An abbreviated version of this essay was published in the Singapore School for the Deaf’s 40th anniversary magazine in 2003. After more than half a century, the school has, sadly, run its course. But it lives on in the memories of its alumni and former staff, of whom I am one (at four years and change, it was the longest work stint I have had). And I’ll be at the closing ceremony to bid SSD a final farewell.
<< What my students taught me >>
As any teacher will tell you, the transfer of knowledge within the classroom isn’t always a one-way route. We learn as much from our kids as they, hopefully, learn from us. And in some ways, the learning curve is steeper for me, a novice teacher, than for my charges who are veterans at the art of being, well, students.
My time with Singapore School for the Deaf barely covers a year. Yet it has been some of the most enriching and enjoyable times I have ever experienced. And oh, the things my kids have enlightened me on! Among other intriguing facts, I learnt that America is located on the moon, that Singapore became independent in either 1940, 1987 or 1998, that a change of state actually means a moving bicycle changes into a horse, and that it is possible to fully comprehend the meaning of ‘sarcasm’ without having ever come across the word itself.
I also learnt that the little matter of a student wanting to give me a cornflake cookie she baked herself can be unexpectedly, absurdly touching, that a child’s sentences can make much more sense than a published article written by an adult, and that, sometimes, we grown-ups are indeed the misguided ones who have all the wrong answers to life’s questions.
I enjoy my class very much; they are an animated, responsive bunch and very fun to be with. (Well, when they are in the mood.) My kids are what makes teaching worthwhile, and what gets me going in the morning. Leaving home at 5.45am every weekday in order to reach school on time is otherwise an unjustifiable torture. Of course they aren’t perfect, neither are they angels. They can get rowdy, noisy–very noisy, and they don’t realise it no matter how often you tell them–as well as naughty, rough, possessing incredibly short attention spans, being disruptive during lessons and all those other qualities which make teachers throw their hands in despair. Typical students then.
Anyone who has spent time with them will realise that these abled kids are definitely not disabled, as mainstream society is so fond of labeling them. What they don’t need is charity or patronising pity from others; what they need is others’ understanding of their ‘disability’, more acceptance and less unfounded skepticism of their abilities, and a change in the thinking that providing a quality education for a child must be justified by the future return in dollars and cents. And what they crucially need is a level playing field, equal rights, equal opportunities and equal status in the eyes of the powers-that-be. I feel privileged to have the chance to work with a group of people who care about people–my colleagues and the volunteers with SSD.
And I wish for all of us–the grown-ups, the adults from every quarter in the Deaf community and beyond–to continue to do our best for the students and to fight for their rights.
They deserve nothing less.