Teaching Special Children

On Teacher’s Day, we look at Special Education, an inviting career choice for those keen on making a difference.

Collated by Aparna V. Singh

With a rising awareness of Disability, at least in urban India, teachers keen on working with innovative teaching methodologies have great opportunity in this field.

On the occasion of Teacher’s Day, we asked a number of teachers who work with children with special needs, especially those with developmental disabilities, to talk about their work. What drives them? What is a teaching as a career like? How do they deal with the challenges their work throws at them? Read on to find out! 

An opportunity to touch lives

Dilnavaz Bamboat, currently a Preschool Program Manager at U.S-based Abilities United and previously a Consultant at the Ummeed Child Development Centre, reflects on her “choice” to work in the field of special education.

When I first met S as his preschool Vice Principal, he was 3, cradled in his nurse’s arms and fed through a teaspoon. Just before he moved on to Big School, he hurtled toward me on his bow legs, hugged me in a vice-like grip and asked me to accompany him to the Big Unknown. Even as my heart melted about my feet, I felt a sense of victory like no other, elation at having beaten the odds and relief that he was going to be okay.

Not every child’s story has a cinematic ending. Working with challenged children is often exhausting and the rewards are delayed. As Manager of an inclusive preschool (where half our students are typically developing and the other half have special needs), each day is a mixed bag of small joys and the acknowledgment of further uphill terrain. There are days when I fantasize about corporate desk jobs and smart business attire, typically after I’ve heard “poopy” and “ouwie” for the 57th time, but I know even as I’m dreaming, how hard it would be to replicate the immense fulfilment that comes with working with a special needs population.

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I am still not sure whether I chose this field or it chose me, but I am grateful for the outcome and even more so for the opportunity to touch lives.

What is “Special “about a Special Educator?  

Anuradha Shyam, currently a freelance remedial tutor and previously with the Guidance and Counselling Department at the Vagdevi Vilas Institutions tells us.

Many years ago, I was asked by a young student of mine, “What is special about a special educator?” 5 years later I am still discovering the answer to the question.

Ten years into this field, I still feel that excitement when I walk into a classroom or have a one to one interaction. That is the basic qualification to enter this field – you have to love it!

It is a field where you have to change your definition of success. The first time your student blinks in response to a question might be your halleluiah moment. Today, special educators can work in diverse environments like hospitals, mainstream schools and learning centres and there is a lot of potential for those interested in marrying technology with special education. Like any field, it is important to keep abreast of the latest developments, attend conferences and network with the community of professionals.

Often I am asked if the work is emotionally draining. It can be but it is important to maintain a certain distance and perspective. It is also important to find ways to creatively “de-stress” and find avenues to channelize one’s energies.

Ultimately, the sense of achievement of touching someone in a special way that they leave you with hope because you have empowered them is something that you need to experience yourself.

Be realistic, be grounded

Dr. Radhike Khanna, Vice-Principal, Director of Curriculum, SPJ Sadhana School, talks about what it takes to work successfully in the field of special education.

Everyone says you have to be passionate to be a special educator, but I feel that you have to be very realistic and grounded as well. While enjoyable, there are multiple challenges and you have to learn to deal with your emotions. You will have lots of disappointments and the rewards are often not intangible. A teacher in this field has to go beyond her passion.

It doesn’t have as many monetary benefits, but it has multiple other benefits – the unconditional love you get from kids, the warmth from parents and extended families – in a ‘normal’ situation, you rarely get that connect. Here you work as a team and parents become your partners.

Often, in a country like India where awareness of disability is low, teachers also become catalysts to help parents deal with the child and with their own acceptance of the disability. You are a part of helping the larger society to see the potential in this child. It also pushes you to go beyond the textbook and be innovative and find ways to help this child learn.

The sheer joy of working with special children

Pushpa Moorjani, Trustee and Fund Raiser of the Swami Brahmanand Pratishthan Center for mentally challenged generously collected inputs from the many different teachers at the center, on working with special children.

You experience the purest form of love when working with special children. They are the most innocent beings I have come across in my life. I have had the opportunity of learning the concept ‘Love without any expectation’ while teaching them. In the early years, I was scared to teach children with severe behavior problems but experience over the years has helped me overcome the initial fear and apprehensions. More than handling the behavior problems of the children, helping their parents accept their child’s handicap and making them believe in themselves and in their child takes the utmost effort. The most challenging part is finding job placements for our well-trained students. – Sukanya Venkatraman, Principal.

My greatest joy is when they bring home the certificate of appreciation. I love working with special children and when I reach home at the end of the day, I am refreshed and active. – Madhuben Shah, Drawing Teacher.

I like to see the joy on their face on completing a certain article and this gives me great joy. My biggest challenge is in working with an aggressive child. There was one particular child, Rohini, who was so aggressive when she came to school, she would throw temper tantrums and fling things, but with a little understanding and love, we have been able to discipline the girl. – Sunit Marwah, In Charge of the vocational unit.

Now-a-days there is a wealth of information on the Internet and it has become easy to plan a proper lesson program, but in the early days, there were no proper reference books and I had to adopt trial and error methods to understand what works and what doesn’t. My biggest challenge is when the children are not in the mood of doing a particular activity; sometimes I am not sure if the child is hearing and understanding me at all. But my greatest joy is when they are able to follow my instructions and produce good results. – Anita, Computer Teacher.

Happy Teacher’s Day to every teacher who has touched the life of a special child and made a difference to entire families!


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