Read our Valedictorian speeches here
Good morning one and all, Today is the day. Today is the day we woke up and tried to wash down a mixture of excitement and nervousness with a nice strong cup of coffee. After all, coffee is supposed to make everything better.
Today is the day we rushed around the house, frantically trying to find that missing sock, desperately trying to stab that stubborn contact lens into our eye, and hurriedly rushing to find that pristine white shirt we bought for graduation day. Today is the day we got into the car, only to realise that we were caught in a MASSIVE JAM. The day of all days that the Grab driver took a wrong turn.
Today is the day we are all finally here. Fellow graduates, today is the day we have reached a milestone in our journeys of traversing the expanse of knowledge in special educational needs. Perhaps the process was as challenging or frustrating as getting here this morning, but here we are, donning our graduation gowns. Our efforts are rewarded by the impact we can make in society, and of course, the delicious food that comes at the reception.
My own story began when my primary school teacher asked us the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Obviously, I could not tell her my secret ambition of being a princess like Cinderella or Snow White. I reluctantly wrote ‘Teacher’. “How boring”, I thought. Little did I know, that many years later, I would be sitting in a course learning how to be ‘emotionally sound’ in my teaching and reciting the famous line, “Sound as you write”. Needless to say, we all have our individual reasons for enrolling in the courses from which we are graduating today. But there is a special trait that unites all of us who have chosen to walk down this similar path. We all share the desire to believe in every child’s potential, no matter how hidden it might seem. Like a gardener tending to a branch, we gently but firmly call out the potential of every student, encouraging them, declaring our belief in them, until slowly but surely, we see tiny leaves and buds covering the entire branch. We knew it was there all along. The courses we took gave us the tools needed to better uncover each child’s potential. For the Specialist Diploma in SpLD, we learnt to question theories and stay in tune with current research. We generated creative ways to help children who struggle with mathematical concepts and explored ideas to help students with various components of literacy. We came to learn about expressive and receptive language, whilst planning SMART goals for our pupils. Of course, we cannot forget the rigorous training of using the ELA approach to build the foundations of phonics. Finally, there was a field practicum. 10 lessons in 10 weeks, of pulling the threads together from the various modules learnt, to put theory into practice. All the modules from our distinctive courses gave us important tools that allow us to work on those branches, slowly but surely coaxing out the potential of each child. Of course, this is hard work and tiring at times. That’s why others come alongside to journey with us. There are our parents, who were there from the very start. For me, my parents are my prayer support and cheerleaders. In fact, they were the first ones to call out MY potential and believe in all that was within me. Thank you, mum and dad. Then we have spouses, siblings, and friends, those who have listened to both our joys and concerns over various students and have laughed at the hilarious happenings in class that ought to be compiled into a joke book.
Let’s also not forget our lecturers and supervisors who have guided us- those who have assured us that we would do just fine on our card drills. It is their commitment in our learning that has allowed us to make that difference in the lives of others. A big thank you to all of them, including the administrative staff at Student Services! Apart from these groups of people, my faith in God was the one that ultimately fuelled me with the love needed to believe in children with special needs. It was because He first loved me unconditionally, that I was able to learn to give to such children, especially on grumpy days and I-don’t-want-to-learn days that students inevitably have. Armed with tools, and supported by love and guidance from others, we have reached a pivotal point in our journey today, of looking back with gratefulness and looking forward with eager expectation of the children waiting for us to walk their journey with them.
Today is the day. The day that we will soon be going through those doors, back to our own lives and our different spheres of influence. But just for today, let us choose to remember why we all walked through these same doors into the auditorium. Whether we are lecturers, spouses, friends, siblings, parents or graduates ourselves, we have either come to share this journey with the graduates or have ourselves started to walk down this path of uncovering the hidden potential of every child. Today is the day. Thank you.
– Ms Sarah Wong
Valedictorian, Graduating Class of 2018
Specialist Diploma in Specific Learning Differences
I would firstly like to congratulate all my fellow graduates from the University of South Wales and the London Metropolitan University, as well as all the other graduates for the Diploma in Dyslexia Studies, the Specialist Diploma in Educational Therapy and the Specialist Diploma in Specific Learning Differences. Our reasons for being here are many, but our common goal is to graduate. There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs. Your hard work and dedication has led you to the top. Congratulations on forwarding a step towards the next phase, be it in your life or career.
I remember attending the Induction Session back in August 2013, looking around the classroom, listening to everyone introduce themselves and thinking “Gosh! Almost everyone here is already a Special Ed Teacher!” and wondering if I was out of my depth as I am an early childhood educator in a mainstream preschool. There were also a few mothers in the class that had the first-hand experience raising a child with special needs. It seemed clear to me then, that all my classmates had much more practical experience in this field than I had.
As we progressed, however, I realized that all of us could and did learn from one another’s varied experiences with different age-groups of children. Every child we came across was unique.No matter the age or special needs of the children we worked with, the following quote from George Evans resonated with us:
“Every student can learn, just not on the same day, or in the same way.”
We looked forward to coming together for our block lectures and the inevitable discussions that followed. The sessions were intense and we often ended the day mentally exhausted.
Our lecturers always asked thought-provoking questions, challenged what we already knew or thought we knew, forced us to re-examine our knowledge, our values, indeed, our passion for special needs education. For example, the term “inclusive” has been bandied about lately and even our Prime Minister has spoken about making Singapore an inclusive society. I remember our own discussions in class about this topic and how we had to re-evaluate whether our cherished ideal was a truly inclusive education system or merely an integrated one. We had a class debate on this in which we had to take sides. We debated long and hard over the definitions of inclusion versus integration, idealistic versus pragmatic solutions, the rights of persons with disabilities and whether the ends justified the means. If I am not mistaken, the jury is still out on this as there was no unanimous agreement and our discussions carried on in small groups well after class ended! Which just goes to show how complex the issues surrounding inclusiveness can be.
I brought my own early childhood experience into the mix as we discussed developmental delays versus disabilities and the various intervention strategies that could be implemented. We each had stories that were remarkably similar regardless of the age of the children we taught. Symptoms of inattentiveness or hyperactivity, for example, were the same whether the child was six or sixteen.
Also, the strategies to help them cope were similar in form and only different in their content due to differing levels of maturity. We discussed if what we did on a daily basis was appropriate or if there were better ways of teaching or doing certain things. We shared our success stories with joy and our failures humbly.
In the sharing of our experiences, we also affirmed one another as caregivers of children & young adults with special needs. Yes, caregivers, whether parents or educators, we are all caregivers – that is, a significant adult in the lives of our
children. We also offered each other a shoulder to cry on for we knew full well the difficulties and frustrations we faced as caregivers.
Most, if not all of us worked full-time or part-time while we pursued this course of study. There were a few stay-at-home-mums in the class but we all know that theirs is really a full-time job! It was not easy juggling work and studies, especially when we were left on our own for a month or two after the block lectures were over, to work on our assignments on our own time. Some of us formed our own WhatsApp chat groups to keep in touch, to remind each other of deadlines, to encourage each other on and to yell for help when required.
I remember the first time we ever had to make electronic submission of our assignment. As the assignment deadline approached, WhatsApp messages flew fast and furious – Where’s the website? What’s my UserID? How to upload my file? How many times can we submit it to Turnitin? We talked and messaged each other through the process until we became proficient at it ….. until the next assignment a few months later when we had forgotten it all by then and had to
start all over again!
There were times when we would look at each other wearily and wonder why we were putting ourselves through this torture, especially when work and assignment deadlines converged, or during the wee hours of the morning with the deadline mere hours away and you’re struggling with writer’s block. These were the times we had to remind ourselves what led us to pursue this course in the first place.
Since I started teaching preschool almost 10 years ago, I have noticed over the years that my preschool seemed to be getting more and more children with special needs each year. Some were already diagnosed, some we suspected had special needs but had not been assessed yet. The latter were the ones we worried about. Did they just have delayed development or did they have learning disabilities? Were their disruptive behaviours symptomatic of an underlying special need or were they just poorly managed by the class teacher or by their parents? What kind of early intervention can we implement to help them? What should we say to the parents? This was when I decided that I should further my knowledge in the area of Special Educational Needs. I am sure that this was the basic motivation for most, if not all my classmates – How can we do better at helping these children with special needs and their families?
In my case, I wanted to be able to identify preschool children who needed extra help and provide this help to them. Through this course of study, I learnt to recognize learning difficulties and delays in young children and various methods of intervention. And do you know something? The various methods of intervention work equally well with typically developing children, the only difference being that children with special needs progress at a much slower rate compared to their typically developing peers. The skills that I picked up this made me a better educator overall besides becoming more sensitive to children at risk of having learning difficulties. At the preschool age, the first step is not about getting a diagnosis and sticking a label on the child but to provide intervention as early as possible when slow development is detected. Indeed, I have come across studies that postulated that a quality preschool education was, in itself, a positive intervention strategy for children at risk.
In line with this, one of the strategic thrusts proposed in the Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016 is to enable access to more early intervention services through the training of early childhood educators to provide intervention support in the preschool setting. I would thus encourage all early childhood educators to learn about special educational needs for we really are the frontline for early intervention support.
For all of us graduating today, I offer sincere congratulations and thanks, for we made it through the tough times together. We have learnt so much from each other these past two years and I believe we will continue to learn and become better educators, not least from the special and unique children that we work with each day. I leave you today with a final quote:
“The day you are willing to veer off the lesson plan, follow a kid’s lead, and learn with your students is the day you really become a teacher.”
– Ms Evelyn Koh
Valedictorian, Graduating Class of 2015
Postgraduate Diploma in Special Educational Needs
University of South Wales