldays. I wanted to teach people who wanted to be taught, not those who were there under duress, and I was on the verge of starting a campaign to have all those children at that `difficult age' (pubescent kids) shipped off for a few years to some remote island to rediscover their nice side.

At the stage-school in London where I taught, I witnessed the `pushy parent syndrome', and some unbearable kids who fancied themselves as up-and-coming `Kylies' or `Britneys'! Recently I have been invited to give some coaching sessions and masterclasses, and I know that when my sell-by date as a performer has expired, I will once again enjoy teaching those who want to be taught.


Besides, studying music or playing an instrument is now much `cooler' than in my day - Gosh, I sound so old. In hindsight, I know a good teacher is someone who doesn't just teach facts, but is rather someone who encourages creativity and self-expression in their students, possibly resulting in less bullying and playground squabbling. A good teacher ought to be not only good at presentation and communication but also able to instill a love of learning, reading, self-motivation and self-discipline in their students, as well as passing on the love they themselves have for their subject. In short, teaching is a vocation, not just a job.