O-Level results: Seeing students do well is a proud, satisfying moment for Pathlight teachers
SINGAPORE: It was a day of anxiety and excitement not just for the students all over Singapore who received their O-Level results on Friday (Jan 12), but also for the teachers who guided them. And it was an extra special day for two special education teachers, who saw all their O-Level students do well enough to further their studies in junior colleges, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education.
Fiona Loh and Low Teck Yang teach at Pathlight School, the first special education school in Singapore for students with autism that offers the mainstream curriculum. Of the 66 graduating secondary school students in 2017, 14 sat the O-Level exams, and received their results on Friday.
The two teachers told Channel NewsAsia about the challenges they faced guiding students with autism through the mainstream curriculum, the roller-coaster ride of emotions they endured, and ultimately, the pride and satisfaction at seeing their students move on to the next phase of their lives.
STUDENTS ON PAR, IF NOT BETTER THAN SOME OF MAINSTREAM PEERS: FIONA LOH, MATHS TEACHER
It was the desire to contribute to society and practice some new-found skills that led Fiona, a mathematics teacher with 15 years’ teaching experience, to Pathlight almost a year ago.
“I was in a very good school teaching privileged students who were very smart, and then I joined a private tuition centre, also with very good students,” she said. “But I wanted to do more.”
“I had also taken some courses related to special needs when I was in the mainstream school, so I thought, why not use the skills I learnt and practice them?”
Suddenly faced with teaching students with autism the O-Level mathematics curriculum, Fiona acknowledged that it was “a big jump” for her, and found herself not just teaching, but learning as well.
“At first, I thought I would need to really slow down, and talk very slowly for all my lessons, but the students are very smart,” she said. “They are able to understand what I am teaching, and can grasp very complicated and abstract concepts.
“I would say they are on par, if not better than some of my mainstream students.”
The main challenge, she said, was learning how to work with the students individually, and helping them understand concepts that do not come naturally to them. For example, she explained that a new batch of questions in the O-Level mathematics exam requires students to apply their learning to real life situations, which may be challenging for students with autism.
“They’re very rigid, and open-ended questions could be a bit of a problem for them,” she said. “They can’t accept alternative solutions as well.”
“So we need to find questions they can relate to, so they are interested to learn, and they can understand that there is no fixed solution to solve certain problems.”
She also recalled one student who did not want speak to anyone, and in fact refused to speak to her for months.
“If I tried to get him to answer a question, he would give me a death stare,” she said. “I was quite sad, because it was like talking to myself, and I had to be very patient with him.”
“Slowly, I gave him space, and he would start asking me questions. And then I saw that I was probably the first person he’s talked to in that day.”
That, she said, gave her satisfaction. And it is moments like these, along with the day-to-day instances of seeing a student’s face light up with understanding, which motivate her to give her best to every student.
She is now seeing her first batch of O-Level students graduate. But even as she admitted to being “a bit worried” about the outcome, she was worried not for herself, but her students.
“One or two of them have set very high expectations for themselves, and if they don’t get the results they want, they may feel disappointed,” she said. “But we can’t control the bell curve. What we can control is how we feel, how we react and what we say to the students to encourage them.”
“I’m happy for the students,” she added. “They did well and I hope they can get to a course of their choice.”