Rule no. 1: Passion
I had only been teaching for about three years (mostly junior cert science and leaving cert maths) and was getting fed up with it. I would have liked to have been teaching Physics but there were already two physics teachers in the school so it wasn’t looking like that was going to happen any time soon. I reckoned a change of career was in order but had no idea what I wanted to do. When a colleague mentioned a masters program in science communication offered jointly by DCU and Queens I figured why not, so handed in my notice and bought a few homework copies.
I don’t remember much about the lectures in DCU – mostly they were to do with communication theory but the lectures were pretty boring (the irony wasn’t lost on me). There were two exceptions to this; one was the director of the program – Professor Kirk Junker, and the other was Professor Helena Sheehan. Kirk was an inspiration in that he was professionalism personified. I never once saw him get annoyed and every student was respected and treated as if they were the only student in his class. It was an example I have tried to follow ever since in my own teaching, but it is for others to decide how successful that has been.
Helena was most definitely a different kettle of fish. While she also had a deep respect for her students, the one word I would use to sum her up would be passion. I have never met anyone so passionate about their teaching and their subject matter.
For me it was a complete revelation. Apparently a teacher’s job is not to just impart knowledge to students – you can actually let them see how much the subject matter means to you as a teacher. And students won’t laugh at you as a result, in fact they will actually respect you a whole lot more. I can still remember sitting in her class and thinking that I have to get back into my own classroom and give this a go. If nothing else I owe it to my students. It has now become one of the first pieces of advice I would give to any new teacher – be passionate; if you find the subject matter to be fascinating then for God’s sake let the students in on it. No amount of technology can replace that gift.
It helped that I also found the subject matter of Helena’s lectures to be fascinating; philosophy of science? – I never knew such a thing existed. Science was just science, a disinterested pursuit of knowledge, and no proper scientist could be interested in dirty words like money or fame. How wrong I was, but that’s for another day (to get a feel for what Helena was teaching us just go to her web-page . To see a 25 min video of Helena in action click here for the 54 mg download or here for the 27 mg version (I don’t know why these aren’t just on YouTube – it’s powerful stuff).
This was all prompted by a wonderful post written by Helena as part of A University Blog: Diary of A University President
Helena finishes with the following words. They could only have been written by Helena.
When I was young, I was a 60s generation activist and I wanted to change the world. Much older now, I still do. The ensuing years have brought many disappointments and defeats. It has been difficult to sustain dissidence over the decades. The secret of doing so was to learn not be so all or nothing about it as I was then, to find what I believed and what I could do about it and to do it every day ‘like exercise’. I haven’t changed the world in any grand way, but perhaps I planted a few seeds that made it just a bit different than it would have been otherwise.