Behind the Mask: Pat

I would describe myself as optimistic, practical and resilient. I’m quite a positive person most of the time. The first lockdown was definitely easier I think, we had the lovely weather and longer evenings. It was a novelty of sorts I suppose. My children are adults and the two boys live at home. My daughter lives with her partner and is outside my 2 and 5 k zones. It was difficult not being able to visit but at least we had FaceTime etc. and we spoke every day.

My mother lives alone in an apartment on the third floor so no garden to sit in and it was quite stressful early on. She can use FaceTime so we could talk every day but it’s not the same is it? In April she had a fall and ended up in a convalescent home for two months. It sounds odd to say but it actually worked out really well. It was nearer to us and we were encouraged by the hospital to visit and chat to her through the window. We saw her every day and she was very happy and comfortable there and it was a huge weight off my mind. It was also possible to see my daughter too without breaking the rules as she lived nearby and, observing social distances etc., she could visit at the same time.

As far as day to day life was concerned we tried to get out for a walk early every morning and got a few jobs done in the garden, stuff I’d put on the long finger. We still go for that 7am walk and while it’s definitely harder these dark winter mornings, it’s great to get out and see the sun rise when you’re halfway home. When it looked like the restrictions would go on, a spare bedroom was turned into an office and that’s working out well. I’m aware we’re lucky we have the space to do that.

It was difficult trying to engage with students during the first lockdown and I was surprised by the general assumptions that everyone can use or have access to technology. We know this is not the case and the same people were once again suffering most from lack of ability and/or resources to get online. We phoned or used WhatsApp to keep in touch and while some students were able to use technology with lots of support from both tutors and the students’ families, most were totally at a loss.

Since September we focused really hard on getting as many students as possible online, using Zoom, WhatsApp and Google etc. and lending out tablets. It’s been a learning curve for all of us but the students have been amazing and have worked really hard.

It isn’t easy and it’s exhausting at times but we have good fun and try not to get too stressed. They are also very supportive of each other and while it’s not perfect and will never replace the classroom, we’ve managed to work around the limitations.

I first became involved in adult literacy over 25 years ago when I came to what was then the Institute of Adult Education. I got involved in the Inner City Mothers’ Group, a group made up of local mothers who had approached the Institute about providing support to local parents around helping children with homework. Patricia Carroll was very much involved at that time and I was asked to step in to replace Patricia when she took some personal time off. My first class was teaching basic Numeracy. When the institute closed the Inner City Mothers’ Group became part of DALC.

One of my early roles in DALC was as a Family Learning tutor along with Miriam my colleague and we were involved in the early days of Family Learning or Family Literacy as it was called at the time and it still is something I’m passionate about. At the moment I deliver at QQI 4 level but over the years I have delivered courses in a variety of areas such as Numeracy, PIPS, History and Social Studies. It is never boring, always rewarding and I’ve met really wonderful people through my work.

I hate the phrase ‘the new normal’. It isn’t normal and it’s certainly not new, either historically or for other parts of the world. It brings it home how, even though Ireland is far from perfect, we’re very lucky to be living where we are. With a vaccine definitely on the horizon it’s given us a lift and there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully things will get back to the ‘old’ normal soon and we can look back on this time as a blip in our lives and we’ll have learned something about what’s really important…..family, friends and the simple things. Sounds corny but it’s so true.