Archived News Item

Mercy Works: Educating with impact


Sr Mary Lewis RSM is at the frontline helping refugees and asylum seeker students settle into the Australian education system. At the end of each month, all our Mercy Connect volunteers submit a report to their respective Coordinators giving them an update of how they are going.  Recently, Sr Mary received one moving report where a volunteer’s words spoke about remembering those students in their class that they felt were left behind.


I am enjoying the work and hopefully it is having some meaningful impact on my students. The students are a mixed bag, all having different needs. Learning to listen and be patient has been an invaluable experience. It is wonderful to able to deal with students on a one-to one basis – I fear these were the ones left behind in my classes when I had another 26 students to deal with.


After reading these words, Mary reached out to this volunteer to get them to share more about their story. Their response was just as moving:


For 42 years I was a driven, ‘stand and deliver’, ‘chalk and talk’ teacher. Middle and lower school history and geography classes typically had 25-20 students. I was very conscious of the need to complete the set curriculum, get all the assessment tasks done, if we went at the students pace, we would never get anywhere.


But there were students with special needs, and frequently I did try to adjust tasks to make it easier and achievable.


However, the chance to sit one-to-one with them, or with any student was virtually impossible. It would take one student to cause a disruption for the whole class to lose focus. Such is the tyranny of large class sizes – you pitch to the middle and hope for the best – that the weaker students can be gathered and carried and the highflyers won’t get bored.


That’s why the senior classes were cherished – you could relate one-to-one. The class could work on a set task with limited supervision, and you could take the time to tutor 2 or 3 students on an individual needs basis. It was real teaching.


This work is so different and reaffirming to me. I’m not driven by a relentless syllabus. I just have to be there and help, and sometimes, I do some good.


I work with a student that has severe autism, we usually interact by typing emails but she was refusing to do that. I think the thought of lockdown had thrown of her off balance. I worry how she will cope with the lockdown. I’m looking forward to seeing her again, even if she doesn’t want to talk to me. She makes my day an interesting challenge.


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