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Ask any teacher and they’ll admit that teaching is not an easy profession.
With the weight of the nation’s future and minds in your hands, it’s a pretty big responsibility but what if you add on the complexity of students with special needs?
For special needs educator Stefanus Lucas, aka Cikgu Stef, it’s a beautiful blessing.
The 28-year-old Music Educator at Sekolah Kebangsaan Pendidikan Khas Tuaran, Putatan, Sabah has been teaching primary-age students with visual impairments and learning disabilities.
Despite being in the teaching profession for 5 years, his experience in teaching special needs students only began recently when he was transferred from a mainstream school (Sekolah Aliran Perdana).
Reflecting on his career, Cikgu Stef told us that he had never imagined being a special education teacher, but the young educator from Kampung Togop in Sabah is thankful for the life changing experience with students and helpful coworkers composed of equally dedicated educators.
My beloved students truly inspire me. Imagine the disabilities they experienced, but that never stopped them from doing their best in my class. They are fully committed to participating in activities that I carry out with them. It was a phrase that always made me fall in love with the world of special education when my students say; “I can’t wait for Cikgu Stef’s class!”Stefanus Lucas, aka Cikgu Stef, to TRP.
While the young teacher is relatively new to the field, he’s already gathered quite a few accolades for his dedicated work, including making it to the Top 10 finalist for the 21st Century Learning Teachers campaign hosted by the Minister of Education Malaysia, Education Performance and Delivery Unit (PADU) in 2019.
He also recently won the Diamond Award in the poster and thesis presentation categories for his masters project “The MAGIC of Egg Carton Innovation to Teach Note Values in Music for Visually Impaired Primary School Students.”
However, most Malaysians may know Cikgu Stef from a viral video showing his colleagues simulating crisis events with special needs students as they prepare for schools to reopen on 15th July.
Ini bukan simulasi sahaja tetapi latihan khusus Guru dan PPM bagaimana mengendali Murid Ketidakupayaan Pembelajaran dalam kaedah normal baharu. Video ini bukan bertujuan untuk lucu-lucu tapi realiti keadaan sebenar yang kami hadapi💪💪💪 Kami perlu bersedia💪 pic.twitter.com/VR6z7IUMMi— Stefanus Lucas (Official account) (@LucasStefanus) July 2, 2020
In the two-minute clip, teachers are seen simulating how students with learning disabilities will enter their classrooms with the guidance of Pembantu Pengurusan Murid (PPM) and teachers by applying the social distancing standard operating procedure (SOP).
Little did he know that theclip posted on his Twitter account would amass over 2,000 comments and retweets as Malaysians express their respect and admiration for special needs teachers.
No sir😊 everyone of us has our own struggle as a teacher. Different teacher has a different story. Every one of us CIKGU HEBAT💪💪💪 we learn and support each other. Tq sir— Stefanus Lucas (Official account) (@LucasStefanus) July 3, 2020
According to Cikgu Stef, the school had actually decided to record the video simulation of the student movement to show parents what to expect.
But he decided to also share it on social media to show Malaysians the reality faced by special education schools, especially for students with learning disabilities.
In the context of the new norm, schools need to think of the best and creative ways to ensure the safety of special needs students. Even though student behavior with learning problems is very challenging, this is not our reason for not accepting their presence when the school reopens. Collaboration between schools and parents is essential to ensure students with special needs adapt to the new norms of the school environment even when they take time to adapt.Cikgu Stef to TRP.
How special needs schools are preparing for reopening
It’s this creativity and preparation for schools reopening that shine a light on the teacher’s dedication and hardwork as preparing for the reopening of a special needs school is very different from mainstream schools.
For example, a route provided for visually impaired students must be free of obstacles to facilitate their journey to class. Besides, any change in direction, braille instructions are provided to ensure that students with visual impairments receive full information on the new route.
For students with learning disabilities, visual and direct to the point instructions are essential to ensure that they are given clear and accurate instructions on what’s going on.
Semangat Wajib Berkobar-kobar😅 Walaupun tidak pasti bila Anak Murid MBK (Penglihatan & Pembelajaran) saya bakal kembali semula ke Sekolah😢 Persediaan Kelas Norma Baharu yang mesra Murid OKU pun sudah tersedia❤ @KemPendidikan #KitaJagaKita #KitaTeguhKitaMenang pic.twitter.com/VFALDVTriI— Stefanus Lucas (Official account) (@LucasStefanus) June 21, 2020
Pupils with learning disabilities need time to adapt their daily school routine to the new norm and we foresee emotional disorders as their school routine has 100% changed due to Covid-19. Before, they were free to move around here, play together, eat together, and much more but now everything is changed. It is difficult for them to face a sudden change in their daily routine.Cikgu Stef to TRP.
But with the outpouring of support from Malaysians online, he is encouraged.
Cikgu Stef says that providing positive encouragement and support is essential for families with special needs children and special education school staff to ensure that positive emotional and physical needs are maintained in the face of new norms.
However, he admits that the switch to online teaching and learning during the Movement Control Order (MCO) has been quite the stressful experience for the special needs children and their families.
The last four months were especially difficult as students and teachers were not prepared to deal with technology-based education, with many students being from B40 households with no access to hand phones or laptops and a good internet connection.
Cuti Kaamatan pun kita tambah ilmu😅😅😅 OMG sight reading saya bukan setakat level lemah tapi level gagal😂 Tambah Ilmu Conducting dan Handle Children Choir🎶🎶🎶 #Musicteacher #CikguStef #music pic.twitter.com/vMhR2Wj5lr— Stefanus Lucas (Official account) (@LucasStefanus) May 31, 2020
This is exacerbated by the fact that the teaching and learning methods for visually impaired students focused on tactile and braille materials.
Besides that, Cikgu Stef explains that frequent use of technology is not recommended for students with learning disabilities as it may lead to their addiction to the tool, which impedes the formation of positive self-management and daily routines.
Nonetheless, he preserved with the help of committed parents, WhatsApp and his YouTube channel – doing his best to share the required teaching and learning materials with his students.
He acknowledges even if only small positive changes are made, it is a great success for special education teachers because such small changes are extremely difficult to make.
Being a special needs teacher is very challenging. You will always face unexpected situations; sometimes, it is exciting, sad, or stressful. But the most exciting thing and made me continue to love the profession as a special education teacher is to see the positive changes that happen to my students even when small things happen.Cikgu Stef to TRP.
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