A teacher who changes how we read and write

By Our Reporter
Mary Keating

Mary Keating says she counts her birthdays backwards. An Australian educator, who has taught in different sectors and in different parts of the world, her experience stands as a silent allegory to her relevance and the fact that she can relate to students of all ages.

After her last stint as a primary school teacher in the UK, Mary returned to Australia in 2012 and has since been tutoring young children. “I have been tutoring and I am fit and young,” she says, with a laugh.

Mary, whose specialist area is language acquisition and development, uses language and maths items on a regular basis as a home tutor. “I know they have proven to drive up literacy and numeracy skills,” she says.

Her module is straightforward. She prepares worksheets, which are ready-to-use and usually stand-alone units of work.

Developing her own teaching material has been a move both celebral and intuitive, given her qualifications and experience. “A lot of the things that a kid is vague about simply needs reinforcement, and with a little bit of time that child then becomes very clear about things that were taught in the classroom but became hazy. One is maths, the other is English,” says Mary.

Thoughtful and passionate, Mary, although a primary school tutor, has plenty to draw on. She has worked in three sectors—primary, secondary education and she has taught at TAFE for 10 years. She has taught in few states in Australia, the Middle East and the UK totalling to 200 schools in a span of eight-nine years. This all-round global experience with all age groups gives her a very good overview and insight into education.

What makes Mary’s work shift from the traditional system is her belief in her philosophy that children are not learning to read pictures. “We are not ancient Egyptians. Children need to read the text, so there is no reason for them to have big colourful photos which in textbooks is the most expensive part of the production process,” she argues.

Therefore, her first focus as a primary school tutor is all basic, “it’s all about learning to read and write”. Through careful selection of vocabulary, Mary prepares units of work that include fiction and non-fiction. The fictional stories are designed to help children learn to read.

“I have seen anxiety in children with special dispensation during Covid, disobedience in the home and children don’t understand why they feel the way they feel”
— Mary Keating

“It’s not about writing great literature. So, at the top of each unit, say, there is a tiny print and header for the parent or the tutor as to what the focus is, it could be AI or OO spelling. Sometimes I have even gone through the dictionary and selected all my words. I prepare a list and I write around the vocabulary,” says Mary.

She finds a lot of the vocabulary in the materials available for children today are either too easy or too hard. “It needs to be concentrated in a one or two-page text with tasks that support and reinforce what I am designing for them to learn. All my materials are carefully designed around a particular literacy objective,” she explains.

Mary has a Bachelor of Arts, a Graduate Diploma in Education and a Graduate Diploma of Business from the University of Melbourne and Monash University. She also has a graduate diploma in Human Resource Management that gives her the academic background to give judgements about school management practices and so forth.

Like everyone else, COVID-19 and the pandemic impacted her work. “Even now I have just got back a third of my students in Melbourne,” says. Mary is based in Melbourne East and is looking to teaching students around the south eastern suburbs.

She has also seen the impact of the lockdowns on children. “I have seen anxiety in children with special dispensation, disobedience in the home and children don’t understand why they feel the way they feel.”

Which is why she finds tutoring far more rewarding than working in classroom as a relief teacher because after the parents talk to her, she can see what the child is doing and can give parents reassurance about where the child is at.

Mary also thinks that some schools can be demanding by presenting material that is meant for Year 9 to grade 5 students, which adds to the stress. “Because I have been a secondary school teacher I know it,” she says, adding, “I’ve had a father break down in tears because they want to send their child to a psychologist. It doesn’t happen often though.”

The fact that sometimes children are pitched materials way above their heads just creates anxiety, which is not necessary, she further adds. “They can be 12 months ahead for scholarship program, not three-four year ahead, and the parents get anxious too and find it demanding. There are problems with some of the tutorial school business that do not use our model of education.”

But what is heartening is the fact that a lot of her work are through referrals. “I think the parents appreciate me and they see their children blooming ahead. That’s what they need to see, and, in many ways, it is more productive than sending them to tutorial schools.”

Rest assured, Mary has found her own way to nurture young students.

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