To celebrate the teachers within our Catholic education system, Melbourne Catholic will be running a series of interviews with teachers from Catholic schools all around Melbourne. Monica O’Shannassy is Deputy Principal and Religious Education Leader, teaching Religious Education, Physical Education and STEM at St John’s Primary School, Mitcham. We got in touch with Monica about COVID, and her teaching journey.

How has the COVID pandemic affected your work and your students?

The COVID pandemic has not affected the purpose of my work nor the roles I have but rather how I go about them. My teaching has all been online with the Learning From Home Site and Google Classroom. Staff Professional Learning Meetings held twice weekly are on Google Meets. With classroom teachers being required on Google Meets each morning, I have been supervising children of essential workers and vulnerable students who have been onsite alongside Learning Support Officers. Student Wellbeing has always been very important but even more so during these unsettling times.

In my role as Religious Education Leader I have needed to ensure that praying, learning, celebrating, promoting a sense of belonging and reaching out to others is how the Religious Dimension is still enacted in our school. As a staff we needed to reimagine and get creative so that students could still engage in the variety of learning experiences and events we facilitate at St John’s. Weekly prayers were available for families on the Learning From Home Site, live streaming of prayer, assemblies and recording of masses were a part of our Remote Learning experience. Students continued to raise awareness of social justice issues as a Winter Sleep Out occurred on lounge room floors and students participated in fundraising for Catholic Mission’s Socktober Project with their families.

Throughout remote learning I have been supporting our wonderful principal, staff and student leaders via weekly online meetings to plan initiatives to celebrate our amazing community and help members to continue to feel connected. Planned communications included video messages, dances and songs and events such as a whole school virtual disco, Fun Friday dress-up themes, a Virtual Talent Quest, Walk to School day where students collected a sunflower, and or course Literacy and Numeracy Week. This included sharing videos of staff reading their favourite stories, riddles, puzzles, a webinar with author/illustrator Michael Salmon and a range of Maths activities. These are all examples of how my work has been affected. Students, families and staff of St John’s Primary School Mitcham have been incredible, adapting well to remote learning and showing great resilience and commitment. COVID has helped us to reimagine what teaching can be like and it will definitely change the way we teach and learn in the future.

What do you love most about teaching?

I love seeing students grow in their learning and being a small part of their learning journey. I enjoy being a part of a vibrant learning community, such as the community here at St John’s Primary School, Mitcham. I enjoy encouraging students to be the very best they can be and making a difference in the world.

Who were your favourite teachers growing up? Why?

Mrs Haycox, in Year Seven, was one of my favourite teachers because I felt she took the time to develop a relationship with me and knew me. I always felt valued. She taught English and was so passionate about reading and writing—it was infectious.

Do you remember your first day in a classroom? What was going through your mind as a ‘newly minted’ teacher?

My first day in a classroom on my own was both exciting and terrifying! I couldn’t believe I was finally a teacher. I was just hoping that I was doing everything ‘right.’ I was exhausted by the end of the day and fell asleep on the couch at home, after I had shared every detail of the day with my family.

How has teaching RE or teaching in a Catholic school influenced your own faith journey?

It has strengthened my faith. It has deepened my understanding and appreciation of my faith. I see my faith as a gift that I can pass on to others.

What appeals to you most about teaching a Catholic school? What do you see as the ‘point of difference’ of Catholic education?

I enjoy sharing my faith with others and contributing to their faith development. I see the point of difference of Catholic Education being the reason why we live the way we do. The reason why we uphold the dignity of individuals, reach out to those in need, participate in our communities, stand in solidarity with others and care for our planet. Living as Jesus taught us and living faith through action

How do you feel about the future of young people today?

I feel extremely hopeful and positive about the future of young people today. They display great empathy towards others, seeking to understand and celebrate diversity and reaching out to others in need. They are aware of their responsibility to care for our natural environment and resources. Students know that they can make a difference and have a positive impact on both the world of today and the world tomorrow.

Having been a teacher now for more than 20 years, what advice would you give to your younger self starting out in the system?

To remember that all students are teachers and all teachers are learners.