At the start of this academic year, Tangara School for Girls welcomed two new Religion teachers to the team. Emma Elias and Michaela Munasinghe are both Tangara Old Girls, who are young, keen, and enthusiastic to teach Religion at the school they graduated from not long ago.
Feedback from students has been immensely positive in their short time here, and we are so grateful for the work that they do. To share their successes so far, Emma and Michaela answered some questions about themselves as well as their experience at Tangara. We want to give them the welcome that Tangara is known for!
Can you tell us a little about yourselves?
Michaela: Hi, my name is Michaela, and I am currently the Religion teacher for Prep, Year 11 and Year 12 at Tangara School for Girls. I am currently completing my Master’s of Secondary Teaching at the University of Sydney, and I graduated from Tangara in 2017.
Emma: Hello! My name is Emma Elias. I graduated from the University of Sydney in 2021. I teach Year 11 and 12 Religion at Tangara and am a mentor to Primary and Secondary students. I am also a Tangara Old Girl from the class of 2018!
What was your journey to becoming a Religion teacher at Tangara?
Michaela: Once I finished school, I aspired to be a chartered accountant, so I completed my Bachelor's degree in Commerce whilst working for a chartered accounting firm in Taxation and Business Services. It was very challenging and taught me what it meant to be a true professional; one that is hard-working and determined to serve.
While completing my first year of University, I also led the 2019 Tangara Philippines Service Project for Year 11. It was an incredible experience and planted a seed in my mind – teaching senior students may be my professional vocation.
I left my accounting firm in pursuit of what I really wanted to do, and simultaneously received a call from Tangara asking if I would like to apply for a role as a Senior Religion teacher. I was tremendously excited and immediately emailed the school my resume. Next, I attended two interviews and after a few weeks received the news that my application was successful!
Returning to Tangara as a teacher was surreal! The teachers who watched me grow from a young girl to an adult, those who saw my good and not-so-good marks, my favourite English and Mathematics teachers, and my mentors, were now colleagues.
Now, three terms into the school year as a Tangara teacher, I can say with full confidence that it has been the best decision I have ever made. And I know that this is just the beginning of a wonderful journey - one where I am constantly learning and serving.
Emma: After graduating from University, I started looking for a local teacher-librarian role, but I had a very open mindset going into 2022. I wasn’t exactly sure which school I wanted to teach in, all I knew was that I wanted a surprise, since I had a lot of availability and plenty to give.
In January, I got a call from the mentor who had guided me during my time at Tangara, asking if I would like to apply for a Senior Religion teacher role at Tangara. I saw this as the “surprise” I had asked for! I sent in my resume, had a phone call and then an in-person interview, and before long I was back at Tangara!
Why did you say yes to teaching at the school you graduated from?
Michaela: I was fully confident that Tangara would give me the necessary training, support and guidance to develop me further as a teacher. The staff here set the best example for me, and every day I get to witness in them the virtues of resilience, integrity, cheerfulness and service. I aspire to be like these teachers whom I spent years admiring. I am also able to complete my Master's whilst working in the classroom which is invaluable.
Having received Tangara’s education myself I was more inclined to say yes to a school that forged my character and gave me lifelong friendships. Even after leaving school, my heart remained with Tangara, and this opportunity was now my chance to give back.
Emma: I knew that the job was not going to be easy, and I was aware of the responsibility of the role. Teaching Religion is not only dealing with grades but with souls too! What ultimately convinced me to say yes were the students.
The responsibility of a Religion teacher is the biggest privilege, and I intend to keep searching for ways to better myself as a teacher for my current and future students.
Your students have already expressed excellent feedback about your lessons. How do you prepare for your classes?
Michaela: Being a young Religion teacher for the Senior grades is wonderful. Having finished high school a few years ago, I have been able to relate to our students, share my own experiences, understand their concerns and be an ally in their wins and losses.
I think it is so critical to have joyful role models in the identity-forming years of a teenager's life. Establishing a sense of identity and self-worth is of the utmost importance in senior years. After some reflection, I would say we are ‘humanising pedagogy’. This means being aware of the student's interests, backgrounds, knowledge, culture and life experiences.
In my senior Religion classes, we are often discussing topical, moral issues, aligned with the Catechism of the Catholic Church which they learn during their junior years.
I’ve brought in guest speakers, played documentaries, read books on Bioethics and encouraged them to reflect on these topics in relation to their own lives, all of which motivate the students to add a personal significance to their learning.
Furthermore, what makes our lessons deeply engaging is the freedom I establish within my students when it comes to practising their faith. My primary goal is to provide my students with the intellectual and moral resources to freely choose the truth through their own convictions. What is even more beautiful is how this freedom has been transmitted from the classroom into their friendships with one another.
Emma: Ultimately, I think that being part of the same generation, I am experiencing this world with them. I hope that the girls are encouraged by seeing their teachers doing their best to live and share their faith with today’s society. I believe it is an excellent example for them to take into the ‘world after school’ that they are about to enter.
Emma, how has your experience teaching at Tangara been so far? What ideas do you have for the future of Tangara's Religion program?
Emma: It was odd calling my old teachers by their first names, but thankfully, I was able to slide into my new role quite comfortably. Up to this point, it's been a wild ride, but I have absolutely loved it. My students are incredible, and it has been my greatest honour to watch them grow in their spirituality.
The world is constantly changing, and it seems as though every day our girls are faced with new challenges. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to navigate moral issues with faith in our society. I hope to continue to guide our students towards the fullness of virtue, as our motto states. And I will continue to turn to the teachers in our department and their experience, to do so.