Some choose the corporate sector, some travel around, looking at the world through their lens and some entertain others with their theatre, art and words. Yet, here are people who are concerned with making a difference in the lives of many around them, those, whom the society generally looks upon as disabled people because of their inability to comprehend the written form of a language or because of their inaptitude in solving simple maths problems.
Reena Gupta is one such happy-go-lucky person who has been associated and interacting with these children for over seven years. Having done her graduation from Delhi University, she did her professional course in Educational Therapy from The United States, only to come back and interact with as many children as possible. She has worked as an educational therapist in DPS RK Puram, New Delhi and currently confides in one of the best schools of the country- Step by Step, Noida.
Here is a note of a conversation with the freewheeling youth icon-
Ques- What made you choose Educational Therapy as a career option?
Well to tell you honestly, I chanced upon this course when I was in United States of America. In my search for a program in education, I learnt about this educational therapy course which talked about dealing with learning differences among school-aged children. It caught my attention since I knew some children back in India who were struggling in school. When I explored it further, I was very sure that this is what I will take back with me to India—knowledge of learning disabilities, and help those students whom I knew. From the day one of my classes, which was precisely seven and a half-years ago, there has been no looking back and I thoroughly enjoy the pleasure of working with students who, unfortunately, grow up thinking that they are ‘defective’ in some or the other way. Helping these students realize their potential and give them strategies to achieve it, is what makes me feel proud of my career choice as an educational therapist.
Ques- Was your family supportive of this decision of yours?
Ques- On a regular basis, what type of cases do you deal in?
In my five years of work in this field, I have worked on in some or the other way, got in contact with children with all kinds of learning problems. On a daily basis, I work with students diagnosed with dyslexia, ADHD, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, Asperger’s Syndrome, and emotional problems.
When the movies such as “Taare Zameen Par” and “My name is Khan” came out, they helped spread the much needed awareness amongst parents and educators about learning differences. Even my family members, who had no idea about these issues with people, understood and started appreciating my work J Besides the learning challenges faced by these students, it’s their emotional well-being that needs more sensitive intervention. Moreover, the parents who are already exasperated by the nature of problems their children face, need counseling and deeper understanding of their children’s strengths because what they tend to see in their children are only weaknesses. So in my field, a lot of work is done with the families of students with learning difficulties.
Ques- How is your job different from a regular teacher’s job?
As an educational therapist, my teaching is more specialized than regular teachers. While a mainstream teacher will work around the predetermined curriculum and use different teaching strategies to deliver the curriculum matter, I work around a student’s learning style and use it to help him/her acquire basic skills to be able to learn in a regular classroom setting. A major part of my work includes collaborating with regular teachers to help these students with learning disabilities.
Ques- Being a working woman, how do you divide your time between your family and work?
Well, for any working woman, balancing between family and work largely depends upon the support from the family in terms of understanding a woman’s nature of work. I will say that I am lucky to have a supporting family. But yes, from my side too, I make sure that I am available for my family once I am back home.
Ques- Any piece of advice to the parents on the amount of time they should devote to their children?
I strongly feel that more than the amount of time, what matters is “what parents do with their children when they are with them.” Its the emotional bonding that goes a long way, so parents need to let their children know that they love them without any condition. Parents need to help their children grow into happy adults.
Ques- Educational Therapy- as a career, why should the youth of the nation choose this not- so -hyped path?
I will say more and more young boys and girls can choose educational therapy/ special education field as their career because this is an area of need in our society. With the awareness in this field spreading, more children are being identified and parents are more open to seek help from professionals. It is altogether a different feeling of ‘making a difference’ in somebody’s life. Anyway, taking a “not-so-hyped” path is what will make you different from others…..
Ques- Could you throw some light on the prospects in this field for the students who would want to join your league?
Special education teachers should have excellent job prospects because of the continued increase in the number of special education students needing services. The demand has grown steadily in recent years because learning disabilities are now diagnosed at earlier ages. Also, the laws in disabilities sector emphasize on training and employment for individuals with disabilities. Thus, it is expected that more parents will seek special services for their children with disabilities.
Ques- Working in India and working in the US, what are the basic differences you find between the psychologies of the two nations?
The most basic difference is the attitude of people towards special education. In US, a person with special needs is as much a citizen of that country as anybody else with no disability. US will do everything possible to make life comfortable for a person with special needs. Their policies and systems are made keeping in mind the needs of these people too; whereas in India, we have to fight at a very basic level for our people with learning challenges. The only consolation is that work has started in this area and we, the special educators share the responsibility to take this forward for our people with disabilities.
“WE, AS A NATION, HAVE TO BE MORE ACCEPTING OF LEARNING DISABILTIES”
Ques- Ten years down the line, do you see yourself doing the same thing?
Oh yes, rather more aggressively because in ten years hopefully, I will have a very strong hold on this area of work and will be able to make a difference at a macro-level too.
Ques- Lastly, how would you define the term Happiness in your life?
For me, Happiness is “Eat, Love and Pray.”