Book fairs will never be without a book on Helen Keller. Try to google famous motivational speakers and again the name “Helen Keller” will be among those listed. Why not? Back in the 18th century when the methods of teaching the blind and the hearing-impaired children are limited to a few, it’s accessibility only to those who can afford. Helen Keller, born to a middle class family was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to communicate despite being born blind and deaf. She has become the voice of people with disability, a living proof that physical disabilities are not barriers but bridge that connects the gap between able bodied and physically challenged people. As I read her life story, the process that brought her to where she had become was not or never an overnight phenomenon but years and years of gruelling struggle, patience, understanding and tons of unconditional love from people that surrounded her, in particular, from the teacher that remained steadfast from the very beginning until her last breath, Ms. Anne Sullivan.
Photograph of Helen Keller at age 8 with her tutor Anne Sullivan on vacation in Brewster, Cape Cod, Massachusetts (wikipedia.org)
So little has been written and said about Ms. Anne Sullivan, the teacher that dared to dream of accomplishing a miracle, the teacher that was commissioned to teach Helen how to read, to write and live a full life.
Back in 1997, when life was so good and almost close to perfection. God has blessed us with a child like no other. My daughter, Danielle, was born with a congenital heart defect. The heart problem was something we had anticipated. I had contracted Rubella or “German Measles” at a time when I didn’t even know I was pregnant. Knowing how dreadful this virus could be, I consulted several OB gynes and did my own research through the Internet. Everything boiled down to the same answer: “80% of mothers who had rubella on the first trimester of pregnancy may result in a miscarriage or varied congenital defects- the HEART, EYES, and HEARING or in some cases, the BRAIN of the baby can be affected.”
The Journey Begins
We first checked on my baby in my first trimester through an ultrasound in Manila. It was my first encounter with her, one that gave us an even stronger conviction to push through with my pregnancy no matter what. Two months after her birth, a cataract on her right eye was noticed. It was the same time her cardiologist informed us about her heart problem as seen through a 2D Echo. A VSD, or a hole in her heart and a PDA where an artery, which normally closes at birth, did not close for her. This was later confirmed through Cardiac Catheterization.
My anxiety was so high that it prompted me to have her hearing checked at the Santo Tomas University Hospital Hearing and Dizziness Center. Danielle was only four months old when we did her first ABR testing. The impression was: Clicks presented at 90 and 102dB evoked no recognizable waveforms, abnormal ABR studies, bilateral, suggestive of a profound hearing loss”. My child was PROFOUNDLY DEAF ON BOTH EARS! That was the only time I cried…it was too painful to bear… it was easier for us to accept a unilateral cataract, for at least she could still see with her left eye…It was easier for us to accept her congenital heart defect since it could be surgically corrected, but to know that she couldn’t hear nor speak the spoken language broke me and my husband into pieces. Everything was dawning on us so fast. Negative results were coming here and there. We were faced with three problems. It was a question of which one to settle first. Luckily, her VSD was significantly small that no intervention was needed. However her PDA needed an immediate ligation. That same year, 1997, Danielle at nine months had her heart surgery at the Santo Tomas University Hospital under the care of Dr. Charles Cuaso. After recuperating for three months, we did another ABR testing, hoping that the first was erroneous. Unfortunately the second was just a confirmation. Danielle was then fitted with appropriate HEARING AIDS at age ONE, which could have been done earlier upon detection. Thanks to modern technology, I came accross COCHLEAR IMPLANT (CI). CI is a high-tech biomedical device that brings the possibility and opportunity for some children and adults who have profound hearing impairments to use auditory information to develop spoken language effectively. Danielle was implanted at 18 months old, It was her second major operation. Her third came after 1 year and 9 months – a unilateral cataract surgery on her right eye.
Let me reiterate however that the IMPLANT is not a cure to her DEAFNESS, her hearing will not be as good as those of other normal hearing kids, but it had given her access and more opportunity to learn to speak despite the fact that she can only hear on her LEFT ear [Bilateral implant was not yet an option at that time].
It was during this time where I’ve met dedicated teachers and therapist who have given not only their know-how in their field of expertise but their genuine concern and unconditional love for children like my daughter. This is when I’ve found my daughter’s Anne Sullivan(s), yes, not one but innumerable.
With their identities withheld as promised, let me share with you a few oftheir traits that make them the SUPERB teachers/educators every parent would want their children to have:
1) They BELIEVE in my daughter and EXPECT SUCCESS. If teachers think and feel that their students cannot achieve their goal, chances are they won’t. Good vibes should be put in place from the very beginning. A student will pick-up a good vibration when given and will sure to rise in the occasion.
2)They keep her MOTIVATED.Interactive learning is motivating and fun. Teaching is not a one-way process but should be dynamic. While giving tokens as rewards are very effective for young children to ensure participation, a genuine remark like a “Job Well Done!” is powerful enough to keep students motivated.
3)They help her build her SELF-ESTEEM. A common dilemma most children with special needs often face is that they are constantly being corrected. As a mom of one, I am guilty of this at times. But human nature dictates that even to our normal kids, parents do have the tendency to correct their child very so often to their own liking. One of my daughter’s tutor, would often remind me, and I thank her sincerely for that, that focusing on my daughter’s strength will do her more good than dwelling on her weaknesses.
4) They think OUTSIDE of the BOX. I clearly remember, how my daughter’s speech therapist changed her teaching methods when we were having a hard time teaching her to identify the different colours. I was bound to believe that with her unilateral vision, she could also succumbed to colour blindness. So instead of using color flash cards, she made use of homemade play dough and dyes letting my daughter experience the beauty of how colours are produced. This made a big difference. When something goes wrong, an effective educator does not judge her student but instead change her teaching methods.
5) They have kept a POSITIVE communication with ME (the parent). The truth sometimes hurts. A note from school, like a grade merely passing or an incomplete project are news that you wish kept and not mentioned, but when my daughter is falling short of an objective, teachers, on a positive note fail not to inform. This is genuine concern; the most I can do is to accept it with an open mind so things are addressed accordingly.
6) They are PASSIONATE with what they do.Being passionate is when you do something because you LOVE doing it. Passionate educators don’t stop teaching when the class ends. They are always finding innovative ways to encourage learning. Their enthusiasm is contagious to the point where students can’t wait for their next lesson.
My daughter Danielle and I at a recent trip.
My article today deviates from what you would normally expect of me to write. It is a personal story, one that’s close to my heart and there is no timely way to share it with you but now in gratitude for all the educators who play a significant role in educating the youth of society who in turn become the leaders of the next generation of people. Happy World Teachers’ Day! # File Under Inspiring Stories.