Guest Post: Droichead – A Qualified Defence! 

I’ve been banging on about Droichead for the past decade and recently published a podcast series. I asked teachers to share their experiences, both positive and negative. Lorraine Dillon is a second level teacher who kindly offered to write an article to share her experience.

If teaching were a prison, then I’m a Lifer. I have been teaching English at Second level for longer than I was alive when I stepped across the threshold of the school that would become my second home. I’ve run the SET Department, designed and delivered CPD for too many acronyms to list(!), hold an AP1 position, and act as a Droichead mentor for NQTs in my school.

Cards on the table-the views expressed are my own. As a lifelong objector to anything reeking of forced fun, I only sign up for things that catch my attention.  

And while I can see the issues with Droichead as a process, and acknowledge the workload it places on people who are already juggling too much already, I still believe it has something to offer a NQT. Teacher training courses can only do so much to prepare you, after all.  We spend a lot of time talking about students starting school-forgetting that a NQTs are also beginners.

There are many hidden challenges lurking-from trying to consolidate your curricular expertise, to navigating the official and unofficial culture which exists in every school to getting to know your students, and your colleagues-all while appearing to be a competent professional. And let’s not forget the challenge that can be posed by classroom management…as certain students scent newness and see an opportunity to teach a few life lessons themselves!

Teaching at Second Level is primarily a closed-door affair. The bell rings and off we go, out of the starter blocks to our rooms, our students-and we get on with the business of teaching, behind our respective doors. In Space, no one can hear you scream; not so on the corridors… And while we do interact with our colleagues, schools are busy places-and the rush to get things done means that a lot of conversations that take place during break time are done while scoffing a biscuit and fighting with the photocopier.  

Often, the conversations are about what or who we’re teaching as opposed to how we actually do it. 

Then there’s the reality that Staff rooms can be a strange place; over time, as teachers become institutionalized (!), people lay claim to seats, mugs, spaces…and God forbid you unwittingly sit in Mary’s seat or drink from Pat’s mug…while NQTs are trying to traverse that particular minefield, it can be difficult to figure out who to talk to, if things are not going well. Too often, a voice can be heard saying well I’ve no problem with : ( insert name of heightened personality student here-going to go out on a limb and say I’ve never taught a child named after a Pope who wasn’t interesting…) which can be quite deflating for a struggling teacher. And don’t forget the prophet of doom who mutters so and so’s mother is best avoided…putting the fear of God into you before the PT meeting…Not to mention the worry that if you go to management with a  problem, it will reflect poorly on you and you won’t get asked back. Classroom management when you are meeting so many students over the course of one day can be tricky. Even experienced teachers may find certain individuals/ groups a challenge on occasion.So, what are you supposed to do? Suffer in silence?  

Then there’s the joy that is all the extras-both formal and informal; in a rush to impress, build a CV, try to secure a contract-what should you sign up for? What’s expected of you? How do you avoid becoming overwhelmed?

And this is where Droichead comes in. I was lucky enough to have two senior colleagues in the English department who took me under their wing and helped me with the curriculum and resources.  I made some fabulous teacher friends who helped with the other stuff-but not everyone is that fortunate. It’s not that people don’t care-it’s just that they’re busy.  And some are so caught up in trying to appear to be on top of everything that we don’t realize they are drowning, not waving (to paraphrase the Stevie Smith poem).

Droichead formalizes support options for NQTs. Instead of wondering who to go to or what to do, they have a designated person who will work with them, answering questions, helping them make connections, advise them when needed. Time can be made available to facilitate these conversations-which is a positive, in the time-poor environment which is your typical second-level school.

 As a mentor, it’s my role-and my choice- to be there for the NQT in whatever capacity they need. Some have lots of questions-some don’t. It provides a platform for support that promotes professional dialogue, which can be mutually beneficial.  Most of what I do involves coffee and a chat; it’s not my place to judge. It’s to listen-and go from there.

 Droichead should not be about dictating to others, or about personalities.  It’s not about the mentor claiming to be the expert, lording it over the apprentice; we’ve all trained as teachers. The mentor has just spent more time at the chalkface!  Anecdotally, if there’s a mismatch of mentor/mentee, then it renders the process lip service only. It should be about sharing expertise and supporting the next generation of teachers. Done properly, it fosters positive relationships between the strata; good schools value the experience of their more senior members and thrive on the new energy and enthusiasm of their newer staff. Both are needed to create a learning environment that continues to evolve, to avoid the trap of institutional stagnation.

As a lifelong learner, Droichead has been an interesting experience as it has brought me into different classrooms and different subjects. There is much to learn from this-and from teachers coming into my room, some eclectic conversations about the very fabric of what we do-the hows, the whys-not for some fictitious lesson plan, but for real life, real students.

So, while I understand the reasons that some may find Droichead a problematic process, I believe that the concept has merit; at Second Level, anyway! It opens doors-which can only be a good thing.

Lorraine Dillon is an English Teacher in Abbey Vocational School, Donegal Town. She describes herself as a bibliophile (and a protector of apostrophes, defender of semicolons!) Although her teaching predates Google, she is still passionate about sharing books and skills with students.

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