Excellence in Special Needs Teaching

Hannelie Louw, ES Le Grange School, North West

Hannelie Louw, ES Le Grange School, North West

Winner: Hannelie Louw,
ES Le Grange School, North West

Teaching learners tangible skills that they can use to face the real life challenges they encounter every day is the most important legacy Hannelie Louw feels she can proudly leave behind.

Louw says for learners living with Sensory Integration Disorder, mastering a skill which hardly requires an effort for other learners in mainstream education can take them months. Teaching them those skills requires enormous amount of patience, compassion and empathy. “Words cannot describe the emotions experienced by both learner and educator when a basic skill has been mastered; it is priceless!” she says.

One of the major challenges Louw encounters relates to parents who are not concerned with the wellbeing of their children. “It is heartbreaking how some of the learners are not well looked after; of special concern being those with no parents at all,” she says. She stressed the importance of nursing and cherishing those special unexpected moments all the more.

Louw says that behaviour and discipline are some of other challenging issues. She says she always tries to deal with them with the sensitivity required, such as using positive reinforcement. Her advice to other Special Needs Educators (SNE) is that they should cultivate self-confidence and believe in their abilities.

Louw encourages her counterparts to be life-long learners for the benefit of their learners. “Never give up. You have the skills and experience to empower the youth to achieve their goals,” she says, adding that she is always available to share her passion for SNE through coaching and mentoring new SNE educators.

1st Runner-up: Lesetja Moshupya,
KaMagugu Inclusive School, Mpumalanga

For Lesetja Moshupya, teaching is more than just a career. “Choosing teaching as a career feels like responding to a calling,” says Moshupya, who had been working as a carer for the handicapped when he was first offered a chance to be a teaching assistant.

He was used to taking care of the physical needs of people living with disabilities and this inspired him to study further in the field. The idea was to acquire the requisite skills so that he would be better equipped to stimulate and develop the mental aptitude of the handicapped.

But Moshupya says being an SEN teacher has its own challenges. One major challenge he has had to overcome is the lack of parental involvement in their children’s education — a problem which he reckons requires a multi-pronged approach.

To address the challenge, he decided to conduct home visits, together with the school counsellor and social workers, to secure the co-operation of parents to respond to the difficulties their children experience in the schooling environment.

“It is important that the parents are kept abreast about their children’s progress and any challenges they might be experiencing in the school,” says Moshupya.

Moshupya advises prospective SEN educators to be certain that they not only love teaching but are also able to exercise patience for the children. Because, he said, they will not cope with the frustration and hard work that come with the job if they don’t love it.

“When the love for what you do comes from within, you will not need constant motivation and it will be easy for you to go the extra mile needed in investing in your children’s success,” concludes Mosupya.

2nd Runner-up: Marisa Vermeulen, Bartimea School for the Deaf and Blind, Free State

Marisa Vermeulen was spurred on to take teaching by the lack of teacher proficiency in South African Sign Language, which has had a negative effect on the quality of education offered to deaf learners. Given the dire situation, she felt it was only appropriate for her to become a teacher so that she can help contribute to the efforts of turning the situation around for the deaf community.

“Seeing a student who started out with no communications skills develop into a confident one who is able to apply knowledge and present his ideas in a self-assured manner, is an indescribable feeling indeed,” she says.

With Vermeulen interfacing with deaf learners and the deaf community on a regular basis, she is conscious of the daily challenges that deaf learners experience. She is working towards ensuring that the negative impact posed by the inadequate supply of appropriate resources for deaf learners, such as Hearing Assistive Technology, is minimised.

Vermeulen is also involved in a research project aimed at uplifting literacy skills in deaf education. “I’ve been nominated to represent the Free State at the Wise Hub Summit, part of a community research programme where we investigate ways of uplifting the adult members of the deaf community. This is so that they can make a positive contribution in the communities they live in,” says Vermeulen.

As a parting shot she advises her fellow educators on the importance of planning: “You cannot change the injustices of the past education overnight but you can make a difference in children’s lives by providing access to better education opportunities, one well-planned lesson at a time,” Vermeulen says.

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo reports for the Teacher newspaper, a Mail & Guardian monthly publication. Apart from covering education stories, he also writes across other beats. He enjoys reading and is an avid soccer and athletics fanatic. Thabo harbours a dream of writing a book. Read more from Thabo Mohlala