A move to special education has proved to be a highly rewarding career change for Clare Lourey and Monica Gonzalez.

The pair teach Years 11 and 12 at Eileen O’Connor Catholic College (EOCC) Lewisham, a school for students with moderate intellectual disabilities and part of the Sydney Catholic Schools network.

Ms Lourey worked as a registered nurse and midwife for six years before retraining as a teacher, then moving from mainstream classrooms to EOCC.

While she said becoming a teacher felt ‘inevitable’ with her parents in the profession, her time as a midwife honed skills that are invaluable in the education space. They include empathy and the ability to form strong connections with others.

“There is a lot of crossover, like making a connection and feeling like you are helping instil something positive in people’s lives,” she said.

“Here we have many students who are non-verbal or very minimally verbal. You do rely heavily on a good relationship with the parents and the families because ultimately that is what assists the student to flourish.”

“What we have in common with mainstream schools is the absolute belief that our students can achieve anything,” – Monica Gonzalez

EOCC students complete the Life Skills curriculum, an alternative for students who cannot access regular course outcomes. 

The ability to personalise this curriculum for students and the diversity of personalities and needs within the classroom means no two days are the same.

 “When we are doing our rotations we are working with three or four students at a time,” Ms Loury said.

“That is a dream. You are working in such small groups that even small growth is visible.”

Ms Gonzalez was an IT consultant with one of the world’s largest database management companies before working as a Learning Support Officer at the college for two years. 

She completed a teaching degree while in the role, gaining the autonomy and skills to develop learning plans and to teach. 

“A lot of people come to special ed for different reasons,” Ms Gonzalez said.

“I have a son who has a learning disability. A mild one, but enough for me to be interested.”

Monica said her favourite part of the job was knowing it gives students the skills to transition well to post-school life. 

“It’s very satisfying to know that what we teach them is going to directly and positively impact their life,” Ms Gonzalez said.

“We’re lucky that we can individualise and tailor goals. That’s something that Clare and I both strive for every day: to make sure that their work is relevant.

“What we have in common with mainstream schools is the absolute belief that our students can achieve anything,” Ms Gonzalez said.

“If you do come to special ed, you have to have the exact same mindset. It looks different, but it has the same end goal.”

Become a special education teacher

If you have in interest in celebrating diversity, unlocking potential, and transforming lives, visit the link to learn more about roles at EOCC.