Canberra school teacher finds her voice and earns top postgraduate honour

21 DECEMBER 2020

Canberra school teacher finds her voice and earns top postgraduate honour

Charles Sturt University has awarded a prestigious Postgraduate University Medal to a Canberra school teacher who health professionals thought would never make it to a mainstream school.

  • Charles Sturt University awards Canberra K-6 teacher, Miss Joanna Smith, with Master of Education and prestigious Postgraduate University Medal
  • Medal recognises Miss Smith’s outstanding academic performance and is a particularly proud achievement for her given her experience with a speech disorder as a child
  • Miss Smith has dedicated her career to teaching in Canberra and hopes to now pursue an educational leadership role

Miss Joanna Smith, a teacher at Curtin Primary School and recent graduate of Charles Sturt’s Master of Education (specialising in Education Leadership), was born with a condition that prevented her from being able to speak.

After undergoing intensive early speech intervention programs as a toddler, Miss Smith was taught to develop the muscle ability and sound knowledge to form words. By the time she was three years old she was able to talk and just a couple of years after this she was on track to attend a mainstream school.

Although she still encountered some learning challenges during primary and high school years, her persistence and hard work to overcome these challenges led her to excel at school and it was the teachers that helped her along the way that inspired her to go to university and become a teacher.

In 2017, in her third year of full-time teaching, Miss Smith took on one of her biggest challenges and continued to work full-time while studying a master’s degree with Charles Sturt.

“It is both a joy and a humbling honour to receive a University Medal in recognition of the almost four years of study and the grit, effort and resilience that was needed during this time,” Miss Smith said.

“As a very young child, my mother was told that I wouldn’t be able to attend mainstream school and that I needed intense early intervention and speech pathology to be able to successfully engage with the education system.

“Being the first in my family to graduate with a master’s degree and a University Medal, and in light of the obstacles I have experienced to get to this point, is a tangible reminder of what I can accomplish by not giving up when faced with challenges and how far I have come as an educator and as a person.”  

“It is also a reminder that success and accomplishment doesn’t happen overnight, that little steps and what can sometimes seem an insurmountable degree of effort adds up over time to change your personal narrative.”

Now that Miss Smith has graduated with her master’s degree, she is hoping to take on a new challenge and secure a leadership role.

“When I started my master’s degree, I did so to continue to learn and develop my skills, to make me a better teacher and leader,” she said.

“Completing my study and winning the University Medal has given me the confidence to take on new challenges as a teacher, and in the short term I am hoping to have the opportunity to gain formal leadership experience in schools.

“In 2019, I took a year's leave from teaching to lecture in education at the University of Canberra and this opened my eyes to the possibility of working in higher education and the rewarding experience of working with pre-service teachers and being able to critically reflect on my own teaching practice.

“But I missed the students and school system, so whichever way a leadership role took me, the need to be involved in education and with children is important.”

Charles Sturt remains committed to rescheduling its 2020 graduation ceremonies in 2021, with dates to be announced when COVID-19-related restrictions allow.

Media Note:

To arrange interviews, contact Rebecca Akers at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0456 377 434 or

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Canberra Teaching and Education