CommunityCerita Exclusive

I Never Planned To Be A Special Education Teacher. But It Let Me Discover A Side I Never Knew Existed

Making a difference in the lives of kids with special needs.

Exclusive Story by WeirdKaya – Reproduction requires proper crediting and backlink to us. Kindly acknowledge the efforts of our editors in sourcing and conducting interviews.

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Teaching has long been regarded as one of the most respectable professions as one is entrusted with the mandate to educate and impart knowledge to the next generation.

But not much is known about special education teachers, where they mainly come in contact with and teach children who have developmental disabilities like autism or Down syndrome.

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One such teacher is Emir Haqim, who is a full-time special education teacher as well as  a mental health advocate, where he has given mental health advocacy talks at UTP, Kolej Matrikulasi Kedah, and Kolej Institut Jantung Negara (IJN), among others.

Emir haqim
Provided to WeirdKaya

Didn’t plan on being a special education teacher

In an exclusive interview with WeirdKaya, Haqim, who was born and bred in Kuala Lumpur, confessed that he never had plans on becoming a special education teacher.

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I pursued my Diploma in Counselling at Universiti Sultan Azlan Shah (USAS) and my initial plan was to go for my degree once I graduated. But in the meantime, I was also looking for something to fill up my time — something that could help others.

“It was during this time when I came across The Playhouse Therapy Centre, where it has been my current workplace for the past 1.5 years,” he said.

‘I discovered a side of myself that I never knew’

Haqim told me that growing up, it never crossed his mind that he would one day work with special needs children as he didn’t have any relatives who experienced developmental disabilities.

However, he did attribute his increased curiosity and intrigue towards the field to a certain figure he follows on social media — local singer and actress Fynn Jamal, whose son is autistic.

“I’d say that I was partially inspired by her and that was how I decided to apply for a job at The Playhouse.

But on the day I received the offer letter (of employment), I felt confused as I was unsure whether I would do well as it was very different from what I studied and had mostly worked with adults.

Like a fish out of water, Haqim found it difficult at the start to adapt to his new surroundings as he had learn how to interact with and teach children, something which he said was “out of character” for him.

But today, he can now confidently say that he has no problems with the job at all and that it even brought to light a side of himself he never knew.

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Haqim doing arts and craft
Provided to WeirdKaya

“I’m now able to discover another part of myself and go Wow, I never thought I’d be able to do this and I’m actually a fun person!’ In retrospect, I’d say these were my ‘hidden talents’ that only came out in the open when I became a special education teacher,” he said with a chuckle.

What do special education teachers actually do?

According to Haqim, special education teachers usually teach special needs children skills that normal children would have no problems doing on their own such as sitting in a proper posture or learning how to play and interact with other kids.

He also added that autistic kids are creatures of routine as it allows them to better absorb what has been taught to them. And this is clearly reflected in Haqim’s daily work schedule in his class of five kids aged between five and six, most of whom are autistic.

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“We usually start the day with assembly before it is followed by physical activities, where the kids engage in exercises or games that build up their gross motor skills.

Haqim playing with kid
Provided to WeirdKaya

“It is then followed by academics, where we conduct simple lessons in science, math, Bahasa Malaysia, and English so as to not stress them out but also to prepare them before they head into primary school.”

However, the next activity was what piqued my interest the most — SPEDtivity (Special Education activity).

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Haqim explained that each day has its own set of SPEDtivity in place, where Mondays would be dedicated to science experiments, arts and crafts on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and culinary lessons on Thursdays, where the children whip up delicacies such as kek batik, nasi lemak, and pizza.

“One of the reasons why we have this SPEDtivity in place is because we want the kids to discover what they enjoy doing or have the skill for it. We have also received positive feedback from the parents who have witnessed their child putting those skills into action.”

Haqim teaching about the solar system
Provided to WeirdKaya

Nonetheless, Haqim emphasised that in order for one’s child to be able to display their ‘hidden skills’, parents must play their part in fostering it instead of expecting teachers to handle everything.

“Parents often have this expectation that teachers must make their child improve. The effort has to be mutual. We as teachers can do the best we can but if the parents don’t follow up on it, no progress will be seen.”

A love-hate relationship

While it’s clear that Haqim truly enjoys what he does, it doesn’t mean that he’s immune from the daily stresses that come with the job.

I have a love-hate relationship with the kids, where some days I go ‘Oh, I love all of you! You’re my favorite students!’ while other days would be ‘Why are you even here? Why do I have to work with you?’

“I’m human myself, so of course the thought of giving up is always there,” he conceded.

Haqim teaching his student
Provided to WeirdKaya

However, Haqim recognises how much the children need him to be around to nurture them before they move on to the next phase of their lives.

“The reason I stayed is because I know how hard it is to find another teacher. Even if one is found, the bond between the teacher, the student, and the student’s parents isn’t going to be the same, which may affect their progress.

“I have a huge responsibility to the kids I teach. I have to do my best to help them as they need it the most. This is what keeps me going.” he said.

‘Be like the kids themselves’

For Haqim, the key to becoming a special education teacher isn’t so much about filling one’s head with theories and information about children with special needs, but rather, in his words, to have the “same mind” as them.

You can read up all you want about autistic children, but when you deal with them firsthand, sometime you’ll go blank and wonder what you should do when things go awry.

“Thus, my advice to up-and-coming special education teachers is to put themselves on the same level as the kids. Imitate the way they walk or laugh. That way, they will look at us as being the ‘same’ as them and this helps to build a therapeutic relationship.”

Haqim does math with kid
Provided to WeirdKaya

He also advised special education teachers to come up with alternatives whenever they face obstacles in teaching the children as certain methods may not work for all of them.

While Haqim is still looking to pursue his degree sometime next year, his plan for now is to continue his work as a special education teacher.

“In this era where parents are starting to be more aware of their kids being ‘different’ from others, I hope to continue spreading public awareness and help families who have special needs children but don’t know where to turn to for help,” he said.

Editor‘s note: The children’s identities have been censored at Haqim’s request. Please do not reproduce their photos without WeirdKaya/Haqim’s consent.


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