Wednesday, January 18, 2012

And what's it all about, anyway 8?

Wonderful Lecturers

Self with Noel Brosnan at a debs in 1977: we were both in 1st Year, M.D.I
We had many wonderful lecturers but the one who stood out by virtue of his passion for life and for his subject as well as for his erudition and eloquence was the late Denis Carroll, D.D.  Now Denis was a priest at the time, but he later left to marry a woman he had met in one of the parishes in which he ministered.  He was a brilliant theologian who in later life and as a layman lectured in Trinity College Dublin.  He also wrote several books in the areas of both theology and history, and many learned articles.  As well as a brilliant theologian he was an able historian.  He also had a mastery of languages: German, French, Italian and Latin.  Needless to say, he was widely read in literature, too.  He was the first to introduce me to the writings of Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768 – 1834), the German theologian and philosopher.  He also did courses with us on evolution and how through the work and thought of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ (1881 – 1955), the French paleontologist and mystic this could be reconciled with Christian thinking; on Bernard Lonergan SJ, another formidable Catholic thinker and a memorable course of lectures on the theological thought of yet another brilliant Jesuit philosopher and theologian Karl Rahner (1904-1984).  However, it is his series of lectures on the thought of the French Catholic philosopher Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973) that really inspired me to go on to read other works by this great philosopher.

There were other wonderful lecturers from those years like Rev.Michael Paul Gallagher, S.J., then a lecturer in English literature in UCD.  He did both English and Theology with us.  He gave us a series on lectures on the novels of Saul Bellow, D.H. Lawrence and E.M. Forster, all novelists whom I really loved reading.  In the area of theology he covered modern unbelief upon which he had written his doctorate in Queen's University, Belfast.  He has a lovely site on the Web, which can be viewed here: MPG.  Of course, there was also the wonderful and unassumingly clever philosopher, Rev Patrick Carmody, M.A., M.Phil., about whose influence I have written on many occasions in these pages.  He had a wonderful mind and was widely read in philosophy.  It was he who introduced me to possibly my most favourite author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Physical Fitness

I had better make at least a passing reference to physical fitness.  I had never been good at team sports.  In fact I was atrocious at them.  One of the reasons I could never read a soccer game properly when I was playing was because I was short-sighted.  At primary school I was always a substitute player and one that never got called on to play.  Once when I did play, I remember a Bro. Casey, who reffing the match, calling me a "jelly bean."  What he meant by it I don't know, but I took it to refer to my awkwardness.  However, luckily I always had some ability at racket sports and was able to play to play, and did play for a short number of years tennis, badminton, squash and table tennis.  In fact I was tolerably good at badminton and table tennis.

However, I remember a fellow Mater Dei student, one John Cunningham, a strong and gifted footballer, encouraging me to at least tog out for training with the Mater Dei soccer team, which was singularly lacking in men in those days.  Over the four years I think I may have played at most two or three times when someone was badly injured.  However, the twice weekly training did mean that I got fit.  In fact I enjoyed it and it did manage to keep my sinusitis somewhat at bay.  As an educator I have always subscribed to the concept of "mens sana in corpore sano."

These days I try to get to the gym twice a week in order to keep down my weight as I am on medication for my blood pressure and my cholesterol.  Thankfully since I have reduced my weight by a stone my blood pressure has come down indeed.  I am also fully conscious that I need to shed at least another half stone. 

The World of Work and More Study

Self with Mum and Dad when I was conferred with my B.A., 1983
It was indeed good to get to work after four years of study.  Being always work-driven and something of a dedicated student, I also inscribed for a B.A. degree at night in UCD.  How I did that, I don't know.  But I was young, a mere 22 years of age.  An old Christian brother said to me, wisely, "Listen lad, Religion is a hard subject to teach.  You'll never spent a lifetime at it.  Go out to UCD and do Mathematics and Irish in the B.A."  And that's what I did.  I had always been at the top of my class in Gaeilge/Irish so studying it was never onerous.  I was a fairly good C Honours student - never A or even B mind you - and I had to work hard at the Maths.  However, after three years I did manage to obtain my degree at Pass level - as no Honours degree was then possible at night time.  In those years there were two separate courses at UCD for some reason (indeed in all the NUI colleges, I believe) - a Pass B.A. course and an Honours B.A. course, and they only ever offered the pass degree at night.  Nowadays, it is the one degree course and you either honour it or pass it, which makes perfect sense to me at this distance.  I never did now why this early differentiation of courses was made.  Overall, I was a happy man as I now was qualified to teach Religion, English, Irish and Mathematics all to Leaving Certificate standard in Secondary School.  I was even qualified to teach history to Junior Certificate, given that I had taken History in first arts in UCD.  Seven long years of hard work and study, but very well worth it as I had a very broad command of general subjects.

Looking back on my life, my first three years teaching were a trial for me.  I was young and inexperienced and far too idealistic.  As well as that, I had too many irons in the fire to be a really good teacher - spending every evening travelling by bus - two buses at that - out to UCD for lectures and not getting home until at least 11.00 p.m. after a hard day's work in the classroom.  In those years I found discipline quite a hard task.  In hindsight ,I believe I was a poor teacher then, but on the plus side I learnt much from my mistakes.  I have known a few people in my time in the various schools in which I have since taught never to have learnt much from their experiences, as they went on unhappily making the same mistakes over and over again.  Teaching is a profession which requires the teacher to think about how to handle classes, to reflect on where he or she went wrong in handling student X, Y or Z, and it is also a job which means that one must try new approaches all the time as the world changes its emphases.  It also requires one to "connect" with the class - never an easy thing to do.  However, over the years, I have watched those teachers who had the art of "connection" and have learnt from them.  Another way of saying this would be to say that a good teacher has "presence," or indeed "fills" the classroom to put it metaphorically.  These days I feel at home in my classroom and I like to feel that I "fill" it.  Also, it does help if the teacher has a sense of humour as young people like that, and also it is a good tension reliever which can defuse possible conflict situations.  Lastly, it pays to have a command of one's subject, to know what you are doing, to know the curriculum and examination system inside out.  Now, after some thirty years or so in the classroom, I do some preparation for class, though not the level to which they expect it on H. Dip. Ed. or P.G.C.E. courses.  However, I have always believed in preparation as the old adage puts it: I have long believed that if we fail to prepare we prepare to fail.

I taught in my first school, Scoil Uí Chonaill (where I had been a pupil myself) for a period of three years.  I taught mostly Religion, but I also taught one class Mathematics and another Junior Certificate French.  I had always a facility with languages, French and Irish having been two of my highest scoring subjects in my own Leaving Certificate.  The Headmaster, the wonderful Bro Loughran, CFC, knew I had been a good French scholar and asked me to take that class to Intermediate Certificate level.  I truly enjoyed the experience.  This would not be allowed today as a teacher is not allowed teach a subject in which he or she is not qualified, and rightly so.

Teaching in O'Connell's (Scoil Uí Chonaill) was a good experience professionally, though personally it was rather trying for me because I felt as if I was still a pupil as all my old teachers were then still on the staff.  I know it was my own personal problem insofar as that was the way I felt, probably being way too shy, and not at all self-confident enough to really call my former teachers colleagues.  And so I moved on after three years at the bosom of my alma mater, feeling a somewhat neglected child who never did get quite sufficiently well fed at her all too cold breast. 

No comments: