My two sisters and I were fortunate enough to receive all thirteen years of our education at Sacré Cœur where the high value on academic achievement was always coupled with a strong sense of social justice and a concern for others. Undoubtedly these values I received during my school years helped to direct my future career of teaching English to migrants and refugees.
After completing a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Graduate Diploma in Education majoring in French and German at Melbourne University, I followed in my mother’s footsteps and decided to teach in Dijon, France. It took a certain amount of courage to leave behind my family, boyfriend and friends, but I also saw this as a great opportunity to travel and teach so I grabbed it with both hands and relished all that such an adventure had to offer.
Upon my return to Australia in 1994, I took the even more courageous step of marrying that boyfriend and then I entered the world of adult education and began teaching English as an Additional Language with AMES Australia where I still teach 25 years later. This was a very challenging and rewarding environment to teach in where I witnessed the true meaning of courage. Many of my students were displaced families fleeing war zones after enduring unimaginable suffering and loss. Teaching them English would help them to settle into their lives in Australia and equip them with the necessary skills to start anew.
A year later our first daughter, Hannah, was born and was such a delightful baby I was able to continue teaching on a part-time basis a few months after her arrival. The motherhood/career juggle that I had witnessed so competently in my own mother stood me in good stead for this new phase in my life. The following year we were expecting our second child but life was to take an unexpected turn with the news that this little girl (whom we’d already named Olivia) had Down’s Syndrome.
Thankfully, my husband, Andrew, and I knew we possessed the strength to embrace the challenges of having a child with special needs, so ending the pregnancy was never an option for us. To be honest though, I did feel that my teaching career would have to come to an abrupt and premature end, given the demands of raising a child with a disability, but fortunately I couldn’t have been more mistaken. So with briefcase in one hand and bassinet in the other, I re-entered the classroom with Olivia six months after her arrival and was able to resume my teaching career!
Heartened by the relative ease of caring for a child like Olivia, my husband and I decided to help other couples who were expecting a baby with a disability. We formed a support group with the Down’s Syndrome Association of Victoria to encourage couples to continue with their pregnancies. In so doing, we feel we are giving people like Olivia a ‘voice’ in a world somewhat hard of hearing.
Although statistics indicate that 98% of couples who have a child with a disability do not consider having any more children, Andrew and I were blessed with the arrival of our third beautiful daughter, Julia, (now in Year 12 at Sacré Cœur ). Another well-behaved baby meant that I could again resume my teaching career. If my inspirational mother could do so with five children, I could definitely do it with three!