Online teacher training goes a long way

EDUCATION PROFILE:Paudie O’Neill gave up a career as a top-flight engineer to train for an elementary school education and online training enabled her to manage change, writes LOUISE HOLDEN

“I was not driven by the recession; it was at the height of the boom that I decided my heart wasn’t there, ”says Paudie, a 30-year-old owner of Carrigaline in Cork. The owner part of the accommodation is important: Paudie could not afford to give up his day job and go to Marie Immaculée, the teaching college closest to his home.

It was then that he decided to enroll in an online teacher training course with Hibernia College. In 2006, the Hibernia method was still the subject of much suspicion in the education world. Some staff and students of traditional educational institutions have expressed opposition to the concept of distance education for teachers. Students at St Patrick’s College pounded the streets with “yellow pack teacher” banners. Academics regretted the shift from teacher training to the dirty hands of commerce.

Nonetheless, Hibernia now trains more primary school teachers than any other state program. Paudie is one of them, and without the Hibernia model, he couldn’t have done it.

“Ever since I was in school, I always thought I would like to be an elementary school teacher, but since I was strong in math and engineering, it made more sense to me to take a college course that reflects this.” , explains Paudie. “I ended up working in fire safety in an engineering firm, working with architects on personal safety and property protection. My career was taking off. I had a secure job with a successful business and bought my own house. At first glance, there was no reason to change.

However, Paudie got engaged in 2006 and began to look to the future. “I realized I had one last chance to take a risk. My responsibilities were piling up and soon I would no longer be able to move.

Paudie’s parents are both teachers and he continued to feel like a teacher, he says, even when working as an engineer. “All the discussions at home were about education – I was part of this world.” He made the decision to start the 18 month online teacher training course. It was not an easy option but he was “very determined”. In addition to a full-time job, Paudie spent an average of 25 hours per week in online tutorials, face-to-face sessions and seminars.

“It was a strange existence,” he admits. “I was moving between two very different and very intense worlds. The workday was in full swing – it was the height of the construction boom. I was busy all day working with architects and clients and various projects. When I got home in the evening, I immediately had to switch to Irish and math, lesson plans and discipline. I had a hard time getting up the next day and putting my engineering hat back on, but the work paid off the bills and I had to come off.

Despite Paudie’s immersion in teaching throughout his life, the training had some surprises in store. “Things have changed a lot since I started school. The blackboards are gone. Whiteboards are also gone. They are interactive tables now.

For obvious reasons, IT is an integral part of the Hibernia program. “I spend eight hours a week watching prerecorded lessons on the computer, then two or three times a week, I have the opportunity to discuss it with my tutor,” he explains. “Once a fortnight, I spend a whole day with a subject matter expert, learning geography, science or some other component of the primary curriculum.

Most of Paudie’s contact hours are in his alma mater, UCC, so it’s not that far removed from his undergraduate experience. However, he is currently teaching and that, he says, is a tour de force.

“It is not the teaching itself that is so in demand, it is the preparation. We have to submit a detailed lesson plan to Hibernia before each lesson, so sometimes I’m up half the night trying to get it right.

Once at school, however, Paudie is in her element. “I teach children of all ages and learn as much from them as they do from me. The little ones are a challenge – you have to work really hard to teach them anything. Older people are different. It’s easier to work with them on some levels, but they’re practically teenagers, and that presents its own challenges. Elementary school is a very important time in a person’s life. He shapes a lot what comes next. I am very aware of this.

Paudie will be graduating in May and while it’s been a winding road to teaching, he thinks all was well. “I really think 29 was a good age to start this process. I worked for several years, I acquired maturity and experience. In my job, I interact with all kinds of people. I have the ability to deal with other adults. I think that’s a very important part of teaching – being able to communicate with parents and other teachers. My computer skills are also very developed. I think I can pass it on to class.

The classroom can be a pressurized environment, a “one-man-show” as Paudie puts it. “I worked long, hard hours in the construction industry. I have developed a determination and a serious work ethic. It will stay with me.

Unsurprisingly, Paudie is a fan of Hibernia College and doesn’t feel like a “yellow pack teacher”. “Hibernia, for the first time, brings different types of people to teach. A 21-year-old from a higher education institution has a lot to offer.

“But a 31-year-old man with an engineering degree and six years of hard work in the private sector also has something to contribute.”

Hibernia College: The Ascension and the Ascension

Since HETAC authorized it in 2003, Hibernia College has nearly doubled its enrollment and brought a new group of teachers into Irish classrooms. The online teacher training course produces more primary teachers than any other program in Ireland.

Number of graduates in primary education from Hibernia:3,500

Number of students in the first program in 2003:180

Number of students in the current program:300

Application rates:One graduate is registered for four applications

Student profiles:Almost 25 percent of students are male – higher than in graduate schools. Students tend to be older, but the age profile has fallen and the average age is 25. Students must have a primary degree and many have already worked in other fields

Cost of the program:€ 8,950

Duration of the program:18 months

Program delivery methods:online tutorials, on-site sessions and teaching practices in schools