Gaeilge goes global with Michelle's online classes
01 November 2022
An Irish teacher has been sharing her love of the language with pupils across the world – all from her laptop at home.
Michelle Furey has taught hundreds of students through her online business MF Learning, which she launched last year after a decade teaching Irish in schools, GAA clubs and even a high security prison.
She now has more than 200 pupils logging into her virtual lessons, including a New York-based newspaper editor who takes three classes a week, a London film producer preparing to shoot an Irish language movie in Belfast, and a California-based corporate boss with a gold fáinne for fluency in Irish.
Michelle, who is from Plumbridge, came up with the business idea for MF Learning during lockdown. Pre-Covid, she had been working as a classroom-based Irish teacher, but her work went online in March 2020 when educational institutions had to close their doors.
"I was quickly thrust into having to use forums such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Cisco WebEx to provide lessons," recalls Michelle, who discovered her passion for Irish as a schoolgirl, and has a Master's in education.
"I found very quickly that online teaching really suited me, I loved the flexibility that it brought to my life. All I needed was a computer, a microphone and a headset, where previously I would have been reliant on whiteboards and printed teaching resources."
According to Michelle, students also benefitted from the interactive nature of the lessons.
"It meant I could easily share videos and media, and place people in groups online to work together from the comfort of their own home," she adds.
Michelle began to explore the possibility of turning her new virtual teaching skills into a fully-fledged business, encouraged by her parents Angela and Owen who "believed I was able to do something like this long before I did, they have always been my inspiration".
Early in the process, Michelle enlisted the help of Derry City and Strabane District Council and the Strabane Enterprise Agency, enrolling in their Go For It and Start Up Accelerator (SUAP) programmes.
Through the free schemes, Michelle attended "invaluable" workshops on topics such marketing, social media, and improving sales, and was also assigned two mentors, Leah McStravick from Full Circle Management Solutions and Ailish McCafferty from Derry's Agora Branding.
"I would definitely recommend those with a business idea to get in touch with the Council and Strabane Enterprise Agency. The support was easy to access, the staff involved with SUAP and Go For It are fabulous, and the mentors are second to none," says Michelle.
"Setting up a business can be a very lonely endeavour; you are responsible for everything. The support I felt from the mentors at the SUAP was invaluable to the success of the business."
Michelle is no stranger to challenges, having spent a year teaching Irish in Maghaberry Prison in her early twenties.
"Obviously I wasn't allowed to bring anything in with me, which meant I had to be very flexible and less reliant on resources," she says.
"It was very challenging, but I learnt how resilient I was under pressure."
With growing demand for her classes, which range from complete beginners to advanced, Michelle has been able to employ two freelance teachers. Her primary school-based Irish language programme is also flourishing, with six schools on board to date.
"The interactive nature of the online lessons has definitely taken over but I do adore my on-site Irish," she says.
"My dream has always been to pass on the beautiful Gaeilge language to the next generation, to spread the message that Irish is for all, and in order to keep the language alive we must speak it.
"It is a dream come true for me to be able to do that every day – labhair í agus mairfidh sí (speak her and she will survive)".
Derry City and Strabane District Council and local enterprise agencies, Strabane Enterprise Agency and Enterprise North West can help new and existing businesses with a range of tailored programmes. Contact a Business Advisor now for free support at [email protected]