A dyslexic took time off from her busy schedule to coach a group of struggling students.

As a dyslexic who overcame learning difficulties, I strongly felt the urge to give back to society. So I came up with the idea of teaching a small group of underprivileged remove class students from my former school.

Of course, I had the blessings of the school principal to hold free tuition classes in the school. These afternoon session students were only too happy to come for tuition in the morning.

Initially, I was shocked that these 13-year-olds had not mastered the alphabet! They did not know simple words like “up”, “down”, “cat” and “dog”.

In my class of six students, I had the chance to foster a closer relationship with two of my students, Eugene and Andrea. I was saddened to learn that simple phrases did not exist in their vocabulary. After a few classes, they gathered the courage to ask me in Mandarin: “Che Che (sister), how do I tell the teacher when I want to step out of the class to go to the toilet?” They explained that they would only rush to the toilet after the teacher left the class.

When it came to completing Maths homework, solving simple problems was a challenge for these students. Whenever there was Maths homework, the students needed a lot of help to finish it.

It is a common misconception that remove class students are dumb, lazy and not willing to put extra effort in their studies. I noticed that most of my students had some kind of learning disability. Eugene and Andrea were slow learners. They could be dyslexic, too, as we seem to share the same learning characteristics. So it was easy for me to come up with teaching methods that they could grasp.

Though my students were hardworking, it was difficult for them to follow normal classes. They did not have the basics to understand what the teacher was teaching. They often struggled to understand the activity questions and homework instructions given by the teachers. It was not that they were too lazy to do their homework – they just did not know how to do it, unless given guidance. The joy on their faces when they completed their homework said it all.

Every night, they would burn the midnight oil as they struggled with their homework. Just like anyone of us, they would panic if they could not pass up their schoolwork. So helping them with their homework became a top priority in my class.

Although I had to start from basics, I was happy to note that they tried their best.

They even bought revision books with their own pocket money. Weeks before their exams, they would ask for extra classes. We started classes as early as 8am, and they happily sat right through until formal school started in the afternoon.

During break time, they would share their personal stories. Being the eldest child in the family, Andrea told me: “I don’t have much time to study as I have to babysit my siblings.”

After a while, I found out that some of them did not even own a pencil box. They did not have Internet access at home, and had to go to an Internet cafe to do research for their projects.

Being ever grateful, my students thanked me in many ways. After classes, they would buy me snacks from the canteen. During Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day, I received handmade cookies and chocolates.

Andrea, who loves to cook and plans to open her own cafe some day, prepared an extra meal for me daily. Home-cooked meals from a 13-year-old taste extremely delicious when you know it is a labour of love.

I also found out that Andrea woke up extra early to cook lunch for me before coming for tuition.

After the exams, their mums would either go to school or call to thank me for their child’s improved performance. Eugene’s mum was in tears when she told me how much her son’s grades had improved. He got all Bs. She said: “This means a lot to me as my son has never achieved such good results. I didn’t even expect him to pass all his subjects!”

I was filled with joy, too. What I learnt from the students are lessons that I will remember for life.

Beyond Barriers

Beyond Barriers is a platform for sharing and raising awareness on disability issues and any chronic medical condition. We welcome contributions from readers who have a disability or any special needs, caregivers, advocates of disability groups, or anyone living with any chronic medical condition. E-mail your stories to star2@thestar.com.my. Contributions which are published will be paid, so please include your full name, IC number, address and contact number.