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Ireland’s Invisible Essential Workers: Teachers

The global pandemic has affected millions of people in many different ways. From the closure of retails stores, restaurants and gyms to the workplace being shifted to an online environment it is virtually impossible for anyone to have escaped the wrath of the pandemic. Schools and Universities at all levels have been forced to close their classrooms and campuses and teach their students online. How did one of the largest institutions in Ireland cope with the sudden change of routine? 

While the wellbeing of students is the main priority, how did Ireland's teachers cope with this new struggle? Speaking to Her Campus is Final Year student teacher Ellen O'Reilly telling us the positives and negatives of becoming a promising young teacher during Ireland's third Lockdown. 

Beginning her studies at DCU in 2016, Ellen made the decision to obtain her Master's Degree in Primary Education here at DCU and is in the last few stages of securing her diploma. 

From a young age Ellen knew she wanted to pursue a career in primary education. This decision stemmed from her own experiences at primary school and wished to have the same opportunity in other children's lives. "I always admired my primary school teachers, and they were an amazing influence on my own life." 

Ellen continues to say how music is a major interest of hers and many of her school teachers incorporated music into their lessons which she has now integrated into her own. "Music was always a hobby of mine and I loved when we had a music lesson at school. It's something I carried with me into my own classroom." 

The switch from physical learning environments to online was a huge adjustment says Ellen. "It was a shock and first and took a while to adjust to, it was such an unpredictable thing too it's like you were always waiting for your Internet to drop and being kicked from your own lesson." 

While teachers nationwide wished to be back in their classrooms many agreed that online schooling was the safest method for their students and staff's sake. 

DCU were a massive help to their student teachers, adapting assignment briefs and introducing new modules to help their students be successful in an online environment. Ellen describes the support from her lecturers positively: "I can't fault DCU honestly, they were so flexible and understanding. They changed our

traditional placement brief to be more adaptable and created a module teaching us how to teach online, something we never imagined we would need! But it was really useful." 

When schools finally opened back up in April 2021 it allowed student teachers to finally execute their placements in person. But what affects and influence did online learning and the pandemic as a whole have on these young students? Ellen describes children as being resilient and malleable. "One of the main things I learned from my placements online and in-person is that children are so adaptable. If you told them to stand on one leg all day they would, once there's a routine in place they really go with the flow!" 

To ensure social distancing safety classrooms are divided into pods of 5-8 with one meter in between each table. Each class group is assigned a dedicated yard time and outside the children can interact with their other classmates. 

Ms O'Reilly describes how the children took a few days to readjust to the routine of normal school life. With an online school day only lasting one hour in some schools, to then going to five-hour days, five days a week some of the students had a tough time to adjust. "The first week back always affected them the most. On Monday's they would be like zombies by big break, but by the end of the week they would be well-adjusted." 

Nationwide schools ensured their students were able to socialise with friends in a safe environment, beginning their days with a class chat. "Their homework for the first few weeks was to play with their friends. We wanted to make sure they were getting the socialisation they so need at that age." 

As a thank you to parents who had to homeschool their children with online learning, Ellen and many other teachers decided to assign no homework to students for the first two weeks back to in-person school. "It was our way of thanking parents for their hard work and cooperation with us during online school. Many of these families have other children and were working themselves, it was a difficult time for everyone." 

As a student teacher, the key to success is to find the right balance between school work and college assignments. Managing assignments is challenging enough without the added pressure of having to grade thirty other pieces of work. "I did struggle sometimes with trying to do my own assignments and placement work." 

Final Year education students are required to submit an Action Research Project (ARP), a body of work similar to a thesis. "My ARP was one of my main priorities when I was studying. Once that was finally submitted I was able to relax a bit more and give focus to my lesson plans and other assignments." 

 

Like many, the pandemic had a negative impact on our mental health. However, as an essential worker, how was their mental health affected? Ms O'Reilly tells us how she was luckily not too heavily affected by the current situation. 

 

"Thankfully I was fine, I had amazing support from lecturers and classmates as well as my friends and family. I think without all of them I probably would've gone mad!" 

Working alongside Ireland's other essential workers, teachers have most deservingly gained themselves the title. Never would have we imagined that students would be forced to continue their education online. Many student teachers were dealt with a digital placement, something that had never been seen before and were able to succeed for not only themselves but the children. 

Facing their degrees online student teachers are happy to see the finish line after a tough year. "I have less than two weeks left until I graduate and I can't wait to see what's to come!" says Ellen.

Final year Communications Studies student at DCU.
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