Emer Gallagher proudly promotes Jigsaw's online mental health resources.
by Declan Rooney
Like thousands of her teaching colleagues across the country, Donegal footballer Emer Gallagher quickly became accustomed to education from a distance.
Zoom and Google Classroom have replaced the whiteboard, the personal touch and the vital face-to-face interaction with her students, but as she has done on the playing fields, the Termon native figured out a way to provide the best for her students.
A secondary school teacher at Loreto Secondary School, Letterkenny, Gallagher (25) is one of Lidl’s One Good Club ambassadors, and the Irish teacher understands how tough the last few months have been for her students.
“To be honest I have never been as busy. It’s been a huge learning experience for me. I have nearly raided every educational app that’s out there in the last few weeks, just trying to give the kids the best experience they can get at this time,” said Gallagher.
“There’s definitely a lot more prep work, you have to have everything ready to go before you go online. But it’s so hard to feel like you are speaking to all the kids through your lessons. It’s just not the same as the classroom environment.
“I just feel so bad for them, especially my Leaving Certs: they don’t know what to expect. I can just imagine how hard it is for them to keep motivated, especially with the extended deadline of two months for their exams.
“I’d like to think they could reach out to me if they are finding it difficult. They are great girls, they are very hard working and I have a bond with them. I’d like to think that if they are finding things hard that they can contact me one-on-one for a bit of guidance.”
While the delivery of lessons and classes has gradually become a fluid process, Gallagher still has concerns about how her students are coping. A teacher’s natural instinct relies on close contact with their students, but without that regular feed of information, it can be hard to judge.
The Donegal defender has started to lean heavily on Jigsaw, a charity that provides mental health information for children and adults working with children. With the country on lockdown, Jigsaw has moved their operation online to www.JigsawOnline.ie and Gallagher is thankful to be armed with the required information.
‘Anxiety is such a huge thing that we are seeing in our students now‘
“When you’re in school and they come in the door and you ask them how they are, you can tell very quickly how the child is getting on. You know in the classroom if someone is being very quiet that there might be something going on with them, they might be struggling academically or at home.
“You do miss that social interaction, just to make sure they are doing okay. You might get that opportunity over Zoom, especially in the individual classes, when you get to ask how they are doing, if they’re all getting on okay.
“I have never been happier to get involved with something as this campaign that Lidl are running though the LGFA with Jigsaw. I have really had my eyes opened to how much I can help on an individual basis.
“If you haven’t really experienced mental health problems yourself, it is very hard to offer advice and solutions when you haven’t been through what they are going through.
“Anxiety is such a huge thing that we are seeing in our students now. Every teacher is seeing it around the country, so having the knowledge and the material to be able to help the kids in how they can combat this has been really beneficial for me.”
Mental health is a precious commodity for everyone though, and Gallagher is coping well as she operates her classroom from home. Building a new house next door to her home-place is keeping her busy, while she has leant on sport to keep her mind fresh.
“My routine is different to say the least. I have definitely been enjoying being in the outdoors a lot more. Training now, you don’t feel that you’re up against a deadline, it’s more about training to keep mentally and physically fit.
“I have never played such a range of sports in my life. We have brought out the badminton net, the tennis balls are out, the basketball too. We’re lucky, I live right in front of a lake as well so we have two kayaks too so I’m getting a wide range of sports in. I’m pretty much covered in that respect.
“It’s just such a strange time for us as players. Exercise has almost become a luxury instead of something you fell in the routine of doing. I think that’s something we have all been able to share with each other. In a strange way we are still very much connected through our exercise and our training.
“You do miss the physical connection, just the craic and the banter that we have every night at training, but thanks to social media we have kept connected in a virtual way. You are used to life being 9 to 9, all of a sudden you have so much time at home has been a nice wind down period too.
“I think it’s a once in a lifetime thing. But the one thing I’ve noticed is that I miss my teammates, I’ll appreciate football so much more when I get back on to the pitch.”