How did you end up in Beijing?
I’m from Singapore, originally. My sister came over to Beijing to study in a language center and saw an article in a magazine about Dolores [van Dongen, founder of Sunshine Learning Center]. I was studying in Australia at that time, and my sister said: “Sis, this is right up your alley, you should come over.” So I started e-mailing Dolores and it just felt right for the school, and for me, to come over.
What was it that made you decide to be a special needs teacher?
I didn’t really decide on it. I was studying psychology at university and I volunteered at a special school in Singapore. I thought I would just do it for a couple of months before I got my “real” job, but it turned out I loved it.
What do you think is the perception of special needs children in China?
I might not be very accurate when it comes to the Chinese population, because I don’t get a chance to interact with them very much. [My students and I] can’t really get on a bus, or on public transport, and get immersed in society. The only places we really hang out are the local shops. A lot of the locals don’t even notice the kids are special, they’re all like: “Wow, here are some foreigners!” One thing I’ve noticed is that in the Chinese shops, the local people are quite amazed at the way we speak to our kids. We talk to them nicely, and I think it’s really a change for them to see us talking to the kids in a positive way.
What do you think are the most challenging aspects of teaching special needs children?
There are many different sorts of special needs. If you are talking about people with learning disabilities, the challenges are hitting the curriculum targets that they have been set. To keep the school functioning and to get accreditation you need to reach certain marks. But I don’t really think of it as challenging. I just enjoy every moment, so it doesn’t seem difficult to me at all.
How do you balance giving each child as much time as possible, and wanting to help as many of the kids as you can?
One-on-one gives you the best results in terms of academics and a lot of kids will really benefit from this time. But, in terms of social interaction, they need to have that social environment where they interact with each other, because if they learn one-on-one it’s hard for them to transfer the skills to the real world.
What is the best thing about your job?
The kids. They are really loving people. They always use positive words, like “I love you.” Or, “I miss you,” if you go away on a trip. Every day I get hugs and it’s great. They are such happy people.
Do you have any hopes for changes in special needs education in China?
Special needs in China is a very difficult subject. There aren’t really services that can help people with special needs function within society. The international schools aren’t too keen to support either. They do have learning support teams, but they only support very mildly handicapped children. My desire is to see my kids be mainstream at some point, and in some way. I’d like international schools to be more open about having special needs children in their community. Right now, I’m having a problem finding schools that are willing to align themselves with us, like making programs that would help our kids integrate themselves better into our community. As far as our kids are concerned, the international community is really the closest thing they have to their own community.