'... in action, how like an angel'
Special teachers seem marginalised. Working with children, where progress is extremely slow or not at all, these teachers need special thanks from society for the great service they are rendering. Today, on Teacher's Day, PRIYADARSHINI SHARMA pays them a tribute
"IF YOU can read this, thank a teacher,'' goes a common saying, but not everyone of us can do so. Some of us cannot read, some cannot speak and some cannot understand. We are differently abled due to impairments of our organs and hence can never thank the teacher who works to empower us and give us the self-esteem, which is battered due to the disability. Here steps in the `Special Teacher,' who works with mentally challenged or autistic children, primarily teaching them life skills and basic literacy.
The role of a teacher to shape society at large is indisputable. While we all recognise the nobility of the profession, we seldom spare a thought for the special teachers who tutor our differently abled children. They hardly get the due they deserve, perhaps because this is an area, with which we are uncomfortable, with as people at large.
Sister Lissy, Principal of `Snehanilayam,' feels, "The special children even today are a marginalised lot in society and so are their teachers. Focus is on the special children and never on the people who impart to them basic skills and specialised vocational training. Without these teachers, the children would be helpless".
Not everyone can be a teacher in this field. It requires a different kind of mettle. For our children afflicted with disabilities, the teacher is God. The child is dependant on him so much that a change in teacher disturbs the child to a very great extent. Such is the teacher child relation that these teachers become really special in their own way.
Unlike regular teachers, these professionals help in making a family come to terms with the trauma. They become counsellors for the family. "The special teacher has to constantly prop up the family, guide, encourage and make them come to terms with the situation. The teaching of a special child is family-centric," affirms Sister Lissy.
Says, Mr. P.T.Philip, who works at Tata Spices and has a mentally challenged son, "Teachers have supported us in every way. They have made my son, Divine, self reliant and very aware, so much so that he turns off extra lights reminding us of the hike in power tariff! The teachers mean a lot to us and I say this from my heart." Such is the veneration parents have for these teachers. Mr. Vijaykumar an official at MPEDA, and whose son Srikanth is differently abled says, "The teachers taught him apart from basic skills, also to say `sorry'. Parents too need the help of these teachers constantly."
Ms Mariamma, who is from Kanjirapally and has been at `Snehanilayam' for the past 25 years, says, "I joined initially as the institute was formerly run by Irish nuns and they needed a Malayali to help them with the children. I got completely involved with them and there has been no looking back since. The children and their parents make me feel very special. The bond we form together leaves me with little desire for other things."
Another devoted Irish nun, Sister Catherine, who has been in this line for the last 34 years expresses herself beautifully when she says, "We receive more from the children than what we give. It is a pity that people don't understand them. Yes, a special teacher is different because for us, exams, results, distinctions do not matter."
Most of the city teachers reiterated that the prime quality of a special teacher is patience, loads and loads of it. Ms Anitha Paul of KVM Hospital, Cherthala, says, "We never lose heart, and get immense satisfaction when there is a little improvement in a child. That is success for us."
Elisabeth Shirley Johnson, who joined the profession when she was just a teenager, says, "I made a very conscious decision. Though, I took a week to decide, I was sure that this is my line. I am very happy about my decision. My prime motive today as a special teacher is to create public awareness about the abilities of a special child." Shirley teaches the children, besides basic skills, cooking, tailoring and phenyl making.
Ms Gopa Joseph, Principal Raksha School, left a glamorous job with Air-India to be in this line.
"I was drawn towards it and realised that this is where my forte lies. Travelling abroad, I used to see mentally and physically handicapped children everywhere like the rest of us, in shopping malls, at McDonalds, at music concerts, but in India I saw they were a segregated lot. After my return I underwent teachers training and joined the field.
"When I showed an inclination to work in this area, the principal of `House of Charity', a special school in Mumbai, dissuaded me from entering it as she felt I had romanticised the whole thing. She explained to me the ground realities, the slow and almost negligible improvement my wards would show but I was determined to work."
According to Ms Joseph, "You cannot look at this, as a salaried job, for then, this field is doomed. A teacher should be convinced that each child is capable of achieving his potential. It may only be crawling after years of training... . The teacher must make that possible".
Yes, remuneration is low but the children are mainly from lower income groups. They are there in the first place because of poor prenatal care and malnutrition of mothers. This income group can hardly afford any fancy fee. Government aid and community help will go a long way in helping the children, teachers and the families."
Mr. K. C. Prabhakaran, who teaches sport to the special children for the last 15 years says, " I am preparing a team for a soccer tournament for retarded children to be held in the last week of September. Sport helps them come to terms with their disabilities. It increases their communication skills, and helps in their psychological development. . I have developed special games for them."
Ms. Jayashree Shankar, an authority in this field, explains, "Disability stems up from impairment of an organ which may or may not be repairable. Where the special teacher, you and I, play a role is to prevent the disability from becoming a handicap. The teacher must restructure environment to provide them opportunity to interact with the greater social milieu. The motto today is inclusion and normalcy and not segregation."
She further categorises that, besides patience and perseverance, the special teacher has to be highly creative. They must have infinite sense of humour and treat the children like normal beings, share a joke, narrate fairy stories, take them for picnics, scold them for wrong. "We must have the same set standards for behaviour, because they get isolated on those grounds."
Hence on Teachers' Day, it is only right that as part of a responsible society, one recognises and commends the great service this class of teachers are doing to the community. The type of people that constitute a society reflects its health, and in Kochi, we have a strong and dedicated teaching force helping our special children in very special ways. Today is the day when we stand up and give these teachers a standing ovation.
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