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Ballymena school teacher wins top award

Lynelle was named winner of the NI Women’s Award for Services to Education 2023

Lynelle was named winner of the NI Women’s Award for Services to Education 2023

A Ballymena teacher has marked the end of her year as one of Northern Ireland’s educational leaders by winning a top award.

Lynelle Fenton, originally from Ballygawley and outgoing President of the Ulster Teachers’ Union (UTU), was named winner of the NI Women’s Award for Services to Education 2023 during a glittering gala event in Belfast recently.

“It was a lovely way to mark what’s been a pivotal year for me supporting my colleagues, sharing and gleaning expertise from educators at home and abroad,” said Lynelle, a teacher at Braidside Integrated Primary School, Ballymena.

“Teaching is so much more than a job. You have to be dedicated for it is a vocation where children are front and centre and that was at the heart of everything I encountered during my time as President.”

Indeed it was that dedication which she believes finally forced her and her colleagues to take strike action for the first time in the UTU’s 105-year history.

“The UTU are not strikers! I was as appalled as anyone that we were forced into this situation for I never, ever, imagined I’d be manning a picket line,” she continued.

“The two and a half days of strike action by our members this year was no small ask but they were still prepared to go with our union’s recommendations and sacrifice their teaching time and their pay. I firmly believe that the decisions and actions we took, along with the other public sector workers, made the politicians realise that they had to get back to work for the people in Northern Ireland.

“I was especially heartened that during the first sitting of Stormont following the politicians’ return, both the First and Deputy First Ministers mentioned the importance of the role teachers play and also highlighted the special needs sector as needing particular focus.

“It proved to me that they had noticed us, that we have been able to effect change at the highest levels,” said Lynelle who during her year in office was also to share expertise with educators from across Europe during the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-Operation (OECD) Trade Union Advisory Committee’s International Symposium in Paris.

“It was empowering to be able to share with overseas colleagues the good practice taking place in Northern Ireland and although there was much discussion around AI and digitisation in the classroom, I was able to stress the efficacy of the play-based curriculum we have here and how central to a child’s development the interaction with teachers and students is.

“It was a unique opportunity for me to learn too about the positives of increasing digitisation in the classroom - although for as long as there are real children they will need real teachers at the front of the classroom! I think the lockdown showed us all the value of teaching in person both for learning and for mental health in children and young people,” said Lynelle for whom her Presidential year has more than lived up to the high expectations she had for it.

“I think as a teacher, simply because of the pressures of work, we can sometimes tend to become very focussed on the microcosm of our own schools and communities. This year gave me a chance to lift my head above the parapet and see what’s going on in the wider world. Essentially what I found is that we’re all doing the same job of helping children and young people make the most of their talents in an ever-changing and often challenging world.

“Indeed it’s always been so, for it was my own teachers and the support they gave to me at a crucial time in my life which proved the catalyst that led me to teaching in the first place. Then with my work within UTU, I felt that once again I was being lifted and supported by colleagues who could help me see further and better into the profession and taught me even more about what being a teacher is all about.

“Coming to my year as President my aim was to be one of those people who could lift and support my colleagues but equally for me it’s always about the children.

“My aunt gave me a plaque when I graduated from Stranmillis College - 'Teaching Today Touches Tomorrow'. Over 20 years later I still have that plaque in my classroom because you can never underestimate the impact even the smallest gesture has on a child, whether or not you’re a teacher.”


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