Saturday, October 16, 2021

Breda Chester (CRS)

I WAS a classroom assistant during my first year and a half here at Gaelscoil na nDéise. Then a Special Needs Assistant’s (SNA) job came up and I applied for that. I’ve been doing that ever since. I’m almost 17 years working the school and I just love it here.

My eldest child was going into Sixth Class when I started here – he’s now 28 – and my youngest was going into infants and she’s now 21 – the time really has flown by, but in the best possible sense.

It’s a far cry from the days of the prefabs in Gracedieu when you think about where we are now. But going back to Gracedieu, we were so close; we were all the more entwined because of the nature of the school facilities then. What we have up here is fabulous but from day one, the atmosphere within this school, going back to when I was sending my own children here, it’s been amazing. And it still is.

TJ Ó Ceallaigh, who was the previous principal here, asked me would I like to be a classroom assistant; the hours were from nine in the morning until midday and initially I wasn’t sure. But I decided to give it a go and I’ve never regretted it. I just love working in this school. It’s such a lovely environment to be part of.

As SNA, I care for children with various care needs. Schools nowadays are so much more inclusive than what they used to be, and they’re all the better for it. Not too long ago, it would have been unheard of to have a child with very specific needs in a mainstream school. I feel the social benefits that stem from inclusivity are huge. Inclusion is so, so important and in a job like mine, you see some of the children coming in as an infant and by the time they get to Sixth Class, the benefits of an inclusive school are there for all to see. Some gains take longer to come about than others but the children gain skills they’ll benefit from for life. From my end of things, you have to understand the needs of the child, you have to be patient and you have to come in and start afresh every day. But I love it. There’s a huge sense of reward with the job from one end of the week to the other.

Best interests of each child

As time goes by, you learn to read each child and you do what has to be done in the best interests of each child. So if a child needs to leave the classroom setting, then you have to respond to that – and that might lead to the two of us walking the grass in our bare feet – that really grounds a child and helps them.

We’ve a multi-sensory room here that is of such a benefit; the sort of space we could have only dreamt about below in Gracedieu. It’s an amazing space; a child can go in there and take time out in a hammock. Everything we do is in the best interest of the children so to have a school building like the one we have now is just amazing. We’ve been in here now for six years and it’s still taking some getting used to in the best possible sense. And to have a proper playground and have Roanmore (GAA Club) coming in here and taking training sessions, it’s just fantastic.

After the stress of the last year or more, it’s been so lovely to be back here; if I see another Zoom screen, it’ll be too soon!

The children are like little sponges when it comes to the ‘caint as Gaeilge’. We use ‘Lámh’ as well but they’re just brilliant the way they pick up on communication in general and it’s lovely to see them gain confidence the older they get. My aim is to create a bond with all of the children, to earn their trust and to help them to enjoy school as much as possible. By the way, I think the fact that I’m not giving any of the children homework is also a huge feather in my cap!

As a parent, Gaelscoil na nDéise felt like a good option for my children because it was a small school and the teachers here, when my children were going to Gracedieu, they were all so young and had so much energy. It just felt like a good fit at the time. And for all the teachers who have come and gone since, that same energy and enthusiasm remains, which is just fantastic.

I just love it here. My job requires a thick skin, a lot of energy and a good imagination. And the community spirit here is just fantastic. Everybody gets on so well, there’s never a cross word. And you know what? You don’t work really if you enjoy getting up every morning and coming to your work – and I just love it here. Absolutely love it!

In conversation with Dermot Keyes

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