Walking in two worlds

Teacher Michael Healy sees himself as “living in two worlds – the world of those who hear and the world of the Deaf or hearing-impaired”. Michael belongs to the latter – in fact he is profoundly deaf – but his professional and personal qualities allow him to move easily between the two worlds.

Walking in two worlds

Recently Michael graduated from the University of Newcastle with degrees in Teaching (Primary) and Arts and was awarded the Vice Chancellor’s Commendation for Excellence, recognising his Distinction grade average across all his university courses.   


Graduation day is a big one for any student, especially one who has worked full-time and studied part-time for eight years, but for Michael, it was extra special. En route to the university, mortarboard and gown at the ready, he visited his students at St Dominic’s Centre for Hearing Impaired Children at Mayfield.


They loved seeing Mr Healy, whom they knew from his practicum and his current teaching stint, dressed to the nines and had lots of questions about both his garb and his achievements. School leaders, Aiden and Lachlan, made a presentation on behalf of St Dominic’s community and young James tried on the mortarboard for size.


Michael’s story is a wonderful example of overcoming adversity and setting one’s sights high. His mother, Maria, admits it was a shock to find that the third of her three sons was profoundly deaf. “He was about nine months old and I knew he was different from his brothers.” A paediatrician confirmed deafness and that changed the lives of each member of the family.


They moved from Canberra, where Michael’s Irish Dad, Don, universally known as Paddy, had served in the army. Newcastle was deemed to offer the best educational opportunities for Michael, and at age 6 he began his schooling at the Catholic Centre for Deaf Children, a ministry of the Dominican Sisters at Waratah. He then proceeded to San Clemente High School where there was support available and sat for his Higher School Certificate at St Mary’s Campus, All Saints College, Maitland – where, ironically, the principal was Michael Healy!


Looking back, Michael says that studying for the HSC with one-to-one support only once a week “was really hard”. However, he followed in his brothers’ footsteps and not only maintained his commitment to study but held down a part-time job at a restaurant. He enjoyed studying Hospitality Management so moving into that field after leaving school was a natural development.  


Michael embarked on what became a very successful career in hospitality, principally with the Peppers Hotel Group. He worked in guest services while studying at TAFE and proceeded to co-ordinating weddings and conferences and eventually managing purchasing and stores. Bear in mind that Michael is doing all this without hearing, in the hearing world. He is proficient in signing but of course that’s only helpful in the world of the Deaf, or as Michael calls it, the “capital ‘D’ Deaf” world.   


There is little doubt that Michael was on track to a management role, and he had garnered several awards along the way, but he was beginning to feel the need for a change in direction. While he had overcome difficulties at every step, it hadn’t been easy and he felt he was in a position to make it easier for the next generation. 


He decided to undertake further study with the goal of being a teacher, particularly of children with impaired hearing. Despite the warning of a professor at the University of Newcastle who said that full-time work and part-time study didn’t mix, Michael embarked on concurrent degrees in Teaching (Primary) and Arts.


Michael is quick to credit his employers’ flexibility and the support of friends from both worlds in explaining his success, and always his parents and siblings were there, helping in myriad ways. Meeting Maria and Don, it was easy to see their quiet pride in their son’s achievements, his drive and determination. 


Principal of St Dominic’s, Frances Belcher, says, “Michael has been an inspiration to students, families and his colleagues in the way he has approached his studies and embarked on his new career.  The way he programs and works with the students at both St Dominic's, and our partner school St Columban's, demonstrates his commitment to good teaching.  Michael’s presence is a daily reminder that you can break down barriers and achieve your goals.”


Paddy Healy says, “It’s more than a dream come true, to see Michael graduate after so many years of hard work.”


Now 35, Michael has a Masters degree in his sights, but says “no more study for a while now”. He is passionate about teaching because it offers the opportunity to be a role model for children who cannot always be taught by someone with a deep understanding of disability – and a deep determination not to be defeated by it. And hopefully, many of the children he teaches will also don the mortarboard and gown in years to come.


If you are interested in supporting St Dominic’s annual Companion Credit Union Charity Golf Day on 17 May, please P 4968 1295, E admin@mayfieldsd.mn.catholic.edu.au or visit www.mayfieldsd.mn.catholic.edu.au

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