Children with special educational needs refer to children who have learning difficulties. These children may face challenges like solving problems, as well as maintaining relationships with others. Some examples of conditions that contribute to the difficulties that these children face include dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, and hearing impairment.
Special education teachers play a crucial role in helping children with special educational needs. In order to provide effective guidance, they have to find ways to gain their students’ trust and unlock their potential.
The role of a special education teacher is by no means an easy one. On top of completing certain training courses as part of the requirement, these educators need to have the patience and perseverance to communicate and guide these students through their learning journey. These educators provide equal chance for every child to shine, and that is the very reason why they are worth celebrating.
Inspiring Story of Ms. Ling Fong
One such person is Ms. Ling Fong, and her selflessness and kindness can be witnessed in her inspiring story. Ms. Ling Fong has been working as a special education teacher at SMK Datuk Peter Mojuntin, Sabah for the past 13 years, where she specialises in guiding and nurturing students with hearing impairment.
Her career in educating students with special needs was a chance encounter. Ms. Ling Fong is a graduate who specialises in economics education, but due to the low demand quota for teachers in economics, she was offered a spot to teach special needs students instead.
To do this, she was sent to attend a 3-month course to obtain relevant skills and knowledge required, and started her career as a special education teacher at a school in Johor. After two years, she made an application to pursue her career in her hometown of Sabah, where she eventually relocated to teach students with hearing impairment at SMK Datuk Peter Mojuntin.
As a teacher to students with hearing impairment, Ms. Ling Fong faced significant challenges in the beginning of her journey in the school as she was not well-versed in sign language back then.
However, Ms. Ling Fong rolled up her sleeves and dove into the task of guiding and nurturing these students. She sought the guidance of her students to accept her and trust her enough to teach her sign language. Within six months, she was able to obtain the basic skills of sign language and was able to communicate effectively with her students.
One of Ms. Ling Fong’s former students, Jesnih Wilna Sani, nominated the special education teacher for the Anugerah Inspirasi Guru McDonald’s 2021. In the nomination story, Jesnih described how Ms. Ling Fong guided them in a poster competition organised by UNITAR, where they had to design a poster and present to the judges.
Despite her students being the only group to consist of special needs students, Ms. Ling Fong never doubted that her students could compete on the same level with other students and thrived in the process. Ms. Ling Fong decided not to be their sign language translator for the presentation, all in order to encourage her students to be confident and complete the presentation themselves.
As part of the preparation for the presentation, Ms. Ling Fong came up with the idea of a “shadow theatre” video recording inspired by Britain’s Got Talent. This enabled her students to present their ideas through an expressive art form.
Their poster design and shadow play performance managed to captivate the hearts of the judges and audiences. They eventually won first place in the Sabah state level and third place in the national level.
“To us, the thing that made us most happy is neither the medals nor the prizes. It’s the fact that Ms. Ling Fong never once had doubt in us. She was always confident and believed in us.”
- Jesnih Wilna Sani
Inspiring Story of Mrs. Suzuna Binti Baharuldin
The selflessness, kindness, and perseverance – positive traits of special needs educators are also embraced by Mrs. Suzuna, a Program Pendidikan Khas Integrasi (PPKI) teacher at SK Taman Tun Dr Ismail 2. Mrs. Suzuna has been a teacher at the school for more than a decade, guiding and nurturing students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.
As someone who is very fond of children, this motivated Mrs. Suzuna to pursue her career as a teacher for students with special needs. Mrs. Suzuna is a firm believer that by guiding children with special educational needs, it enables us to hone our special abilities in ensuring a brighter future for students with special needs.
With her educational approach of kindness and compassion, Mrs. Suzuna managed to change the lives of many children with learning disabilities. One of them is Muhammad Danial bin Adam, who was diagnosed with dyslexia and was transferred to SK Taman Tun Dr Ismail 2 a few years ago, as the school had the facilities needed and ran programmes for students with special needs.
Danial recalled how uncomfortable he felt in a new environment during his first day at a new school. He had no friends and he felt small. However, he remembered how he was warmly welcomed by Mrs. Suzuna, who helped him get settled in with the rest of his classmates in a short period of time.
In his eyes, Mrs. Suzuna is the reason he found his love for mathematics and started excelling in the subject. In fact, Mrs. Suzuna was the one that introduced him to numbers. Due to Mrs. Suzuna’s patience in teaching, while also gently guiding her students to understand concepts and eventually lead them to find the right answers, Danial now cites mathematics as one of his favourite subjects and finds learning a joyful process.
“Teacher Su believes in me, even when I doubt myself. She told me that I can read, I can count, and (that) I can excel in every single task that I’m doing.”
- Muhammad Danial bin Adam
Ms. Ling Fong and Mrs. Suzuna are a reflection of consistent practices in perseverance, patience, and belief in the younger generation, regardless of abilities, talent, and whether someone is born on a specific spectrum. It is about giving every single child a chance to shine and succeed in his/her own right and believing in the human spirit.
All of us are dealt with our own set of cards in this lifetime, and sometimes, just sometimes, it takes just one person to believe in us and make us realise our potential.
Special education teachers deserve all the recognition in the world, as they are the silent heroes who are constantly giving encouragement to students who find it difficult to believe in themselves in the first place.
Every day, these teachers do not view these students as students with disabilities, but instead, they see them in their own light – students with special abilities.
In conjunction with National Teachers Day, let us appreciate these silent heroes who are the source of motivation for students with special needs.
To read the inspirational stories of teachers nominated for this year’s Anugerah Guru Inspirasi McDonald’s, head over to https://www.anugerahguruinspirasimcd.com/en/view_nominate. Winners of this year’s award will be announced in mid-May, in conjunction with National Teachers Day.