Learning We Are All The Same

The last few weeks in DALC have been punctuated by a number of intercultural events.  It is a great opportunity to learn about the origins of celebrations and cultural practices that we may wonder about.  Knowing about the strange and the other can eliminate the fear if it.  Moreover, as our society is itself a multicultural one, it is only right that we learn more about the world outside of our own.

Last Friday 1st February, we invited a woman named Hafsa to the centre to deliver a talk all about the hijab.  It was a really interactive workshop.  She asked everyone to write any questions on a piece of paper – no matter how strange or obvious the questions seemed.   Many students asked really practical questions. They covered everything from fashion, the logistics of wearing a hijab, niqab or burka say if you went swimming, (there is a special waterproof version of course!), if you wore it in bed, when and at what times exactly you took it off.  One man asked such entertaining questions! I especially liked his genuine concern in asking if Muslim ladies spent as much time trying them on in shops as some Irish women did when buying clothes.

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Hafsa was receptive to all and every question and answered them all with an energy and openness that made the unfamiliar more relatable. We got to understand the woman behind the hijab!  It helped to demystify the hijab and to understand that it is purely a symbol and expression of  faith.  I learned that there is a variety of colours it comes in depending on the occasion. I tried on a rather blingy one!   I always thought it was made from a particular type of reverent cloth, special hijab material, yet discovered that most scarves can be worn as a hijab and nijab.   Many older students told me afterwards that they remember women having to cover their head in Catholic churches when they were younger and were struck by how similar it was to wearing the hijab.

In our groups this week we have been learning about Chinese New Year and some people participated in the events in Dublin last weekend.

Today we read all about Valentine’s Day. One student told us that is called Lover’s Day in Nigeria but that it is only celebrated by the younger generation; nod to the fact that we all now live in a global world, thanks to social media, with many places taking the opportunity to capitalise on it with plans to sell cheap flowers and gaudy chocolates to starry eyed lovers.

The reason for the universality of such celebrations is simple; they all centre around a shared interest in family, food, love and togetherness – if we are lucky, things we can all relate to. We can share and learn about our differences but in many ways, we are all the same.


A New Tutor Takes A Trip Down Memory Lane

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Seeing the first year students come into the centre this week as part of their B.SC in Education Studies course brings back a flood of memories.  I know exactly how they feel, the apprehension before you go up the steps to the building, worrying that you won’t enjoy it, and thinking, ‘Will the students like me?’ ‘How will I know what room to go to?’ and ‘I hope I don’t have a class on the top floor!’ These are thoughts that ran through my mind on the first day six years ago but I was reassured once I came to reception and was warmly greeted by all the staff and students and was put at ease almost instantly!
In first year I became immersed in the classes and got the most out of the week and truly loved the experience. Spelling, Maths, Computers and ESOL, I really found a learning environment I could see myself working in in the future. Though I only got a taster in those few short days, I really got a feel for the incredible work that is done each day in the centre. The staff, the students and the welcoming, homely atmosphere that DALC brought, set the standard for my upcoming placements.
In my final year, when we were given the opportunity to do our eight week placement in an educational setting of our choosing, I immediately knew where I wanted to go. I got in touch with DALC once again to organise it and luckily I was given the chance to experience in a fuller sense, the teaching and learning approach that I admire about the centre. I was adamant I was going to get the best out of the 8 weeks.
Throughout my placement, I was fully immersed in the classes and jumped right into the deep end when asked would I be willing to prepare classes independently once I found my feet and gained the confidence. The staff were extremely helpful and always went out of their way to ensure my experience was a positive one and were always there to listen to any worries or concerns I might have had.

However, it was the students who made each class so enjoyable. I was inspired by each of their stories, by how they returned to learning for all different reasons, whether it was for personal, family or work. Each class was so different and I loved it.

I could see the students growing in confidence in the smallest of challenges and tasks that were assigned to them and the sense of pride I felt at how much of an impact one can make in a group. The students were learning from the lessons I facilitated and equally they were teaching me things that can’t be scribbled down in a lesson plan.
Being in DALC for those eight weeks set in stone the type of work I could see myself doing upon completion of my degree. I loved the values that were seen and respected by both staff and student; learner-centred, being respectful of the adult status of the learner, instilling creativity and confidence. I wanted to use these values in my future career as an educator.
I continued to volunteer in a number of classes when I finished my placement and it was a great break from college and those final year blues!
The rest is history I suppose, and six years later I find myself working in DALC and doing a job which I absolutely love. Every day is different and I am learning new things every day. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to experience DALC back in my college years. It carved my future and I hope that these young students make the most out of every day they are here. You never know, they might find themselves working in this field of education down the road!

By Kate Fox, Assistant CE Supervisor and Tutor, DALC  

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Lessons in History for Everyone



Last week marked the 100 years of the very first Dail and my Monday group told me they had planned to watch the event on the news.  This particular group are fantastic. They make my Monday morning very easy as an adult education tutor. They are engaged, interested in any topic and one woman in particular watches the news every day and is great at keeping the others updated on every subject from Brexit to the shark that arrived in the Liffey before Christmas.

I started last week by asking the group, that if it was 2019 now, how would you write the date 100 years ago? Trickier than it sounds.  We can assume that people structure their lives and see things in timelines; that most people would have a vague idea of when things were in history.

Apart from reading about history, I realised that most of us have a basic knowledge from the structure of schooling.  Even in preschool, children make pictures and posters to mark the different seasons and changes of the year – autumn leaves in October, holly in December and daffodils in March.  Throughout school, the different periods of history are covered – from matching pictures in the junior classes under the headings of ‘the past’ and ‘now’ to topics like Ancient Ireland, the Vikings so on.  Yet history is often seen as something linked to formal learning. History is in books and only certain people can access it.

We all have an interest in history even if we don’t know it yet.  Thinking about and engaging in talking about history in the adult learning classroom encourages us to ask questions.

Why are things they way they are? What brings us now to this time and place?

On this Monday, I had planned a reading piece on the Victorians. It was a piece from a former exam paper but a good piece to use as pitched at the right level for the group.   I thought it might be a good way of looking at timelines – reading and talking about the past. I thought it was a good idea to start off with an icebreaker that asked the question:

‘If you could have lived in any period of history, when would it be and why?’

Some wonderful answers:

  • Cleopatra during Roman Times
  • At the 1916 Rising
  • A solider in the British army when it was a great empire. Perhaps based in India
  • The jazz era of the 1920s
  • A Viking
  • A World War 2 code breaker that sings in a Glenn Miller style band
  • 1980s Dublin

We got everyone to rearrange their timeline in the right order. Someone asked what BC meant. A rich and collaborative exercise.

From this, the group spoke about how these histories linked to their own life stories. We had discussions about 1916, one man asked what shops might have been there at the time on O’Connell Street. Another man took his kids on the Viking splash tour last summer. One woman said she saw a program on Holocaust Day and how it related to the war.  One man was a distant relative of Sean T O’Kelly.  One woman remembers the 1980s Dublin of her childhood and how the landscape had changed because of all the housing developments. Someone mentioned Brexit because they thought it was a bad reason to try and get back the great empire that was Britain and wondered if this was the reason why people voted for it?

Lots of questions and more importantly, lots of reasons for researching to discover more – what engaged and active learning is all about. We are planning to do a project to find out more about all the above and perhaps a trip to the Dail and the National Museum.  A history curriculum but this time, one dictated by the group themselves.  A learner centred history curriculum.

Learning can take you on your own timeline. You start off doing one thing and it leads you down other paths.  Or rather, to a crossroads with a sign marked in lots of different places you like the sound of and can’t wait to explore.

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I Was Once Sitting There – From Student to Tutor


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We hear from a woman called Mo.  Mo first came to DALC as a student six years ago to do a spelling class.  She believed education was being ‘a good speller’ but she soon developed a love of learning.  She has since gone on to further education to study Community and Youth Work.   She is back in DALC doing her placement with the group she was once a part of as a student.  

Tell me about yourself, your background and your life? 

I come from a big family; 11 children. I am second youngest.  I hated school. I was terrified of the nuns; the nuns were cruel. I was left handed. They tied my left hand behind my back and forced me to use my right hand.  I was so scared that I couldn’t learn – I was in fear. They weren’t all like this, but one particular nun was very cruel. That gave me a fear. If you have fear, you never learn.

At 11 years of age my mother took me out of school and I went to work in a factory.  At the age of 18 I met a man and got married and had five children.  It was very embarrassing as I couldn’t read and write when the children went to school so I started learning from their little books. I picked up the ‘thes’, the ‘ands’, from their little stories.  I tried to go back to adult learning classes in the school that they had for parents.  In one of the schools, the principal used to do a one to one with me.  He was very good.  I was busy being a mum and busy with life, that I couldn’t focus on it so I gave that up.  My mother and father got sick so I was carer for them for 18 years. I was always looking after other people so it was hard to learn. Over the years, I popped into different things trying to learn.


Did your own experience have an impact on how you helped them in school? 

I feel it was so important for them to have the best education that they could. I made sure they never missed a day in school, if they were sick I sent them to school.  It was important for me that they got the best education they could get.


Tell me about your current learning journey? 

Six years ago I decided, you know what, I had enough of waiting for people coming to help me to fill out forms – how to turn on the computer, how to look for something on the computer.  I went to the local employment exchange and told them I needed help with my reading and writing and they sent me here.  I passed by this building everyday and I never noticed it.  I spoke to Sue here (tutor) and that was the beginning of my journey.  It was a very, very difficult thing coming in the door. Very hard coming up those steps.

I came in with a determination in me.  The girl in reception Colette was very nice to me, she was very friendly.  It was the summer , June or July and Sue was constantly on the phone to me.  She made me not lose that determination. She rang me over the summer to tell me about what classes were on.  She cared enough to keep in touch. I said I would give this a shot.

On the first day I did First Aid; I was thrown in at the deep end.  The first week I was with Pat (tutor) and she told me to write about myself.  She told me write a page and I thought she was mentally disturbed! I told her I couldn’t do it – did she not realise I can’t write? She really believed in me.  I said to myself I am only here to learn spelling, I had that thing in my head.  That was what I thought education was.

My idea of what education is has changed.  It finally clicked with me.

How would you define education? 

To me, coming here gave me a lot of confidence.  It built up my confidence.  I am not on my own. Why was I embarrassed about this all my life? Even our own Taoiseach at the time couldn’t spell!

Education is about me.  It is not about anyone else outside of me.  This is not about my children, or anyone else. This is about me.

I got a hunger to learn.  I was willing to give anything a go.  The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn.  It is hard.  It is difficult trying to fit family life in with education but I had this determination, and I still do.  This is about me.  It is about your own personal journey, how far I can bring – me.

I am now in further education. I did three courses.  The first course I did was after a year here.  I was so interested in animals that the course I did was Animal Behaviour and Welfare.  I’d never been to college.  I went in there, gave it a shot.  I hadn’t a clue.  I got a merit in nine subjects. There was Latin and all in it – I had to work out the meaning of loads of big words.  I walked in and I said I’d give it a go.  I was interested in animals and learning about animals.  Then I did the Level 4 in Communications, then a 2 year course in Social Studies.  I got eight distinctions and one merit.   I was still attending DALC and they gave me help with my assignments. Now I am studying Community and Youth Work and I am back in DALC to do observation and placement.


What has it been like being back observing a group that you were once in? 

I started off in this same spelling group.  I am back now remembering where I was six years ago.  I can relate to them (the group) big time.  That’s why I try to encourage them.  I  have been where they are.  And I understand how they feel.  I had the same issues around reading and writing – you have no confidence reading out, all eyes on you. I can relate.  I understand how they feel.  They are really embarrassed but they don’t say it. There is a lot of joking and laughing but that is a cover up for how they really feel.


What is the most powerful thing about coming back to education that you want to pass on?

My children said to me when I came back to education after two years – “Ma you walk differently now.”  I have my head up.  I let people in. I didn’t shy away. And that for me sums it up.

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Lasting Impression – Reflections of teaching practice in DALC

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My first experience in DALC was tinged with a certain degree of sadness as I instantaneously recalled my parents.  Both were born literally within a stone’s throw of DALC and in common with many of the current learners of similar vintage in DALC, the zenith of their educational attainment was, if fortuitous, to pass the ‘Primary Cert’.  Such ‘accreditation’ qualified them for employment in some of the precarious sectors characteristic of a bygone era where childhoods were all too swiftly replaced by transition to premature adulthood.  Given this, I introspectively speculated that I would be able to resonate with those endeavouring to improve their lives by attending DALC.  However what did surprise me was the extent of this resonance.

My first experience as a facilitator was in a communications class and it was a real eye-opener.  As biographies are shaped by our histories, being the child of immigrant parents and having experienced the life of a reluctant immigrant, I could again empathise with the plight and struggles faced by the new nationals attending this course.  It really impressed how much can be taken for granted, and I include myself here, regarding literacy issues.  What also really struck me was the candour and humility shown when some in the class revealed, each of their own volition, their experiences of the Irish education system.  On reflection and without exaggeration, I envisaged that the approach to those few steps leading up to number three must have been akin to embarking on a journey of Odyssean proportions for some. Particularly for those striving to overcome the fears and anxieties acquired in previous settings.  However once this small step was made, giant leaps abound from a learning perspective.

My other co-facilitation is in the internet skills class. On my third session, and due to unforeseen circumstances, I was required to facilitate ‘solo’.  It was now my turn to embark on a potential Odyssean journey.   This time I do exaggerate! The staff assuaged any concerns I had and advised me to let a roar if I was struggling with anything.  This particular ‘backstop’ option totally reassured me.   This was probably the best thing that could have happened and has stood me in good stead in my teaching practice since.  While it may have been a bit hectic to begin with, things soon settled down and all went well.  I was even asked back the following week!  This proved an invaluable learning curve as it has shown me the importance of being continuously cognisant of being able to deal with unanticipated situations.  A feature of adult education can be its unpredictability, be it in the guise of fluctuating class sizes or technological gremlins.  This reinforced the need to be able to adapt and cope at short notice and in the best manner possible.

Should I be effective to a grandparent garnering skills to help a grandchild with homework or allowing a better understanding of the ever increasing pervasive nature of the technological world we live in, my efforts will not be in vain.

The mother oft remarked “education, no matter what type, is no burden to carry”.  However without it, the burden can become overwhelming. Hopefully I can contribute in some small way to lightening the load.

By Thomas Moore (current student of Higher Diploma in Further Education, NUI Maynooth)

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Voices from the ESOL classroom

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We are just getting settled into a new learning year here in DALC and already we have been gathering our Words Of Wisdom (WOWs) here in the centre.

We run classes in the morning, afternoon and evenings for our ESOL (English Speakers Of Other Languages) in language and literacy for students from almost 30 different countries.

Here is a window into their experience of learning – voices from the ESOL classroom – our ESOL students WOWS:


“I like learning English.  I want to practise my speaking English and my writing. I am good at work searches.” Manuela.


“I want to learn English only.  In the new year, I go to Copenhagen on holidays. They speak English there.  I want to be able to go to the cinema.” Naji.


“I want to learn English to help my business grow. I am good at learning English.” Nasser.


“I like learning.  I want to learn to do my driving test. ” Miryawad.


“The first time English was difficult.  Now it is better. Now I understand English very well.  I am happy.” Sadiya.


“I love learning English.  I am good at writing and reading but I have difficulty speaking.  That is why I need more practise in conversation because it is very important to be free. When I want to do or go by myself to an appointment, I need a person to translate. ” Isabelle.


“I love learning English.  Learning English was difficult for me.  I like to learn English at school. I hope my English is progressing. ” Judy.


“I love learning English at DALC.  English is an important language.  I like the DALC school. I come everyday.  I learn more English words.  I like grammar and speaking.  I get new words everyday. ” A student in DALC.


“I love learning English in the Dublin Adult Learning Centre school, such as like spelling, reading and writing. I like to learn more computers and maths. ” Abdillah.

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Tutors of Mountjoy Square, Dublin: Antoinette


Antoinette has been a tutor in DALC (Dublin Adult Learning Centre) for 10 years. She has a wealth of experience and insights into learning. She is passionate about teaching and learning and wants to share her knowledge about its transformative power.

She teaches maths, ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) and spelling with a particular focus on phonics.

Listen to her thoughts and her vision for what makes a good tutor and what learning and education really means for her.

She begins by telling us how she first became an adult education practitioners:

Antoinette’s Story:



What makes a good tutor:



What education or learning means to me:




Half way through my writer in community residency at the Dublin Adult Learning Centre (funded by the Irish Writers Centre with support from Dublin City Council), I went for a walk with the five members of the creative writing group I’d been working with for the past few weeks. We’d spent that time talking about Dublin’s North Inner City, exploring through their memories the vibrant and unique community that extended from Mountjoy Square southwards towards the Liffey. I wanted to see the sites these students had been speaking so passionately about, and had been capturing in their writing.

The area immediately around Mountjoy Square, where DALC is based, corresponded neatly enough with my students’ stories. The square was largely still intact, and whilst individual houses had been replaced by later replicas, the replacements were close enough to the originals to continue to give a sense of what life must have been like when these writers were children, playing around the steps of the Georgian houses, or ranging around the lanes and alleyways behind them.

But once we walked further down Gardiner Street the traces of their childhoods became fainter. Huge swathes of terraces had been torn down; the shops and factories and public houses they remembered now replaced by apartment blocks and student accommodation. An entire International Financial Services Centre covered the area where one student, from Sherriff Street, remembered playing as a child or where another recalled hanging off bridges and swimming in the canal at Spencer Dock. The park off Foley Street contained the only traces remaining of the huge complex of Corporation Buildings that once housed a thriving community of men, women and children, whose eerie echos could be seen in the old photographs lining the front windows of the Lab on Foley Street.

Words on the page seemed the only way of recapturing those lost communities, of preserving so many vibrant personalities. So we sat around the table in the basement of 3 Mountjoy Square and talked about this gradual removal of the old Dublin they recognised and its replacement with somewhere they didn’t recognise, or couldn’t always feel a welcome part of. We were at times angry, sad, bewildered, but more often than not we were laughing at the stories, the memories, the sheer energy and fun of those times. Perhaps we always remember our childhoods with that sort of nostalgia, but there was no rose-tinted glasses being worn by anyone in the group. Times were hard, but people were resilient. They had to be. And it was that resilience that group members returned to again and again as we talked through their experiences. They’d seen a lot in their time. They expected to see a lot more. But they knew they had the capacity to adapt, to find a new route through unfamiliar surroundings.

By Nessa O’Mahony, writer, poet and teacher. 


Which Lens Can See Progress?

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There is a man who comes to classes in the evening.  He is not one of the students who is celebrated on our certificate nights. He comes straight from his job as a carpenter to class so doesn’t have a chance to go to the canteen. He is focused on his work. He comes equipped with the spellings and writing he did during the week. A fat refill pad with stories, newspaper articles, a borrowed novel or historical biography from the library; an eared and well-worn dictionary, covered in coloured post-its.

He has always worked as a carpenter, talented and skilled with his hands. He was offered promotions, foreman jobs yet always turned them down. He saw other men less skilled than him, yet men who could read and write, get those jobs.

From the outside and from the lens of employment, educational status and anything formally recorded on paper, he has always been a carpenter with no formal qualifications. He left school with no qualifications.  No certificates in adult education.

Mezirow’s Tranformative Learning Theory is a useful model in explaining how learning changes the way adults make meaning of their world – changes in understanding of the self (psychologically), changes and reflection on their belief systems (convictional)  and changes in their lifestyle or the way they live (behavioural).  For that man, the biggest change was within himself – the psychological part. Let’s hope these changes are noticed and acknowledged by perceptible eyes. The telescope that sees progress and notices change. All too often the telescope is being adjusted and managed by external powers, like work, accreditation – other measures of value or worthiness. Who is controlling the lens?

The man who comes to the centre has had a seismic shift in identity. He can read aloud, he doesn’t care if he makes mistakes, he loves looking up the origin of words, he would have loved if a place like this existed when he was younger.

“I never thought I was someone who would use a word like that.”

“I never thought I was someone who would read The Irish Times.”

“If I can read words like this, I can read anything.”

“I know what they are talking about now.”

“I look at the lads I work with and I realise, if there was a place like this when I was younger, I could have been an engineer.”

“I know what I am reading is hard but I am not afraid of it anymore.”

All said, not with a hint of regret, but with an air of confidence, a passion, a feeling that a veil has been lifted on a once untapped learning world. It was there all along, yet he wasn’t given the guidance to see it.

Apparently meteorites fall every year in Ireland; mostly they go unnoticed, as according to Astronomy Ireland they mostly fall into the sea.  A black rock the colour of coal,  falling  from space, breaking the earth’s atmosphere as a fireball before landing. It may fall in a forest, in a lake or the ocean but it is there. And only perceptible to the right kind of lens. Or if you are looking for it.

For that man who comes to the centre, the change within himself was earth shattering.  Yet from the outside nothing changed.

With the right lens adjusted, we can see it.

Fionnaigh Connaughton, a tutor in DALC 

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