Teaching pupils with special needs gives Ms Chui a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment.
When Ms Chui Kit May migrated to Singapore from Hong Kong 15 years ago, it not only marked a change in geographical location but also a change in her teaching trajectory. And what a fortuitous change it was.
"Joining the special education field has rekindled my love for teaching," avows Ms Chui, now a teacher at Chaoyang School and recipient of the MOE-NCSS Special Education (SPED) Award in 2008. "It gave me a sense of fulfilment I did not experience when I was teaching in the mainstream in Hong Kong."
Before she came to Singapore, Ms Chui had been a primary school teacher. "In the last two or three years of teaching in a mainstream school in Hong Kong, I began questioning the work I did," she recalls. "I felt I was just training students for the exams."
In Singapore, she started off by joining the STEP Programme in Rainbow Centre. "After joining the special education programme, I felt a renewed sense of purpose and remembered why I had wanted to be a teacher in the first place!"
Ms Chui initiated the ASD integration programme in Chaoyang.
Certain that this was the right path for her, she decided to get proper training and pursued a Bachelor of Philosophy in Special Educational Needs at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. In 1999, she returned to Singapore and joined Jervois School, which was later merged with Chaoyang School.
Today, Ms Chui is the programme coordinator of the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) unit at Chaoyang School, and actively involved in reviewing, developing and implementing the ASD curriculum. She also initiated the ASD integration programme, which helps integrate pupils from the ASD programme into the Intellectual Disability classes.
Ms Chui believes that to help the pupils, not only is it crucial for her to build relationships with them, but getting to know their parents and partnering them in the pupils' development is equally important. She started an ASD parent support group for parents to get to know one another, find mutual support and get a better understanding of their children's needs. During the school holidays, Ms Chui organises outings for the support group and invites the parents to bring along their children.
A life, not a file
Reflecting on the personal lessons she has experienced during her many years in special education, she notes, "Sometimes, people don't see a child with special needs as an individual with a life and treats the child as a case file of problems or issues to be resolved.
Ms Chui believes building strong relationships with her pupils and their parents will go a long way towards the pupils' development.
"So I often remind myself that every pupil is a life that I'm handling; it's not a file I can chuck aside. This is also why I make it a point to build relationships with the pupils and the parents," explains Ms Chui. Guided by this principle, she views each pupil as unique and given that there is no one single method that works on all pupils, she takes time to discover the best way to help each one of them.
Take for example a boy who used to scream almost every day in class. He was a great fan of Thomas the Tank Engine and one day, a teacher assistant realised that in one of the books, when Thomas got stuck, he would scream. She related this discovery to Ms Chui and both wondered if the pupil screamed because he was trying to imitate Thomas.
So as part of the intervention, every time he screamed, the teacher assistant would give him a gentle push on the back to help him get 'unstuck' and remind him to ask for help. "Within a relatively short time, his behaviour improved. He would even come to me to ask for help," says the delighted Ms Chui.
Summing up what she finds most satisfying as a SPED teacher, Ms Chui replies, "Knowing that what I teach will improve the quality of life of the pupils and even their family gives me the greatest satisfaction!"