Imagine if all classrooms looked like this


In Jamie Oliver’s TV series ‘Jamie’s Dream School’ the chef attempts to fire the imaginations of young people who have dropped out of education by bringing in teachers who are free to create a new type of school. Here LOUISE HOLDENasks some Irish personalities how they would try to engage disaffected students


Diarmaid Ferriter

The most important lessons I would like my students to learn: the importance of striving for objectivity; the significance of original research; the need for context in attempting to understand the past.

I’d make sure students have access to original documents, personal accounts of events and perspectives from people who were the same age during past times as they are now. I hope they would learn that history is about society and humanity, not just male-dominated high politics, and that we have to study history not to learn the lessons of the past but to know who we are.

I think I’d be a laid-back teacher, for the most part. The third-level experience of teaching and lecturing does not involve much of a sense of the teacher as disciplinarian, nor should it, but I would ban mobile phones and be strict about the importance of quality written expression.

In my ideal classroom, no expenses spared, I would have the New York City Tenement Museum and, closer to home, the National Photographic Archive. I’d bring the students to the Blasket Islands to give them a sense of what it was like in the past for communities living on the edge. I’d bring Margaret Thatcher and James Connolly into the classroom to discuss the topic of the state and society. I’d also bring my parents, Nollaig and Vera, both great teachers for 35 years, and who know a lot more about controlling a classroom than I do.

- Diarmaid Ferriter is professor of modern Irish history at University College Dublin, a radio broadcaster and the author of the critically acclaimed biographyJudging Dev



There are four lessons I would love my students to learn: (1) rules don’t apply, (2) how to paint in the dark, (3) how to show respect and (4) how to spread the love.

You can’t force a teen to be interested. This is the age when your mind is pure, and you “know all”. The older you get the more used you get to listening and accepting BS, and saying “thank you” after. The most valuable thing I could teach them is to understand themselves, to figure out who they are. The art will follow.

My art teacher in school was 200 per cent. She let me draw on the walls. I’m not sure I’d be the best teacher. I hate washing brushes. (I prefer spray cans.) I’d be taking half days, bringing them painting, getting them to do all the hard work while I took the praise. I’d get them chips afterwards, though.

I’d bring Anton Mazer, inspirational designer and friend, to talk to them. He taught me that art and design are a lifestyle, not a hobby, that they’re a tool to resolve problems that life presents.

I wouldn’t need a lot of expensive equipment in my classroom, just the basics: we’d make do. Sometimes having everything only hinders your creative output. On a field trip I’d bring them swimming at the Balscadden jumps, in Howth. They’d probably learn more about themselves, their fellow friends, life, than they ever will in any gallery or museum. Good times.

- Maser is a graffiti artist, graphic designer and typographer. A fine-art graduate, he is a member of the International Society of Typographic Designers and of the TDA Klann graffiti crew,


Norah Casey

Although business is a serious topic it doesnt have to be boring. I would use personal anecdotes throughout, as real-life experiences are always more interesting than reading a textbook.

My favourite part of business class was completing case studies by going into companies and interviewing everyone from the management level down. We discussed strategies and ideas for solving real problems that the company was going through.

I’d like to be a teacher who inspires my students to learn for themselves and to actively take part in my classes instead of sitting passively in a classroom. I’m a firm believer in the use of technology to broaden knowledge, so my ideal classroom would have broadband and every student would have an iPad.

My choice for a field trip would be Shanghai, as it’s one of the best examples of a fast-growing economy. I’d bring in great leaders like Gandhi and Mother Teresa to speak about how great leadership doesn’t always have to be about making money. I’d bring in Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook to speak about how anything is possible and that great ideas can begin anywhere, even in a college dorm room. Next up I’d have Harry Crosbie in to speak about how cityscapes can be changed by having great vision and seeing the potential in areas where others can’t. Finally, I’d have Rosaleen Blair to speak about how she began in business by running a small nanny agency and now runs AMS, a business with a turnover of £350 million a year.

- Norah Casey is chief executive of the Harmonia publishing company and a panel member on RTE’sDragons’ Den


Leo Enright

If I were teaching a science class I would not teach it like any other subject. It is not dead and gone, like history. I would connect my classrooms with the outside world and show students that there are new discoveries waiting to be made by them. I would turn my science classroom into science newsrooms, linking today’s discoveries with the science we teach. The science that inspired me, as a child of the 1960s, was in the media, such as the moon landings, not in the classroom.

If I had unlimited access to funding I would install 100Mbps broadband in every school: only 78 currently have it. Then I would bring them to Antarctica or Mars, for nothing.

If I could bring any speaker into my classroom I would choose Gerry Ryan. Shortly before his death Gerry performed a Leaving Cert chemistry experiment live on radio. That was brave. Gerry made some really bad choices, but he cared about science education. I wish more media gatekeepers did.

I would love students to learn from my classes that science gives you the tools for thinking, whatever you do in your life.

- Leo Enright is a broadcaster and journalist and chairman of Discover Science & Engineering, the Government’s science- awareness programme


Siún Nic Gearailt

If I was teaching Irish at school I would encourage students to speak the language at less stressful times – during PE, for example. It would make it more relevant to the activity in that sense. I would hope that they would come away from my classes thinking that Irish is a beautiful language, to be cherished and enjoyed and, most importantly, part of who and what we are.

I enjoyed Irish classes at school, especially our drama sessions in Scoil Naomh Eric in Fheothanach. I was educated through Irish, so I never really thought about the significance of it at the time. Now I mostly feel I was very lucky to have been brought up in both languages.

As a teacher I would like the chance to bring my students to the west Kerry Gaeltacht. An áit is deise ar domhan! If I could bring anyone into the classroom I would bring an seabhac, Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha, writer, teacher and Irish language storyteller from Co Kerry. He encapsulated the spirit of the time and had a vision for the language.

- Siún Nic Gearailt is an RTÉ newsreader


Simon Harris TD

In my civil, social and political education class I would use case studies to show the real-life impact of political decisions on individuals and families. My class would be interactive and participatory. Students would learn by role-play, mock elections and debates. Class lessons would be decided by the students: what better way to give real-life experience of democracy in action? I had great teachers who encouraged lively discussions in the classroom.

I would teach students exactly how the single-transferable-vote system works. From talking to people on the campaign trail it is clear that there is widespread confusion: students need to know the power of that vote.

I would also teach them how to access vital public information. Students should be empowered – educated – in how to use the tools available on the internet and other places to find information on State services, their entitlements, their rights and their responsibilities.

I remember my class trip to Leinster House as part of my CSPE action project. It must have made an impression on me, because I now serve as the youngest member of the Oireachtas. If I could I would take my students to the European Parliament. I visited the parliament in Strasbourg as a student, and ever since I have felt that I have a much better understanding of what it is to be a European.

- Simon Harris is a Fine Gael TD for Wicklow and the youngest member of Dáil Éireann


Constantin Gurdgiev

The most important lesson I would like my students to learn is that economics is an art and not a science. It’s not something you study but something you observe and live in your everyday activities. Economics plays a part in everything: choice, behaviour, marketplace, relationships, parenting. It’s a very powerful lens through which to view the world.

I would introduce them to Gary Becker’s fascinating work A Theory of Marriageto open their minds to the endless applications of economics. I would also teach them that economics is powerless to predict the future. Any random number picked from the air is better than an economic prediction. They would read Adam Smith, the School of Salamanca, the Austrian School, Milton Friedman.

I would start by using the narratives of economics, not the numbers, graphs and formulas. They should come later. Like any subject, you need to start with the very interesting stories; then the less interesting material makes sense and has a context. I was a C student at school because I was taught the other way around.

I would take the students on a field trip to the crossroads of their local town: there they can grasp the fundamentals of economics by looking at what people wear, what they drive, how they drive, what they spend on, what they don’t.

I would ask them to read Robert Lucas’s Econometric Policy Evaluation: A Critique. That would teach them that economists can and should challenge assumptions, imagine the impossible as Lucas did. Teenagers are good at that kind of thinking. A good economist shouldn’t even agree with himself, never mind with other economists.

- Constantin Gurdgiev is head of macroeconomics at the Institute for Business Value and an adjunct lecturer in finance at Trinity College Dublin


Joseph O’Connor

If I was teaching English I would prioritise pleasure, pleasure and pleasure. The belief that studying English should be ‘fun’, however, is one of the reasons why many people can’t spell properly any more or express themselves adequately when writing. Of course it should be enjoyable, but not in the sense that playing a Nintendo game is enjoyable. Young people are intelligent enough to understand that learning something valuable takes time and effort.

Required reading would be The Catcher in the Rye,by JD Salinger, The Collected Storiesby John McGahern and There Are Little Kingdomsby Kevin Barry.

I would want to share with them two beautiful sentences from James Joyce’s Ulysses, about what happens when we read: “We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love. But always meeting ourselves.”

I’d like to communicate the idea that being able to express yourself in language is a matter of power. If you can’t say what you want, you’re never going to get it. I’d want them to learn that what the reader does is far more creative than what the novelist or poet does.

On the fantasy field trip I would take them to see Bob Dylan, live, circa 1966. Then I would take them to the Rose room at the New York Public Library. There are 20,000 volumes on open display in that glorious space, so if you can’t find a book there that would appeal to your sensibilities, you’d be better to take up bowling.

I would bring many guest speakers into my classroom: John Synge, Rosa Parks, Keats, Kate O’Brien, Oscar Wilde, Paul Durcan, Colm Tóibín, Roddy Doyle, Morrissey, Virginia Woolf, Theo Dorgan, Lady Gregory, Pat Boran, Róisín Ingle, Eamon Dunphy and Olivia O’Leary.

- Joseph O’Connor’s novel Ghost Light (Vintage) is Dublin’s One City One Book novel for 2011