Home School Hub múinteoir John Sharpson talks to Clare O'Mahony about working in the country's biggest classroom.
Before RTÉ's Home School Hub began, John Sharpson admits he was a little concerned about how it would work. He hadn't done a lesson plan in 10 years since his teaching practice and he wondered how lessons would work in an empty classroom. But he and fellow teachers Clíona and Ray have been thrilled with the response the show has received.
"People have said that even when this is over, it should be going on, and 'My God, my kids are learning and they've never been so enthralled in lessons'. "Seeing the kids doing the work that you're teaching them through cameras is just an amazing feeling," he says.
"I'm not sure how the general public feels but when we're looking at all the kids around the country dancing to Taylor Swift's 'Shake it Off' and they're laughing and interacting with each other, I can't watch it without it bringing a tear to my eye. I know Clíona and Ray are the same."
John did an arts degree at St Patrick's in Drumcondra, followed by postgrad in education in the UK. When he returned from London, he taught in Mary Mother of Hope in Clonee, Co Meath. "I spent many a happy year teaching out in Clonee and then I took a career break. I got a little stressed with work and developed panic attacks and anxiety."
It wasn't just work, he explains, but he was doing a lot at the time including Senior A hurling, which was a huge commitment, and rehearsing for a panto in the local GAA club as a fundraiser, while all the while his granny was in a nursing home. "Shortly after going to therapy I took a career break from school and said, do you know what, I've always wanted to get into kids' TV and now is the perfect opportunity. I'll give it a try and if it doesn't work, I'll happily teach for the rest of my life and if it does work out, well and good," he says.
TV can be a cruel mistress so there have been periods when he worked as a substitute teacher if things weren't busy on the TV job front. "I remember coming home from school and watching Zig and Zag, Dustin and Ray D'Arcy on The Den. I remember looking at Ray and thinking that this guy has the best job in the world," John says.
After five years, during which time he has presented RTÉjr's Twigín and Bright Sparks (which has been commissioned for a third series), he was due to return to school full-time in September of last year. "I had a big decision to make and I sat down with my Principal, who was very accommodating about the whole thing, and I asked if I could politely resign my position because I'm actually having a great time doing what I'm doing and slowly making a bit of headway so I'm going to keep doing this."
Two of his favourite subjects to teach are English and Irish. "I love the challenge of teaching Irish and asking 'How do I make this fun?' Because I can guarantee you if this boy or girl is laughing, they're going to remember what I'm saying."
He thinks that it's important for parents, if they can, to introduce some routine into households at the moment as it's what children are used to and what they miss. "If you can make out a timetable I think that will help kids an awful lot because they'll know what to expect and then they can get on board with it," he says.
He loves the pictures and videos of the work kids are doing at home as part of School Hub. "It raises our spirits in the studio when we see that Home School Hub is making a difference."
RTÉ Home School Hub on RTÉ2 from 11am to 12pm every morning with a catch-up programme, Home School Hub ontent and project work is available on rte.ie/learn and RTÉ Player.