Subscriber OnlyEducationThe Secret Teacher

‘He has the worst teacher. At this rate, he has no chance of doing higher for the Leaving’

The Secret Teacher: Parents need to trust that teachers will do right by their children. It is a big ask, but a necessary one

Mum (Mrs Moran): Paddy has the worst teacher in the school. At the rate things are going he has no chance of doing higher for the Leaving Certificate. The other teachers explain things properly, give better notes and have far better control over their classes. Paddy’s teacher is always getting them to do group work and they constantly seem to be correcting their own or each other’s work. At the parent-teacher meeting, she told me that Paddy needs to spend more time writing out the corrections from his tests. I felt like saying she’d do well to do more corrections herself. I don’t know who she thinks she is. I’d love to make a formal complaint but Paddy really likes her and he would never forgive me if I did. And I will struggle to forgive him if he doesn’t get those points.

The principal (Mr Roche): Well that was a first, a parent wanting their child moved out of Claire’s class. Usually, they’re beating my door down with requests for their child to have her as a teacher. And I can see why. The pupils love her and achieve outstanding results year on year. She’s strict in ways that they understand and have no objection to. The culture in her classroom is firmly rooted in our school’s values, and my years of working with her leave me in no doubt that she models them consistently, day-in day-out.

Her commitment to her pupils is unrivalled. Where many teachers find a way that works for them and stick to that, Claire fully buys into the concept of changing needs, and adjusts her professional practice so that it is in line with what her pupils need in order to succeed. She makes differentiation look easy with her apparently effortless capacity to engage all of the students in front of her, however diverse the group. Inspectors said precisely that after visiting her class. Our school is incredibly lucky to have her. It’s such a pity Mrs Moran can’t see that. I wonder what Paddy thinks.

The student (Paddy): Mom just doesn’t get it. Mrs Leyden’s a really fantastic teacher. When we have to look at each other’s work we often see exactly where and why someone else went wrong. I love explaining other people’s mistakes to them, as having to go over it with someone else really helps me remember. I love it even more when the others get confused and ask me questions, as that usually brings up the harder stuff that I need to look up before I can help them. I can’t always find the answer but someone in our group usually can. Most of the time we can’t remember who exactly found it as it feels as if we all worked it out together. I wish all of my teachers could be like Mrs Leyden.


The agility required of a teacher in a modern classroom has to be experienced to be believed but it is the hallmark of a talented teacher. The stereotypical chalk-and-talk breed still exists in abundance, and has a faithful following too. Then there are those who know every nook and cranny of the course and are keen to share it all via reams of notes. These notes present facts and concrete information to be learned verbatim – there is nothing here to be thought about or reflected on. It has already been deemed fit for purpose and is therefore ready to be learned by heart. For it is only then that it can be regurgitated with the near certainty of a top grade. If the question comes up, that is.

And it doesn’t always come up. But if it does it will translate into high marks that will in turn convert into CAO points and the valuable currency of a college place. On a course that will – probably, anyway – require more than rote-learning skills. And if it doesn’t the mere regurgitators will find answering at all far harder and probably underperform.

Mrs Leyden’s pupils will all be able to answer those questions and it’s a shame Paddy’s mum cannot see that. Not only will they write great answers but these will contain original content, and be responses that are uniquely their own and which they could defend if they needed to. This flexible independence will be so internalised by the Leaving Cert that no further education opportunity will be too demanding for them. Even the best of learned-off notes cannot stay upright in intellectual debate. Their merit depends on monologue and dissolves instantly in dialogue. An agile learner sees learning by heart as just one of many skills in their learning toolbox. It has its place but that place certainly isn’t everywhere.

The teacher (Claire Leyden): Paddy Moran – one of a happy bunch who are all doing well considering their own diverse starting points and ranges of ability. Paddy stands out for his interpersonal skills and a capacity to get on with all of the other members of his class group. I never worry about the group I place Paddy in as he is far and away the best group facilitator I have ever taught. His natural ability to work well with others means he will go far in life. He is doing his parents proud and I feel privileged to have him in my class.

Mrs Moran doesn’t get the thriving dynamic between her son and his teacher because she suffers the same disadvantage as many parents, she doesn’t get to go to school! She must therefore trust that those who are there have Paddy’s best interest at heart and are doing right by him. This trust is a big ask of parents, but a necessary one.