Good morning faculty members of the University of South Wales and the DAS Academy, honoured guests, colleagues and fellow graduates.
I would first like to thank USW and DAS for extending this opportunity for me to share a few thoughts on my journey toward the completion of my master’s degree. It is an honour to represent my graduate class today.
Like most of our students with dyslexia, I am a visual learner, so I will share some pictures as I speak.
I joined the DAS in 2015; my batch was the first batch where all new educational therapists would go on to take the Post Graduate Certificate (PGC) after we completed our initial training. We had to complete two modules as part of the PGC from the University of South Wales. I enrolled with USW in January 2017 and completed the first two modules by September 2018. However, I had already thought of doing the whole Masters’s program instead of just exiting with a PGC, considering we had already completed two modules, so what’s a few more?
As you can see in the picture on the left my batchmate Hamada and I was the only ones not in the USW graduation attire as we had decided to go on to complete the whole Masters’s program. Both of us have since completed our long and arduous MASEN journey together this year, it took us almost five years to complete it. One of my colleagues was teasing me; saying that both Hamada and I must hold the record for taking the longest time to complete our masters. But better late than never right?
Not many of my colleagues know that my DAS journey started way back in 2007. I was from the third batch of Special Educational Needs Officers or previously called Allied Educators. The picture on the top right – those were my batchmates. SEN Officers (or SNOs as they were known back then) were introduced into mainstream schools in 2005 to support students with varying SEN, such as mild to moderate dyslexia or high-functioning autism. As a trainee SNO, we were taught the fundamentals of Special Education Needs at NIE. I expanded my knowledge of diverse learners and some teaching pedagogies and theories there. Subsequently, I attended training at the DAS, which greatly impacted me.
I truly enjoyed the learning session provided by the trainers. We were taught the Orton Gillingham approach’s principles, and the trainers abided by them. Our lessons were multi-sensorial, diagnostic and prescriptive, systematic, sequential and cumulative. The trainers also gave us direct and explicit instructions, they were flexible and emotionally sound too! They certainly walked the talk. The trainers truly inspired me.
The picture on the right- That’s me and my then trainers at the DAS. They really helped me deepen my understanding of dyslexia and I learn many practical ways to teach learners with dyslexia; I left the training hoping that the lessons that I would be conducting in the future with my students would be as stimulating, engaging and enjoyable as the training. The training at NIE and DAS taught me that every student could learn. However, some special ones may require additional support, different learning experiences, and various tools to help them learn and develop.
I spent the next eight years in a mainstream school as an SEN officer. During this time, I worked with numerous students with varying SEN. Each and every student that I came across deepened my belief that every student can learn. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and some develop at their own pace. Unfortunately, sometimes the curriculum and academic demands in schools do not provide sufficient opportunities for our struggling learners to learn at a suitable pace. However, we constantly held on to the reminder from our NIE and DAS lecturers that we should be the advocates for the SEN students in our schools.
Working in a school also provided me with the opportunity to continue studying. I did a degree in English with Psychology from the Singapore University of Social Sciences. However, as years went by, and even though I was given different roles in school, I felt that my specialisation in helping learners with dyslexia was not utilised as much. Hence, a year after graduation, I decided to join the DAS, the organisation that introduced the world of dyslexia to me.
As I reflect back, I realise I had completed certain academic milestones at my own pace too. I finished my degree later than my peers, and in the pursuit of my master’s degree, I took a long time too. But at the end of the day, I think it is about the importance of completing whatever you set your mind on. The journey was not easy; the last two years were especially challenging for everyone. There were times when I texted Hamada and asked her why are we doing this. Isn’t it easy to just quit? But I was still determined to complete this, in for a penny, in for a pound. Eventually, I ended up writing a whole paper on the experiences of educational therapists teaching in an online setting during the challenging time of the Covid-19 pandemic.
I could not have completed this journey without my ever-supportive and patient supervisor, Dr June Siew. In all the 15 years I knew June I have never seen her lose her cool. She is someone I look up to and an inspiration to many. I want to thank my ex-Parkway Parade colleague, Mariam, for her consultation and input. June and Mariam have been in my shoes before; hence they could empathise with my plight to complete the research in the midst of lesson planning, QAAs, CBAs, RFEs and the new kid on the block SMMU. To all my colleagues who participated in my research, you know who you are, my dear colleagues at Parkway Parade Learning Centre, a special mention to Rina and Samunn who spent their time helping me complete my paper. It is truly an honour and privilege to work with fantastic educators like all of you, thank you again. To the SSAs at Rex House Learning Centre, thank you for all the help you rendered me whenever I was faced with administrative matters, especially thank you for not issuing me a fine whenever I returned the library books late!
To my parents, I love you both and I’m blessed to be your daughter.
Last but not least, to all the graduands today, congratulations, we made it till the end!!