*Claire Knight. Photograph: Joe Buckley
She’s been an ever present part in the story of St Caimins Community School but the chapter has now closed for Claire Knight following her retirement as Principal of the Shannon secondary school.
In 1985, the school first opened it’s doors to a batch of young and enthusiastic first years, Croom native Claire Knight was one of it’s first members of staff teaching PE and Maths. Over the years her role within the school has changed, she became Deputy Principal in 2009 and five years later succeeded John Cleary as Principal.
Whether it’s walking through the doors and being greeted by the secretarial staff of Louise Lynch and Deborah Dalgarno or the friendship built with fellow colleagues, she never felt a desire to move on from the school. “St Caimins as I would say I’ve been here 34 years, it has been a formative of both my personal and professional life. Starting with David Barry what was great about it was if you ever had an idea and said ‘I’d like to do this’ you were always given loads of encouragement and scaffolding in the sense that people supported you along the way.
“Maybe they saw potential in me or I had a little bit of ambition and I decided I would like to move into different things. There was always that encouragement there, again with Mary Hanley and John Cleary I would have got that. I know I was in the same place for 34 years but I started out as a PE and Maths teacher, I would have done an IT Masters later on and moved into that area, we moved school buildings and then I obviously became a Deputy Principal and Principal. I was afforded the opportunity to take that journey and my colleagues are also my friends so I felt very closely connected through those and very happy here, we’ve had fantastic students and parents so it was a real happy community to be part of, people were very kind and caring. All you’ve to do is walk through the door and meet Louise and Debbie in the office and that has always been the atmosphere so I would have had no reason to leave”.
A constant change in the curriculum is the biggest difference to life as a teacher in 2019 in comparison with 34 years ago according to Claire. “In the last five years I would say there have been massive changes in the curriculum itself, it’s no longer content, you’re no longer a master of your content it’s how you teach it, how you connect it to the real world. You’re looking at the way students think and you’re trying to change the way they think so they can adapt to an ever changing environment, that is difficult because the ground is moving the whole time, it’s like being on a treadmill and you’re running with it, you’re never one hundred percent certain are you doing the right thing at the right time.
“For both management and teachers, the pace at which change is taking place has increased, that has created a certain amount of anxiety among teachers and certainly among students because so much is expected of them. In relation to the new Junior Cert, there’s a certain element of emphasis on continuous assessment which is brilliant because it gives kids who are good at going away at doing their work and bringing it back an opportunity to do well, they still have eight to ten subjects and to ask a kid to do that eight to ten times in one year is quite stressful. We can’t now say we’re all going to get comfortable with this and it will be no problem to us in two years time because the way education is going there could be a whole new system in again, it’s becoming used to and getting used to that uncertainty, being on the treadmill and moving the whole time, that is the biggest change I would have seen”.
With pupil numbers now over 700, more students are attending St Caimins than ever before. Thought when it comes to Shannon itself, she has observed parents are having an increased role int their child’s education which is a positive in her eyes. Though her abiding initial memory of Shannon was the school and rather the people, “I remember the first big thing I noticed when I came here and met the parents was that a lot of people had come from Northern Ireland and when you went down to the Town Centre the accents was the thing”.
Ms Knight felt the priorities of student’s today have shifted. “They are more conscious of doing something that is going to make them happy and fulfilled whereas in the early days when we came out of a recession people wanted a job, to earn a certain amount of money, they probably did think I’m going to get married and have a house whereas I think the current students coming out now are less materialistic and less worried about their security in terms of a job and a house but they would be more contemplative in that they want to be happy and they want to have good mental health and their friends”.
A mother to Sam (soon to be based in Rwanda), Kevin (living in Taiwan and Chair of the Taiwan Celts) and Gerard (second year UL student), Claire along with her husband will be clocking up the travel miles and also continuing her interest in outdoor pursuits and running once entering retirement. “I said to my children I’m going to buy a campervan and travel the world so you never know I might get around to doing that yet”.
In September, she won’t travel along the Tullyvarraga Rd for the first time in over three decades. “It’s funny, every time before I come back from holidays I never sleep very well the night before, it’s not that I’d be anxious but I’d have all these things going around in my head, that’s one thing I won’t miss because there is a bit of anxiety in it. I’ll definitely miss the camaraderie and the friendship, not having the routine is something I’m looking forward to not being tied to time. I’ll definitely miss it, there’s no doubt about it. I’m going away for the first two weeks in September for a holiday for the first time ever just so I’ll be in a different place I won’t be thinking too much about it”.