Teaching young children has always been the passion of teacher aide Elizabeth Samuel. With a heart for helping the special ones, this prompted Elizabeth to return to work at SPD after she recovered from a life-threatening illness two years ago.
In this second installment of the Professionals’ Day’s Special, senior Communications and Outreach executive Chong Cai Yun speaks with Elizabeth to find out more about the joys of teaching, and her journey to recovery.
1. Hi Elizabeth! Tell us more about yourself.
Hi everyone! My name is Elizabeth and I am a teacher aide at the Building Bridges EIPIC Centre at SPD@Jurong. I’ve been in the teaching line for 15 years and my journey with SPD started 6.5 years ago. My role involves supporting the early intervention team, namely the lead teachers and administrative staff, at the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC). In this programme, I work with children aged six and below to develop their skills in areas such as gross and fine motor, social communication, and cognitive aspects.
2. How does a typical day in the classroom look like for you?
A typical day starts with the children being led into class after their health screening. We will start the session with activities such as storytelling, and music time that involves the whole class before splitting the children into groups for small-group activities. This is when I come in to help a child with his or her given task (e.g. art and craft) on a one-to-one basis. After class, I will assist to tidy up and sanitize the learning resources and toys before the next class begins.
3. What is your favourite part of the job?
The best part of my job is that I get to make a positive impact on multiple lives and create lasting memories with my students and colleagues which I can cherish forever.
4. One definitely needs to have a big heart for children to be in this role. What do you think are the other key attributes to be a good teacher aide?
- Understanding – This enables teachers to aid in the child’s development at a pace and level that is suitable for the child.
- Patience – Working with children who have diverse developmental needs requires a teacher to have patience for each child.
- Love and Acceptance – To love and accept the child regardless of their capabilities and behaviour enable us to relate to the child from within.
5. Any word of advice for others who are considering joining this profession?
For those who wish to pursue a career in the area of special needs, they must be willing to come in with an open and a ready to learn mindset. This is because we do not only teach the children, we also learn from them in the process.
6. We heard that you experienced a health scare a while back. Could you share more about your experience and journey to recovery?
In 2018, I had a bacterial infection that caused my lungs, heart, kidneys and liver to shut down and I went into a coma. For the next 52 days, I was hooked on to the life support machine. I was also on tracheostomy; a tube that is inserted through a cut in the neck below the vocal cords to deliver oxygen to the lungs. I went through numerous surgical procedures all over my body from neck down. The doctors informed my family to prepare for the worst as my chances of survival was a slim eight per cent. However, I was extremely blessed to wake up after two months and I believe this could not have happened without the prayers from my loved ones.
Due to the lack of oxygen in my fingers and toes, they eventually turned gangrenous. My fingers got better, but I soon received a devastating news that I would be losing all my toes as they had “died”. I couldn’t digest the fact and was in denial initially. I kept thinking that this was just a dream. But as days went by, reality sank in and I knew that there was no other way but to accept it. The eventualities happened, and I lost my ten toes over a span of 11 months.
After being bedridden for five months, I had kidney dialysis for some time and underwent intense physiotherapy to start walking again. I also received occupational therapy and speech therapy to start talking and eating after I was removed from the nasogastric (NG) tube and tracheostomy tube four months later. After a five-month stay at the hospital’s intensive care unit, I was finally allowed to be discharged with a weekly follow-up. At that time, I weighed a mere 26 kg.
7. It must have been a tough period for you and your loved ones. What made you decide to return to work after recovery? And how has work changed for you?
My “family” at SPD@Jurong had been an excellent pillar of support to me and my family throughout my hospitalisation and it didn’t cease even after I was back home. Their constant visits, prayers and words of encouragement kept me going strong.
A memorable moment which I held dearly was watching a video made by my SPD@Jurong team encouraging me not to give up and to come back soon. I remember crying my eyes out while watching it in the hospital because it’s this kind of love that makes you realise your worth and how much you are being cared for. I decided I should not be letting them down.
I’m also grateful to my understanding team who have customised my job scope according to my current challenges and needs so that I do not wear myself out. For instance, I handle fewer classes now and do more administrative tasks so that I do not need to move around too much.
8. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Elizabeth. To wrap up, are there any advice or words of encouragement that you’d like to share with our readers?
People use the term “you only live once”; but I was blessed with a second chance at life. I want to use it to the fullest by making a positive difference to as many people as I can. Life is unpredictable. This has taught me never to procrastinate saying “sorry” or “thank you” to anyone, while I’m still breathing. There should never be any regrets in life.
Most importantly, I learnt to be mentally strong. Nothing should be an excuse for us to dwell on the downside. Get up and keep moving forward. Anything is possible if we believe in ourselves. I’m thankful to be a survivor and I’m glad to have shared my story with you.