Teacher award is a poignant tribute to aunt

Catherine at her first graduation with her aunt, Catherine Spray.  INCT 10-729-CON
Catherine at her first graduation with her aunt, Catherine Spray. INCT 10-729-CON

A young Carrickfergus woman who picked up a prestigious teaching accolade has dedicated the award to her late aunt.

Catherine Auld, 24, received the Student Teacher of the Year award after coming top of the class in her PGCE course at Ulster University in Coleraine.

The PGCE Primary Teaching Student Teacher of Year Award recognises Catherine’s outstanding academic and practical performance during her studies at Ulster University

The highly competitive course admits only 30 people every year out of hundreds of applicants, with the student teacher award given annually to the highest achieving graduate by the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland.

For Catherine, the accolade is a fitting tribute to her aunt Catherine Spray, who passed away last year.

A former pupil of Carrickfergus Grammar School, Catherine is currently teaching at Carrickfergus Model, where she was also formerly a pupil.

“After finishing school I did a four year graphic design course at Ulster University, and then started the PGCE,” said Catherine.

“Because it was primary school education you don’t specialise in just one thing. Instead you had to know all about literacy, numeracy, geography, art, sports, music - all sorts of subjects.

“You have a set timetable and a certain amount of block placements.

“It’s very competitive and intense when you’re on the course.”

The demanding nature of the PGCE was further complicated after Catherine fell ill.

“I was sick in the middle of the course and I was worried about how I would catch up when I came back.

“I’d have to fit six month’s work into four,” Catherine said.

“My auntie, who had always wanted to be teacher herself, said to me that I was a fighter and that I would never give up.”

The young Carrickfergus woman’s hard work paid off when, at the end of the postgraduate course last June, she was told of her success in gaining the teaching award.

“At that point everyone in my class had finished the course and I still had a few weeks to catch up,” Catherine added.

“My tutor called me into her office to have a chat and told me that I had been put forward for the award. It was a brilliant feeling.”

Sadly, Catherine’s aunt passed away suddenly just a few weeks later.

“It was the last thing my auntie got to celebrate with me and it’s sad that she won’t be here to see it,” Catherine said.

“The award is definitely in honour of my auntie.”

Congratulating Catherine on her achievement was Dolores Loughrey, Ulster University PGCE Primary Teaching Course Director. “The PGCE Primary Teaching Student Teacher of Year Award recognises Catherine’s outstanding academic and practical performance during her studies at Ulster University,” she said.

“We are very proud of her. She worked extremely hard during the year. She was an independent learner, very creative and a joy to work with. We wish her every success in her career and hope she finds her own permanent position where she can take responsibility for her own class and inspire her pupils with her outstanding teaching expertise.”