We spoke with Cara Twomey—who recently graduated from the Master of Disability Studies—about what drove her to postgraduate study, and how she puts it into practice every day as an Itinerant Teacher of the Deaf.
Tell us about your role.
I work for the NSW Department of Education in the Burwood hearing team, and my students are at several primary and secondary schools in Sydney’s inner west.
What was your postgraduate specialisation?
What was your job before you started the Master of Disability Studies (MDS)?
I was a classroom teacher in a primary school.
What prompted you to postgraduate study?
I started in a temporary role in a local hearing team. By doing the MDS I could apply for permanency in the role—without it I’d remain as a temporary teacher. I wanted the job security, but I also knew that was the direction I wanted to take. As a classroom teacher I’d worked with an itinerant teacher of vision, and she inspired me to step into this role. I was inspired by her passion for the role and what change she could affect.
Has your role changed since the Master's?
I’m in more of a position to effect change for a student. As an itinerant with that Master’s qualification I have the ear of the learning and support team of the school, or the principal or the deputy. As a result, any student on caseload has a representative, a voice, and advocate.
And what does that look like?
Working with learning and support staff and Head Teachers to make appropriate adjustments to assessments based on individual student needs.
What does a typical day at work look like to you?
Travelling between three schools across the day and seeing four students. Checking hearing technology, consultation with classroom teachers, sometimes working one-on-one with students on intense language or advocacy skills. Working with the student in the classroom, ensuring they’re accessing the curriculum, and problem-shooting any tech issues that come up, and for the teachers as well. It’s liaising with speech pathologists, liaising with parents—that’s a part of my role that I really enjoy.
Do you have examples of how you apply what you learned in the MDS in your role?
Yes. Three subjects come to mind. Language and Literacy Interventions for DHH Learners covered assessments and report writing based on assessments. I conduct a lot of language processing assessments, and I can’t just give the results page to the teachers—I need to write up what it means, explain it and also incorporate it into my programming. That was a fantastic course.
Intro to Education Audiology covered areas I use every day. We need to interpret audiograms, we need to know what that means for students in the classroom—what they can and can’t hear—and we need to explain that to teachers.
Perception and Production of Speech in DHH Children was about language production and articulation and repairing articulation as well. Especially for my younger students, I draw on that course in terms how to teach sounds in a methodical way.
What do you love about your job?
Building relationships. The student is at the heart of it, and what I love is helping build a team around that student. So even if I’m not there, others know about them, know what’s needed and know they can step in. That means that all my students are safe, they’re cared for and understood, and they don’t need to always explain their hearing loss.
Did you have a favourite subject?
Research and Sensory Disability, because it was the most challenging and really opened my eyes to asking questions about my industry.
Any tips for juggling work and study?
Be disciplined. Set aside set times each week to study. Know that at a certain time on a certain day you’re dedicated to study, and other times you’re doing something fun to balance it. You’re not working and studying seven days a week.
How did you finance your study?
Through HECS. HECS made it manageable. I didn’t need to come up with a lump sum, and I’m privileged to be able to pay that off.
What did you learn about the people you were studying with?
There’s a lot of compassionate people out there who want to fight for equity for students with sensory disabilities.
What does your career look like in the next five years?
I want to take what I’ve learnt and move into a School for Special Purposes—hearing units. Move out of mainstream schools where I am now, to being an itinerant in hearing support units for students with complex needs, hearing being one of them.
What's your advice for people considering the MDS?
It takes what you already know about classroom teaching, and helps you refine your skills for students with a sensory disability. It gives you deep expertise in that area and you can become an expert.
You’ve just graduated. What’s one word to describe how that feels?
Fantastic. I’m so proud of myself, so proud of my colleagues. It’s such an achievement and it’s so worthwhile.