Teachers are instrumental in shaping the lives of their students, and help them to tap into their potential, while cultivate their talents for the future.
Marie Oliver Connolly, Director of Music at GEMS Wellington Academy in Al Khail (WEK), is a great example of finding her passion and using it to help her students grow in their abilities.
With over 12 years of experience in teaching, Marie Oliver Connolly realised the power of music at a young age and then decided to pursue it as her profession, majoring in music and performing theatre.
Marie Oliver Connolly moved from Ireland to Dubai over 10 years ago, and has since been fostering the love for music among her students.
In this feature, Marie Oliver Connolly shares with Connector her inspiration to begin teaching, and what excites her daily as a teacher.
What inspired you to start teaching?
I am the eldest of five children, so my teaching started from a young age. I would run around my family house as a child with my Fisher Price tape recorder singing Kylie’s 'I Should Be So Lucky', and try to convince my younger brothers and sisters to be my backing singers and dancers. I really enjoyed teaching my sister how to sing whether she liked it or not. As I grew up, I attended many performing arts classes and would always like to support the younger students when the teacher asked for assistance. If you are truly passionate about your subject, the greatest gift is to be able to share this joy with your students in order to spark interest, and that is why I began teaching.
How did you decide to teach your current subject?
As a musician, I have had the opportunity to travel the world and perform on many different stages. It is a great privilege to instil the qualities of a musician into my students. Music is a wonderful and happy subject to teach. You can never ever teach the same music lesson twice, and the music curriculum always allows for exciting modification and cultural enhancement. I really enjoy teaching ethnomusicology in order to explore music from all over the world with my students. Teaching in Dubai is a wonderful place to do this as you can play the gamelan from Indonesia on a Monday, and end up teaching Bharatanatyam by Friday, engaging with Indian music.
Why do you love teaching?
I love waking up in the morning with excitement to see where my musical journey will take me today with my students. Music teaching is a high-energy subject and a very happy subject to be surrounded by, and that is what I most enjoy. The sense of community you bring to a school when you share your music lessons within that school. I try to teach my classes in a way that all students can access music, and have the opportunity to break away from the more serious aspects of their school day. If students are leaving my class smiling and humming a tune, I am happy.
Do you remember your favourite teacher from school?
My Key Stage 3 (Grade 7, 8 and 9) Maths teacher was the most inspiring teacher to me, Mrs Claire Lohan. She was always prepared for each lesson, and she created a sense of security for me. I knew exactly what she expected of me and I wanted to impress her. She would rigorously check our homework and demand the best of each student. Mrs Lohan would adjust her lessons so that every child would understand and she was not satisfied until all students felt confident and had made progress. She was also involved in the production of the musicals in our school and she would only cast students she could rely on. I learned from an early age that progress was expected in each lesson, and how to demonstrate this with my achievements.
How do you make everyday classes more interesting?
Teaching music and particularly instruments, is a wonderful sense of self-expression. It is key that my students feel open to exploring this in a welcoming and comfortable environment. Everyday classes are always interesting as they are student-led and personalised. They tap into student's own musical culture and backgrounds from all over the world. Thus, sparking curiosity and excitement for students. In light of this, there is so much to learn through performing, listening and composing.
What is a unique part of the school?
The Music Department at GEMS Wellington Academy in Al Khail stands out for its inclusive, innovative, and sustainable music education approach. The primary and secondary music programs are designed to cater to all student's needs, irrespective of their musical skill level. The curriculum allows students to progress individually while fostering group collaboration and performances. This inclusive approach has significantly boosted student engagement across backgrounds and abilities. WEK's music educators consistently explore creative methods to inspire a love for music. The enrichment program includes diverse opportunities like busking sessions, choirs, concert band, guitar heroes, and jazz club, enabling students to explore various styles and instruments. The department also promotes using music for positive social change, nurturing responsible global citizens. Regular local and international trips, like the visit to Dubai Opera for Riverdance, foster cultural understanding and sharing of musical talents. This sustainable approach cultivates an awareness of music's global impact and instils a sense of responsibility in students.
What would you do if you were not a teacher?
I would 100% be on Broadway.
Marie Oliver Connolly
Director of Music
GEMS Wellington Academy in Al Khail