This article is an opinion piece by Teacher Jacklyn.
“Why special needs?”, “Isn’t it very tough?”, “You must be very patient!”, “Do you have a calling for this?”, “Wow, you are so noble to choose a job like this!”.
These are just some of the common reactions I get when I tell people I am a special education teacher in Singapore. While some of these may be actual reasons why some of my fellow colleagues around the world enter the field of special needs, I do not exactly identify myself as a patient person, nor do I have a calling that working with people with special needs is my life’s purpose.
In fact, I have many qualities that do not fit the stereotype of a special education teacher – I am not exceptionally hardworking, my results in school were average, I like to be a fashionista, and much more.
So why did I still choose to be a special education teacher?
1. Working with people with special needs reminds me of, and helps me keep my roots
The best part of working with people with special needs is these people are always true to themselves. They are a group of people who are so real that being with them feels almost therapeutic for me as a neurotypical person. As I grew older, there were times I chased the wind and forgot the person I am. Working with my students with special needs reminded me of my childhood, my dreams, aspirations, and my beginnings. My inner compass gets stronger the more I interact with them because they live in the moment, in the here and now, and I learn to do the same too. From them, I learned to be true to myself, to live up to my dreams, and to be the best version of myself. Will I learn this somewhere else? Perhaps. But definitely not in the same way.
2. I learn something new every day as a special education teacher
“If you’ve met one individual with autism, you’ve met one individual with autism.” – Stephen Shore
I work with students with autism and up to this day, I remain fascinated. Every single day, I get to learn something new about my students, and about autism. Each student is unique in his or her own way, and I get to learn new things about autism with every individual I meet.
The beautiful thing about being a special needs educator is that your work involves interacting with human beings, instead of looking at excel files and presentation slides. With time and different life experiences, my students change in their habits, personalities, behaviours, thinking, and emotions. The beautiful thing is, this change is never linear. Imagine the sparks we can create when interacting with different students with autism at different stages of their lives, and the millions of autism surprises that may come our way; I will never be bored!
3. You see the world differently (and better)
In my years as a special needs educator, I developed a heightened awareness of my own life in this physical world. I learned to be more aware of physical sensorial experiences, to not take for granted how we can learn skills implicitly on our own, as well as to count our blessings and see beauty in every situation.
If I were not a special needs educator, I would never have known that a simple thing like sensorial integration and keeping our five senses in a balanced state is what keeps us regulated, and how the dysregulation of one sense can have a greater impact on us than we can ever imagine. I would also not have known that there are so many steps that goes into an instinctive skill of “listening to someone talk”. I learn to identify and see small successes along the way, giving them more credit and celebrating them to the fullest because we have more blessings than we know.
So, why am I still a special needs educator? I will ask, why not?