Teacher, Writer, Entrepreneur: To employ your teaching skills, look for opportunities outside the formal accreditation system.
The author Stephen King states that you can call yourself a writer when you pay a bill with money earned from writing. In 2015 I paid a phone bill that way and added writer to my profile. In 2016 I graduated Higher Diploma in Further Education from Maynooth University and proudly added teacher to that list. After graduating I took an opportunity to start up a business, earning another title, entrepreneur. I couldn’t commit the time to a traditional teaching role but I stayed involved by invigilating and marking State Exams. However, that was peripheral work and I feared that with passing time I would become far removed from the vocation I loved.
To employ my teaching skills, I realised I would need to look for opportunities outside the formal accreditation system. The new business had a 16-PC co-working space and so I started a beginners’ computer skills course. The success of this led to advanced classes and workshops. With recognition other opportunities arose; local businesses required bespoke staff training; an international internship company required a programme for disadvantaged young adults from Germany. It was a pleasure to facilitate these groups, in particular the German learners, hearing their stories and seeing their social and language skills develop along with their confidence. The culmination of their visit was to deliver PowerPoint presentations to an audience. For most it was their first time to speak in public and to do that in a second language was commendable.
I was then commissioned to design an intensive course for a group of local government employees from Poland. Their aim was to learn about aspects of Irish society to enable them to return to Poland as cultural advisors. At our first meeting I found out only one member spoke English! Not to burden him as a translator I trialled translation apps for handouts, leading to some entertaining ice-breaker results. The group brought to the table matters for discussion such as education, emigration, tourism, agriculture, the provincial divide, and even why we need two taps on our sinks (delivered by a wonderful mime of swiping hands from boiling to freezing water). While gaining the confidence to test their English they taught me enough Polish, German and Russian phrases to, at least, confidently order lunch.
I also ran workshops as part of the annual Lifelong Learning Festival and from that I was invited onto the community steering group for University College Cork’s Learning Neighbourhoods and Learning Neighbourhood Mentors, an initiative of S.O.A.R. (Inter-Institutional Collaboration on Access.), supporting under-represented groups and individuals in gaining access to education.
At this time I was immersed in writing a novel that evolved from my Classics thesis and I was inspired to create a course on Ancient Athens for the UCC/ACE (University College Cork Adult Continuing Education) short course programme. I run this course twice a year, and I’m putting together a new course on ancient theatre. In preparation for going fully online UCC gave staff technology training. They also offered wellbeing advice and one valuable suggestion I took away was to realise we’re all in this together. I now ask for student volunteers to monitor the chat room or the hands up function, to watch time, and remind me to record the session.
I also designed and deliver online creative writing workshops as part of a support programme for adults with Asperger Syndrome. Online engagement can be difficult for some in the group and as facilitator it is stimulating to adapt to needs, and the wide-range of interests is motivating for all of us. Although my teaching pursuits are diverse, at no time do I feel I have neglected my values. I have always aspired to a humanist, student-centred ethos. I am a strong advocate of the educational theories of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, also Carl Rogers, and Malcom Knowles, with respect to appreciating the individual and encouraging self-direction in learning. Acknowledging prior experience enables the learner to communicate. This develops critical thinking skills, which leads to greater confidence and motivation. My teaching experiences have taught me that the same principles apply to me. The students in the Post Leaving Cert classroom, the Polish professionals, the retired academics of ACE, the computer beginners, the creative writers, all bring unique perspective and experience and I am the one who has truly benefitted. In seeking new paths to teaching I have learned from these interactions, and I am fortunate to have a platform in which to reflect on my practice and reassert my values. I am a teacher, writer, entrepreneur, learner.
Theresa Ryder was assistant to the late author J.P. Donleavy for many years before graduating M.A. (Classics), 2013, and H. Dip. F.E. from Maynooth University, 2016. She has a particular interest in autism in the adult classroom. She won the Molly Keane Creative Writing award in 2015 and has had short fiction, poetry and plays published. She is a regular contributor to the award winning #WomenXBorders project in the Irish Writers Centre and is one of 16 emerging writers contributing to The 32: An Anthology of Working Class Voices, (publication May 2021).