Teacher’s Day Special: Going beyond the call

Teacher’s Day Special: Helping kids with special needs to shine

Primary 6 pupil Emmanuel Soh, who has Asperger's Syndrome, struggled with English until he joined an English foundation class led by Mrs Wang-Lim Ai Lian (left). Her constant care and guidance helped him develop an interest in the subject. With them
Primary 6 pupil Emmanuel Soh, who has Asperger's Syndrome, struggled with English until he joined an English foundation class led by Mrs Wang-Lim Ai Lian (left). Her constant care and guidance helped him develop an interest in the subject. With them is Emmanuel's father, Mr Daniel Soh.ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

Teacher of 22 years has devoted career to helping pupils overcome their limitations

When Primary 3 pupil Eva Ng shyly offered a paper rose to Mrs Wang-Lim Ai Lian during recess last Wednesday, the girl's eyes were full of admiration.

"Mrs Wang, this is for you," she chirped. The nine-year-old is just one of the many pupils with learning difficulties whom Mrs Wang, 43, reaches out to on a daily basis at Holy Innocents' Primary School.

The teacher of 22 years specialises in teaching pupils who make slower progress or have special needs, and has devoted her career to connecting with these children.

Inspired by her Secondary 4 teacher's guidance and care, Mrs Wang became a teacher at 21, started work at Holy Innocents' and has continued to teach there.

EMPOWER MORE TEACHERS

I want more teachers to be on board with it and to embrace it ... so that every teacher can be empowered to make a difference.

MRS WANG-LIM AI LIAN, on having a more inclusive education system .

The few interactions she had with special needs pupils revealed a bright spark in them that Mrs Wang believed could "be polished to shine brighter". She decided to be trained in how to educate them.

"We see more and more special needs kids in mainstream schools, and we need to help them find their success," said Mrs Wang, who is head of department for character and citizenship education. "We need to let them know that they can overcome their limitations."

Mrs Wang does exactly this in the case of Emmanuel Soh, a Primary 6 pupil with autism in the form of Asperger's Syndrome. The polite and well-spoken 12-year-old has been failing his English examinations since Primary 1.

His father Daniel Soh, 48, said that being in a non-foundation English class put a damper on his son's self-esteem. "He struggled and became reluctant to do his homework because it was failure after failure," said Mr Soh, who is self-employed.

In Primary 6 this year, Emmanuel joined Mrs Wang's English foundation class for pupils with special needs. While he initially felt inhibited in a new class, constant care and guidance from her gave him confidence. Class activities customised by Mrs Wang for special needs pupils such as word games and quizzes soon led Emmanuel to develop an interest in the subject and he worked hard and eventually passed the subject. He now enjoys the quizzes and his favourite word game in class is 'Hangman'.

"Previously we had to verbally encourage him to do his homework, but now I only need to verbally encourage him to come out to eat dinner," his father joked.

Getting special needs children to love learning while reaching out to their parents is challenging, but Mrs Wang says it is all worthwhile. "When I see these kids experience success, the joy on their faces is my greatest satisfaction."

She hopes for an education system that is more inclusive. "I want more teachers to be on board with it and to embrace it ... so that every teacher can be empowered to make a difference."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2016, with the headline 'Helping kids with special needs to shine'. Print Edition | Subscribe