Lessons on teaching with a difference
After studying psychology at university, Laura Lee was drawn to the special needs profession after working with autistic children.
'I was looking to gain some experience to continue my psychology studies and did a course in applied behaviour analysis, which is useful for working with people with autism,' says Lee, who studied at the University of Melbourne.
'I enjoyed the hands-on experience of working with autistic people and decided to pursue a career in special needs education,' adds Lee, who is now a special educational needs (SEN) teacher with the Child Development Centre (CDC).
Describing her chosen career as a 'personality fit', Lee says she feels comfortable dealing with behaviour that some people might have difficulty accepting.
'I believe in the work I do and having people with special needs as part of my life,' says Lee, who holds a postgraduate diploma in education, with a major in special needs.
She stresses that while empathy is an integral part of the job, over-sensitive emotions can get in the way of providing the assistance that students require.
Lee advises those interested in working with students with severe learning disabilities to gain hands-on experience through volunteer work. 'I don't think the theories in the classroom really translate to the workplace until you experience first-hand what working with students with complex learning difficulties requires,' she explains.
'The work is not always rosy. People need the personality to face challenges and the right mentality to relate to different behaviour,' adds Lee, who would like to see more interaction between the public and those with special needs.
In addition, Lee notes that teachers who work with autistic children and those with complex learning difficulties also need to liaise closely with parents. 'Part of the job involves working with parents to devise strategies that ensure continuity. Maintaining a stable environment, based around this notion of continuity, is very important for children with special needs,' says Lee, who teaches three to six-year olds.
Like many professionals who work with learning-challenged students, Lee says having a sense of humour and creating a fun environment is essential. 'You have to realise there are limitations for some students in what they can achieve, so achieving excellence in academic results is not a guarantee,' she says.
Lee adds that support from colleagues and management is essential. 'We are lucky at the CDC because we are supported with resources, including people to take care of the paperwork, leaving teachers with more time for their students,' she says.
According to Pamela Kwok, a SEN homeroom teacher at the Korean International School, her work continually enhances her problem-solving and multitasking skills, as there are a huge variety of challenges in the classroom that need to be attended to.
'As a believer of whole-child development and the idea that every child has a right to be educated, being a special needs teacher brings me a great sense of satisfaction,' she says, adding that having a passion for special needs work is far more important than having a long list of degrees and certificates.