Siobhan Ni Mheachair began her 20-year career as a primary school teacher in the poorest part of Dublin, so she had a “ huge culture shock” when she relocated to Australia 12 years ago to work in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.
The Year 4 teacher at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Primary Randwick is used to change. As the school’s reference teacher for the past four years she helped students and colleagues use Google effectively in the classroom, and will this year help to implement the Australian Curriculum’s new Science syllabus.
Ms Maher to her students (the Gaelic spelling can confuse even adults), said some content was different but the main change was a focus on technology and inquiry skills.
“It’s exciting to teach and the students are loving it because it’s hands on and they get to design their own scientific investigations,’’ she said.
“They come up with a question and decide how to test it.
“Working with kids is amazing. That ‘I get it’ moment is why you do teaching – when they go home with a smile on their face because they’ve understood and achieved something.”
Ms Maher said the differences between her first school and current one were stark.
“From where I’ve come from I appreciate how well resourced our school is and how good the students have it.
“I had a six-year old student [in Dublin] who came to school and he had vomit on his uniform because he’d slept in it all night and was sick, but he still got up and got himself and his younger brother to school on time, no parent helping, and he was there ready to learn.”
Ms Maher spent two-weeks in Cambodia in 2013 to train maths teachers from the villages with the charity SeeBeyondBorders. The impact of Pol Pot’s dictatorship which saw all teachers, scientists and other educated people killed over a 30 year period was still felt.
“I had one lady in the class who couldn’t count and she was the teacher,” she said.
“It’s not about teachers going in and telling them this is how the Australians do it, do it this way, it’s about looking at their curriculum and helping them with maths because they’re doing the best they can.
“I did an art lesson with 60 Khmer children and no English. It was an amazing experience.”