'Our teacher is like a paratrooper breaking in recruits'
My Education Week: CATHAL SWEENEYFifth-year student, Scoil Uí Mhuirí, Dunleer, Co LouthSUNDAY
The reality of secondary school has slowly crept back into my virgin-fifth-year skull. Back in transition year, Sunday nights meant maybe a bit of study, but not too much. A year ago today we were off to the Tayto factory in Armagh. Now fifth-year Sunday evenings consist of frantically doing the homework you meant to do at 4pm on Friday, cramming for tomorrow’s test that you meant to spend all weekend studying for, or simply pretending there’s nothing essential to do tonight. On this particular Sunday I choose to delude myself and go for option No 3. The X Factor beckons.
Drag myself up at 6.30am and slink into school. Go to English; put my head on the desk. Get snapped at by teacher. We take out our play and start reading. Macbeth at 9am on a Monday is possibly the last thing I want. TY English was much easier – basically, studying the lines for our musical, Bugsy Malone, over and over; at least you could doze during other people’s lines.
The day only improves when we march into Irish. Our teacher is very good; she also happens to be a former bodybuilder and often acts like a paratrooper breaking in recruits. In TY she taught us to dance for our musical, and we marvelled that she could cut the rug perfectly in high heels, a skill I fear myself and my male classmates will never master. Now we simply marvel that she can do Irish at this hour.
Then maths – oh boy – and we immediately wish we could teleport back a year. Not only do we miss our TY maths teacher; we also miss the much more relaxed atmosphere. In the space of a few months maths classes have gone from a cheerful group effort to something way more serious. Our new teacher is terrific – she explains the material well and answers all our questions – but it’s still a major readjustment.
As we walk up to the village for my weekly indulgence – a bag of chips – I speak to fellow TY veterans about being back in the fast lane. No surprise: everyone preferred TY, but I suppose I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m now in a class with nine other ex-TYs.
One of my mates is stuck in a class with only two other TYs, neither of whom he’s friendly with, and he doesn’t know anyone else. Therefore he detests it. Another person dislikes the new curriculum, subjects and so on but loves his new class. Somebody who didn’t even do TY hates everything in general about fifth year.
I suppose this demonstrates that, no matter how educational school is, it’s really your relationship with your peers that defines the overall experience. In TY we pulled together as a privileged team; now we’re all mixed up. Even though from a certain perspective that isn’t so bad, it puts a damper on things for most TY veterans.
Business has changed beyond recognition. That TY Tayto jaunt was classed as a business trip. We were greeted at the door by an icy-eyed woman who told us not to touch anything and then divided us into two groups for a tour. Thankfully, she took the other group. Our tour guide was much nicer, far more attractive and less strict: “One rule: eat as much as you want.”