By Emilie Ng
MIKAELA McGreevy’s pinnacle moment in her young teaching career is leading an entire classroom to pronounce the word “touch” perfectly.
The 20-year-old Queensland University of Technology student spent almost two weeks in a small Cambodian classroom with the De La Salle Brothers’ Lasallian Volunteers program earlier this year.
In Po Thum, Cambodia, Mikaela taught young Cambodians “off the cuff” about the senses – touch, taste, smell, and so on.
“We wrote simple sentences like, ‘With my fingers I can touch…’,” she said.
“Just the simple act of being able to say ‘touch’, because of their language, that was more worthwhile than, I think, a class of 30 understanding Pythagoras’ theorem.
“Those simple moments, where English isn’t their first language, would be more rewarding as a teacher.”
Finding joy in a “simple moment” in Cambodia is no different to her experience as a teacher aide at Southern Cross Catholic School, Scarborough, working with children who have learning difficulties such as autism and attention deficit disorders.
“They might not understand, for example, the nutrition behind food, but being able to cook and do things for themselves and those simple skills, that’s why I wanted to get into that pathway.”
Empowering those with disadvantages underpins the majority of Mikaela’s classroom teaching choices.
Last year, she spent 10 days teaching at a De La Salle school in Balgo, a small Aboriginal community in Western Australia, and believes a teacher’s presence can help improve the rights for Australia’s Indigenous.
“You can’t really put yourself in their shoes unless you spend the time with them,” she said.
“You can’t make a judgement without spending time with them and seeing how their life is compared to yours.”
Mikaela believes English could also empower the poor, even within Australia’s Indigenous communities, to speak up for their rights.
Mikaela has grown familiar with the idea of sharing her wealth of knowledge with those outside her backyard.
The member of the Bracken Ridge parish, which keeps busy maintaining various overseas outreaches, including fundraising for the Cambodia school Mikaela visited, thought being a teacher in Brisbane might be a waste of her tertiary education.
“When I graduate (in 2016), (I want) to go help somewhere different instead of mainstream schools (in Brisbane),” she said.
“There are probably enough teachers here to do that.”
Mikaela said she would love to return to Cambodia on a long-term placement.
“Because volunteers just come through, there’s no permanent English teacher there, so they all start with the letter ‘A’ every time a new person comes in,” she said.
“Going and doing an eight-month stint to see them every day would help them so much more.”
Expanding her classroom experience to international waters has also given Mikaela a desire to bring social justice to the poor outside her own backyard.
“Our parish really strives to look outside our little suburb and people involved around us, and look beyond, to see where we can help overseas,” she said.