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Special Education through a Teacher’s Eyes

From the series Special Education in China

This is the first post in a three-part series that tells the story of one teacher’s love for children in China with learning disabilities.

One of the first classes I taught in China was with a group of primary school English teachers. Some were from the capital city where I worked but many were from surrounding small towns. The class was, by request, focused on their own language-learning needs with a bit of methodology. Their teaching loads gave them little time for self-improvement, and they often expressed their gratitude for this opportunity. One day we were chatting about the challenges of big classes that included students who struggled to learn in Chinese—let alone English.

“What do you do with them?” my colleague and I asked. They shook their heads sadly. So many discouraged responses.

“We have no idea.”

“Their parents think it’s our fault if they fail.”

“We already have enough work. I think they should stay home and help their families.”

And then, ”I don’t know; hit them?”

My teaching in China continued with little awareness of such children. The occasional parent in my class may have brought up some challenges with their child but it was never anything I had to seriously address. As an English-language teacher of adults, I was quite unaware of the needs or developments in the field of special education in China.

Obviously, special education throughout the world has come a long way since that day back in the 1980s. How do I, an English teacher, know something about such developments in China? From a simple relationship with a good friend, Mr. J.

I would like to share Mr. J’s story for several reasons. One, I believe there are many ChinaSource readers who would be interested in knowing more of this aspect of education in China today. Two, it’s inspiring to know of someone’s passion for a specific group’s needs and insightful to learn how others can take part. Third, there may be readers who share his heart for children with learning disabilities and have their own experiences and knowledge to share.

When he was a young teenager, Mr. J began to be fascinated by China and the experiences of his teacher-friend in Inner Mongolia (me). He moved on to Chinese language study, internships in Beijing at the embassy and with private companies, translating for a medical team, doing marketing for English programs, and helping with the start of an international school. It was there—initially using his marketing skills—that his heart was touched for kids who struggled to learn.

Parents began showing up with children who had been turned away from other schools and Mr. J used his resources in the US (professionals he knew and their teaching materials) to start a special education team. Even with limited resources and qualified staff, he saw a six-year-old autistic girl, in eight months, grow from speaking phrases of only three to four words to singing a song in the school talent show. What’s even more—a divided and hurting family began to heal.

Visa issues prevented him from continuing at the school but before returning to the US he spent a month in Shenyang visiting his girlfriend and her family. While she went to work, he researched special education, specifically in northeast China. His search revealed programs that trained teachers, companies that served children, and non-profits that helped with a variety of children’s needs. When possible, he visited them. During this time, he attended a local fellowship where he connected with a local hospital working with children who had more of the same challenges. This introduction in 2016 led to a relationship that continues until today.

That year he headed back to the US for a few very busy years during which he earned a teaching credential and an MA and a teaching position in special education in a local elementary school! His Shenyang girlfriend is now his wife, and they have a daughter. He has kept in touch with his contacts at the hospital in Shenyang. Technology has made it possible for him to give an educationally focused voice to the team that he had connected with on that Sunday in Shenyang. Since 2021 he has met online with families and children, listening, and helping them to create reachable goals.

As he has juggled both worlds, he has not given up his passion for going back to China; for meeting those online faces—and more—in person. While COVID numbers, visas applications, and government regulations have brought constant changes to this dream, he has become a valued staff member at the school where he teaches. Daily, he continues to learn the multitude of ways that children with learning disabilities struggle to communicate and understand their world and how to constructively encourage them and their parents.

Hearing of plans to open a center for children with special needs in China, he and his family began making plans with an organization to return to China.

Before continuing their story, the next post in this series will take a brief look at what is currently available to children with learning disabilities in China.

Editor’s note: This post was updated for accuracy on September 19, 2022.

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Image credit: PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay.
Barbara Kindschi

Barbara Kindschi

Barbara Kindschi has been privileged and challenged to teach English in China, Myanmar, Laos, and most recently, Mongolia. Her classes have been filled with undergrads, professors, accountants, hotel employees, monks, government workers, and beauty pageant contestants. They continue to be both her students and teachers as she now tutors online. Barbara …View Full Bio

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