EVELYN O’CONNOR, who earlier this year was named Secondary School Teacher of the Year has said of all the events in her life, the Leaving Cert is the one thing she wouldn’t like to go back and do again.
O’Connor teaches English and French at Mount St Michael Secondary School in Claremorris in Mayo and used her platform as Teacher of the Year to criticise the injustice of the secondary school teaching system.
She told TheJournal.ie today that she’s very pleased with how her students performed in their final State exams, but wryly labelled the Leaving Cert as ’cruel and unusual punishment’.
I think it’s quite flawed. If a student allows themselves to be reduced to a set of grades on a page, it doesn’t reflect their talents.
O’Connor said that Leaving Cert fails to identify a student’s leadership skills or abilities as a team player, which are important in the world of college and employment.
The teacher said that English is one of the subjects which can’t really be rote learned and which inspires creativity, with 55 per cent of the paper completely new to students on the morning of the exam. She said skills other than rote learning are important for students.
What troubles me is that the [exam] environment is not conducive to creativity… you sit down in front of a clock and are told ‘GO’! One student told me that he’d be hard pushed to write a Labybird book in the time allotted in the English exam, never mind an engaging essay or short story.
O’Connor said she supports Education Minister Ruairí Quinn’s dissatisfaction with the current system, but that care needs to be taken when changing the system to ensure that objectivity in the marking system remains.
She said that continuous assessment, which would be the preferred solution to the current system, would be difficult to mark objectively, and would also be difficult to police in terms of plagiarism.
O’Connor’s students are given the option of submitting their work online, or handwritten, and she said that those students who chose to type their work and submit it online often submit work of a higher quality, as they are editing as they go.
Asked how easy it is to spot plagiarism in a student’s exercises she said:
A teacher will always know.
Evelyn O’Connor (centre, in blue) with some of her students