Sharifah began her social service journey at Rainbow Centre, a social service agency that offers practical education, meaningful support and effective training to persons with disabilities and their families.
Tell us more about your role.
I work with and teach students aged 7–18 who have various special learning conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, or intellectual disability. My role entails enhancing my students’ social and emotional competence, building their skills and capabilities in communication, daily living, physical, literacy and numeracy, as well as their readiness capabilities for vocation.
Why did you join social service?
I’ve always been a teacher at heart. In fact, I was (and still am!) inspired by the work of Anne Sullivan. She had taught Helen Keller—the well-known author, political activist, and lecturer with hearing and visual impairments. Despite the challenges Anne faced in teaching Helen, she remained determined and persevered through the difficulties. Since then, I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the lives of children—especially those with special needs.
Tell us more about the beginning of your journey in social service.
Knowing that I wanted to work with children, I began looking for a job right after my ‘A’ Levels. I came across Rainbow Centre’s job posting looking for a Developmentalist (that’s what they used to call teachers)—someone who was creative, eager to learn, and enjoys working with children and families. My first thought was, ‘that role’s perfect for me!’ I applied, and voila, I got the job!
That’s wonderful! What was the learning curve like?
The agency provided training that enabled us to work with children with special needs. A year later, the Centre recommended I pursue a Certificate in Special Education at the National Institute of Education (NIE) to deepen my skills and knowledge. Subsequently, I also completed my Bachelor’s in Education (Special Education) at Flinders University. The programme took two and a half years. Most recently, I returned to NIE to complete my Master’s in Education (Special Education).
That’s remarkable! What were some of the challenges of juggling work and school?
Completing my Certificate and Degree whilst working was admittedly tough because in a single day, I would have to attend lessons for school and conduct lessons at the Centre. I’d also need to split my free time between completing academic assignments, and preparing lessons for my own students. In 2017, I was awarded the MOE Masters Scholarship in Special Education, and thankfully, was able to commit to it full time. It wasn’t easy, but it paid off beautifully. I think being mindful and knowing how to self-care is important—especially when you’re handling so many things at the same time!
How did your colleagues support you while you were studying and working?
Oh, I had the full support of my principal and colleagues at the Centre. I was able to leverage on teaching resources, and speak to fellow teachers about their perspectives, subsequently presenting them during my classes at NIE. Throughout my journey, I also received surprise notes, cards and delightful care packages filled with chocolates, vitamins and aromatherapy oil. I felt touched knowing that my colleagues were just as excited about my journey, and could empathise with the challenges and demands of my juggling act!
We’re glad to hear. How did the courses help you in your role today?
Teaching is complex, and the courses gave me the additional skills that enabled me to better impact the quality of learning, and consequently, improve the quality of life for my students. Despite the courses’ rigorous demands, I’m better equipped with the knowledge of policies, issues and trends in education, that I can apply to my role directly.
Tell us more about the impact of your work.
I believe that education prepares one for life, which is why I believe that the skills every student learns will help them live fulfilling adult lives. One of the best feelings is seeing my students grow. Whether it's achieving a goal or learning a new skill, I’m constantly moved and inspired by each student’s capacity for growth.
Can you share with us a particularly memorable experience you’ve had with a student?
I used to work with a student, Ling*. She had Leigh Syndrome: a disorder characterised by progressive loss of mental and movement abilities. Despite her condition, she was a bright student who enjoyed school and loved singing.
Over the semester break, I learnt that Ling’s condition had deteriorated. She’d stopped eating or responding to any of her family’s interactions and could only lay in bed with her eyes closed. Her family asked if I could visit, and I did for several weeks.
During the time, I would sing and read her stories while she lay in bed. Each time, Ling’s eyes would remain closed, but other parts of her body would show small signs of movement. A smile, a twitch of her fingers—these were all indications that Ling recognised, and most importantly, enjoyed my companionship.
Sadly, Ling passed on a year later, but those days with her will forever be etched in my heart and memories.
We’re sorry to hear, but happy that you managed to develop such a meaningful relationship. Would you have any advice for those looking to join social service?
I believe that our journey in social service is akin to running a marathon. At times, we may have to walk through terrains that are rocky, unknown or unfriendly, but by focusing on your strengths and upkeeping a positive attitude, you can surmount multiple obstacles. Remember to stay curious, and show up with plenty of resilience and tenacity for this is a different journey, but one that touches hearts and impacts lives.
*The client’s name has been changed to protect their privacy.
A role in special education is one of many in social service. To find out more, click here.