By Judith B. Monteveros
Butuan City SPED Center

I always thought that teaching was all about molding learners to become child-friendly, gender-sensitive, and motivated to serve our fellowmen and the country. Well, yes, but there is something more!

I am a public elementary school teacher. Like all the other teachers, I am trained to promote quality, equitable, and culture-based basic education.

I graduated from Northern Mindanao State Institute of Science and Technology (now Caraga State University) specializing in Science.

My first teaching assignment was at Amparo Central Elementary School. It was a fulfilling experience. But then, I saw things from a different perspective when I was transferred to Butuan City Special Education Center in 2008.

There, I experienced not only the satisfaction of teaching like what I had at Amparo, but also the joy of serving children with special needs – children who learned differently from the regular learners.

In 2011, I handled children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. One of them was Ray Remoso (not his real name), a tall, skinny 13-year old boy from a middle class family. My co-teachers cautioned me that handling this type of learner is never easy. True enough, even my self-introduction to him was already a challenge. I needed to give him in advance my 2×2 ID picture to help him recognize me as soon as he enters the classroom.

During our first meeting, I introduced myself and called his name. He just nodded and didn’t look at me at all. Again I said, “Good morning, Ray,” as I touched his chin to guide him to look me in the eyes. He replied, “Good morning, Teacher Judith.” But he looked at the ceiling instead.

Ray (not his real name) struggles to avoid the flash of the camera.

Days passed by so quickly, and there I was, working as Teacher II. I must admit, even at that level, I still had no formal training on Autism Spectrum Disorder. My only recourse was to pray to God every night, asking Him for wisdom on how to handle my special learners properly. The passion in my heart and the burden on my shoulders compelled me to look for  best ways to cater to the developmental needs of Ray.  In God’s time, his condition gradually unpacked before me. I learned from his father that Ray, from his early childhood, had an inexplicable fear of the flash of the camera. I believed this caused a debilitating effect on his personality.

I felt the  agony of his family. I told his father, “There is power in prayer. We just have to accept his condition, assist him, and provide for all his needs.”

We always prayed before starting our individualized teaching sessions.

I always encouraged Ray to greet me by   looking me in the eyes, and smile. I wanted him to overcome his fears, so I asked him to bring a camera to school.

On one occasion, I took a picture of him in secret. But as soon as he found out about it, he threw a chair at me. I managed to dodge it, though. Then he cried very hard. He shouted and hated me for what I did.  It was not easy pacifying him. Eventually he calmed down and we sat, then we talked.

Like a mother to a child, I explained to Ray that I intentionally did it for his good. I tried hard to make him understand that what I did would help him brave the flash of the camera, and that the camera was nothing to be afraid of, and that it was something that he could enjoy with, and so on. I repeated this strategy a few more times, but I always got the same negative reaction from him.  I persisted hoping for the best.

 

Then, it happened. One day, he started taking pictures of me. He did the same to my co-teachers and other special learners. His eyes beamed with happiness while taking photos. That was indeed a big revelation for me.

As in a flash, Ray became comfortable with the camera. His violent reactions to it completely vanished. He finally conquered his fears.

Along with this, I also noticed that he began to appreciate the opposite sex, even showing a special liking to a student-teacher.  In fact, he loved it whenever I took picture of him beside her. Before I knew it, he was already on Facebook.

From a non-graded level of learning in the Autism Spectrum Disorder Class, Ray made it to Butuan Central Elementary School as a regular pupil. There, he completed four years of basic education.

I am so thankful for the opportunity that God had given me. He proved to me that difficult situations could be overcome. In Ray’s case, it was by the love and support of his family plus the determination of a regular teacher who believed in the miracle of God, and who considered her teaching profession as a calling and not simply as a day-time job.