CATHERINE McGOURTY: Schools lay the platform for success

THE thought of September 1 is often filled with dread by the school teacher, and many people probably think here we go again with teachers complaining after having two full months off in the summer.

However, we are not averse to work, instead I truly believe we merely feel the pressure of ensuring that we help each pupil we come into contact with achieve their full potential and provide them with every opportunity to succeed, while ensuring they have a safe environment to do so.

On the other hand, how do our pupils feel? Excited and nervous? Put yourself in their shoes as a Year Eight starting secondary school? Do you remember your first thought as you entered your new big school as an 1112-year-old? Do you remember that first dayfirst year? Generally, the feeling I get from our new Year Eights is the importance of being made to feel welcome and included.


Personally I am the same as any other teacher. Of course I get that dread but that’s more about having to be more organised than I have been over my seven-week break, and ensuring that while I continue playing, I am fully prepared for all classes and also for training and matches.

When school starts back and the pupils fill the corridor that feeling quickly dissipates. By 11am on September 1 there is usually a queue outside PE with keen Year Eight pupils wondering, “What day is Gaelic on?”, “When is our first camogie match?”, “Miss am I on the team?”. It is straight to work to make these pupils feel welcome and there is no better way than to kick start extra-curricular clubs.

As a PE teacher in Our Lady and St Patrick’s College, Knock, I can see first-hand how school sport provides our kids with the best memories. It is also where kids learn life skills such as team work, co-operation, develop resilience, respect, humility and discipline. We are extremely fortunate in Ulster to have some excellent people and committees involved such as Ulster Schools GAA, Ulster LGFA and Ulster Post Primary Schools Camogie.

These different associations help to provide our schools with fantastic opportunities and competitions. With over 120 combined competitions and around 150 schools involved in post primary Gaelic games, we are certainly doing our best to promote our sports in our schools and inevitably increase our participation numbers.

On Sunday past when I listened to Chrissy McKaigue thank not only the Derry County Board and clubs, but also the input from schools over the years and how they contribute to the future success of our elite players, it struck a chord.

You only have to look at the Tyrone and Derry teams involved in this year’s Ulster minor football final and compare the players involved to the players involved in this year’s MacRory Cup final. How many players were from Holy Trinity, Cookstown and St Mary’s, Magherafelt?

When you look at the teachers and members of staff from schools that are involved it is also clear that our games are in good hands. Niamh Marley, Armagh ladies, currently a teacher in St Ronan’s, Lurgan. coached her u-14 girls’ team to a final against St Paul’s, Bessbrook. We also have Peter Canavan, Tyrone in Holy Trinity Cookstown, Chloe Drain, Antrim Camog in St Louis Ballymena, Eddie McCloskey, Antrim in Loreto Coleraine just to name a few.

At the recent Ulster Post Primary Schools Camogie All-Stars, two-time recipient Beth Coulter mentioned in a short speech about the influence and impact we have as role models and teachers and how as pupils, they look up to us.

Four years ago I mentioned to a young prospective student who was undecided about what school to choose that I would love to have her playing on my school camogie teams. That young girl chose to come to OLSPCK and now enjoys playing camogie on various school teams.

What we say makes a massive impact not only on sport but on their lives. So having positive role models in our schools is vital, and ensuring we use them in the right way will only continue to help us progress our games even further.

So if you are reading this and have a young boy or girl, about to move to a new school in September, encourage them to get involved in all aspects of school life especially sport.

I have been very fortunate to work with some excellent athletes and teams in the various schools I have taught in. Personally, this opportunity to take extra-curricular teams and clubs is the most fulfilling part of the job I love. So thanks to all the teachers and coaches in schools, and all those in the background ensuring we have games for them to compete in. You are doing a fantastic job and long may it continue!

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