Author of three collections published by Doire Press, in 2016 - 2018 Susan's poems have appeared, among elsewhere, in: The Cafe Review, Oregan, USA - Gather In, in a Special Irish Edition; Bosom Pals,Ed Marie Cadden (Doire Press, 2017) an anthology entirely in aid of Breast Cancer Research in the National UniveristyHospital, Galway and When They've Grown Another Me in Poetry Ireland Review, Dec 2018. January 2018 has seen her poems Commended in the Gregory O'Donoghue Poetry Competition.

She has been an invited reader of her poems at local readings in Galway, Cork and Dublin and at festivals, including the Belfast Book Festival, Cuirt International Festival of Literature and Clifden Arts Festival. Her poems have been read on radio.

Susan completed her degree in social science and qualified as a professional social worker in Trinity College, Dublin 1975. She was a psychotherapist, trainer, facilitator and occasional consultant to organisations for over thirty years until her retirement in 2012. Drawing together her writing with her earlier skills she has written interviews and facilitated conversations mediated by poetry. She continues to work on a manuscript relating the story of starting out in poetry and a mid-life move West along with occasional other creative non-fiction pieces.

Her workshop Having a New Conversation: About Dreaming was listed on the The Cuirt International Festival of Literature Programme (2015) and she facilitates similar workshops on a variety of themes, discussed through the medium of poetry, regularly and occasionally in local community settings.

While a founding editor of Skylight 47 Susan interviewed: then Ireland Professor of Poetry, Harry Clifton; Kay Ryan, former US Poet Laureate invited to Ireland by Dromineer Literature Festival and Dani Gill who talks about curating The Cuirt International Literature Festival. Her most recent interview, of Maeve O'Sullivan, appears in The Honest Ulsterman February, 2018.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Free Teachers to Assess Students by Changing the Objectives We Judge Them By

      A facilitator is not a teacher but leads people to learn. The psychologist, Carl Rodgers dedicated his professional life to researching Communication. He once answered a question put to him by John Quinn, on RTE television, saying that despite the evidence for better alternatives teachers will   probably remain committed to the cup and jug method of pouring information into people. This happens largely because we are committed to ego and imparting accurate information lends credibility and a sense of importance. We feel more secure standing on a solid knowledge base. It leaves us more in control.

     It is unfortunate yet entirely understandable that teachers in Ireland this year are utterly opposed to the Minister of Education’s wish to have them assess their student’s work at Secondary (senior) school level for the state’s Junior Certificate. When the points system was introduced to ensure a fairer entry system to universities teachers were encouraged to move from enabling students to learn through exploration and enquiry to prioritising teaching them the answers that would best get them through the exam system and gain the most points. Students’ answers could be gauged against ‘ideal answers’ and points awarded according to the comparison.

      Accountability has become the buzz word in all fields of work in the recent years of economic cut-back. In education it has come to be measured in terms of performance, particularly if not exclusively, by exam results. This has also had unfortunate consequences for universities. It has been reported lecturers are concerned at the lower ability to think and the desire to be fed information found in recent cohorts of students.  A spirit of enquiry is essential for research – the ultimate raison d’etre for centres of learning and the thing that leads to the discovery of new information that leads to progress.  

     For teachers performance has become all about getting students through their exams. It requires a complete turnaround in attitude and job definition, if it is to become reasonable and satisfying for them to assess their students’ work. We continue to see the object of education in economic terms – exam results and expertise in subjects that will satisfy the needs of the economy - instead of enabling students to bring out the best of their selves, to learn all they can, to see learning as a skill they’ll use for the rest of their lives. We need to see education as preparing them to make their best contribution to the whole of society, as enabling them to ask awkward questions to ensure against the group think that most endangers the economy and society as a whole. Until we can do that, although entirely desirable, it is not a feasible option for teachers to assess those students. To do anything other than award their students top grades goes too far against the grain recently ingrained – the grain that has parents, teachers and all of us judge by the achievement of short-term goals with minimal regard for the greater picture.

     This is a pity. I imagine all of the Minister’s arguments in favour of on-going assessment and the fairness of ensuring students are no longer judged alone on one day performances in each subject are excellent and that teachers would wish they were free to see it that way. It would be best if they could take a lead in turning our short term educational goals around. I can’t imagine anyone involved with young people not wanting to reduce the stress of exam pressure, especially teachers.

    The ability to asses one’s own work and value the feed-back good continuing assessment offers is an essential life skill. Teachers and the Department of Education need to find a way to create an environment where the process can be valued by everyone involved, an environment that facilitates learning and the ability to learn and deliver results as distinct from one that measures output in terms of the expurgation of information imbibed through the anathema, and currently inevitable route, of rote learning.

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