Meet Michaela Epstein (mic_epstein) and behold her tweets!

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Please tell us a little about your background in education. Why did you decide to become involved in education? What are some of the roles you’ve had and what does your current role involve?

Despite my obsession with maths education, this wasn’t what launched my interests and career in education.

For my under-grad degree, I studied politics, psychology and maths, and it was through politics that my interest in education developed. I learned a lot about liberal theory, multiculturalism and human rights and, from these areas, I started to understand how impactful education is as a lever for social change. When there are inequities that exist in a society, education is a powerful way of rising above them and breaking down barriers. So I thought this was incredible! Since then my work has been in a number of different areas, but always dedicated to education.

Previously, I have helped in establishing an academic enrichment program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students, with The Aurora Project. As a teacher, I taught humanities and maths, and also had the privilege of working closely with teachers in a coaching capacity. The schools I have taught at are in rural Victoria and in Melbourne – a big change from my home town of Sydney – and an eye opener in terms of seeing how much harder some opportunities are to come by when you are not in a major city.

Right now, I have two professional roles that I am deeply passionate abut. At Maths Pathway (@MathsPathway), an Australian-founded social enterprise, I am the Head of Learning. Outside of this work, I am currently President of the Mathematical Association of Victoria (@mav_info).

Both roles keep me on my toes in staying up-to-date with latest research, and thinking about how to best support and connect teachers. I have become more focused on maths education in recent years, because it is such an important area for young people – and unfortunately it is so often feared. So as someone who’s not based in the classroom, I believe that one of the most valuable contributions I can make is in bringing teachers and others in the education space together, to talk to and learn from one another.

Who or what keeps you inspired and motivated in your work?

Australia has an outstanding education system. Every day there are such brilliant things happening in schools around the country that are enabled by the dedication of teachers, school leaders and support staff. I am driven in my work to contribute to this community.

Throughout my career, I have also been deeply motivated by the people around me – my colleagues and friends, who are each completely impressive in their own ways. I am grateful to these people for providing supportive environments where I can be challenged in my ideas and challenge them in return, where I can be proud of my successes but also be honest and open about failure. Education is a wonderful field, where just when you think you’ve figured something out, a new idea butts in and can completely shake your thinking. Despite having frequent feelings of disorientation, I love this challenge.

What do you see as some of the biggest rewards and challenges for people working in education today?

I strongly believe in the connectedness of education, so the reward and challenge that I’ll touch on relate to that.

An undeniable reward of working in education comes from the real, tangible impact that you have on people’s lives. Teachers and others in education are not just cogs in a wheel, but important and influential in students’ lives.

One of the great difficulties in education is that of empathy. There are so many voices in education, and it is so easy to make assumptions about what people need or want. We are often impacted – in the processes and structures that shape our work and often in the outcomes we can attain – by people we don’t know. There is a challenge that comes with this in reaching across to different perspectives (e.g. from schools, communities, academia, enterprise or elsewhere) and talking and really listening to one another.

If you had the ability to make changes to the education system in Australia, what would you do?

I believe that every student should be in a position where they leave school, aware of their own strengths, confident in themselves and understand some of the options ahead of them. Too often though, where a student lives in Australia and their socio-economic circumstances affects whether they leave the education system with these things. So what would I do? Help to initiate or strengthen actions that overcome systemic barriers for students. I’d love to hear people’s ideas and what they’re doing on this front!

What role do you see EduTweetOz playing on the education scene in Australia and what are your hopes for the account this week?

By nature of its geography, Australia is very fragmented. I experienced this firsthand, when working in rural Victoria. EduTweetOz is a fantastic initiative for bringing people together to collaborate, celebrate success and provide guidance. It’s an honour to be part of the community.

This week I’d love to tap into the thoughts and perspectives of the collective on some of my education interests, hopefully having some knotty discussions along the way. In particular, I’m keen to hear people’s ideas about how people #talkmathsup. Maths is a hugely important part of education (yes, I’m biased!), but it’s often feared, badly stereotyped or hated on. The question I often ask people is: Whether or not you teach maths, what do you do to give it a better deal?

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