About smcneil2013

I am a special needs educator with a love for philosophy and nature. I have an academic history in International Law and Human Rights and am a life long learner. I live in Zimbabwe and hope to travel to more places!

To be loved

The other night I marveled over a cup ofimg_1314 tea at the best reality show I have ever watched on television! I recommend it to anyone interested. It’s a dating reality show called the Undateables  I was swept in emotion and found myself cheering on the young gentlemen wining and dining possible suitors.Heartbreaks were as equally common as the starting of new relationships and the realities of life were experienced with no modification by the people with disabilities that take part in the show. It made me think about how dating for people with disabilities is still widely taboo in Zimbabwe and very much frowned upon.

Over many conversations with family, friends and acquaintances who find an interest in special needs, it is more evident that people with disabilities are viewed as not being
capable of heterosexual relationships and marriage.  During one of my counselling/ consultation sessions with a parent whose daughter is on the autistic spectrum, the idea of relationships with men was a difficult one for her. Her daughter, a 25 year old had started to take a fancy to some men she saw on television and her mother strongly discouraged this.The old age belief that people with disabilities should not date, marry or reproduce is denying one the potential to live life fully.

Dating back to Plato, the idealistic belief was that people with disabilities stood in the way of a perfect world. The view was “the offspring of the inferior or the
better when they chance to be deformed, will be put away in some mysterious unknown place as they should be ” (Mackelprang & Salsglver, 1996). Over the 17th to the 19th century Judeo-Christianity linked disability with the consequences of sin and further on, people with disabilities were believed to be capable of molding into less threatening , more acceptable people (Rothman, 1971). Eugenics and Darwinism emphasized selective reproduction, dominance of hereditary abilities and disabilities and further encouraged reproduction of socially desirable individuals whilst discouraging “undesirable”reproduction. Atrocities such as forced sterilization are believed as being a protective measure for women with disabilities. It is also a common belief in Zimbabwe that if a child is born with a disability, it is because of the mother’s genes.

Every human being deserves to be loved and to give love. That parent believed that she was protecting her child from possible rejection, hurt and believed her daughter will always remain her daughter and nothing more. Ultimately her daughter is a human being capable of love, denying her the opportunity or choice of love, marriage and reproduction is denying her humanity and rights. As a special needs specialist it is my role to teach people with disabilities how to communicate and understand these emotions, to reduce the stigma and worry that comes with over protectiveness,  to accept these aspects of people with disabilities and not to deny or suppress them.

There are many controversies surrounding this topic, all with justifiable reasons for and against, I encourage parents to allow their children in adulthood to make the decision to love and be loved.


My Special Journey

As an introvert I take in the world quite deeply. I haven’t been writing, but I have been reading and thinking, so I have been growing and changing.


“As much as we may try to enforce inclusive policies and laws,we need inclusive minds.”

My career in Special Needs Education is 5 years old. I have found that my passions and knowledge from my BA in International Law and Human Rights is applicable and relevant to special needs education. The issue of Human Rights and Inclusive Education in Zimbabwe has much debate and efforts by the local government to uphold United Nations recommendations are still a challenge due to the economical woes the country is currently in. The policies and laws are vague and are not being enforced, additionally persons with Disabilities or Special Needs do not know their rights.

My work in an international school is one of great privilege and I have learnt through experience to view education from  a more pragmatic/humanistic view. This philosophy is more open to difference, I found that instead of adapting/trying to fit in as I was accustomed to in a post colonial country, my differences were embraced and diversity a welcomed normality. The main thread of Special Education in Africa now has been towards inclusion/normalization. Controversies still exist and thrive due to a lack of awareness and negative cultural ideals. People with disabilities/special needs have the right as everyone else to participate in society and reach self actualization. Inclusion to me is the first step,  as much as we may try to enforce inclusive policies and laws, we need inclusive minds. Inclusion should be a normality and not a special/new way of doing things, it is not a privilege it is a right. As young as my journey in Special Needs is, I am optimistic that ahead, there is still a lifetime of reform for me to navigate and challenge.


Language Acquisition

In my work with English Learners I have discovered a necessary patience. I have been working with English learners for 5 years now and have found that each child’s journey is extremely different. To begin with, there are many layers to every childIMG_0549, in addition to the language barrier, layers of cultural diversity,practice and norms, religion, behavioral uniqueness, interests and passions. I remember once greeting a Chinese student in Japanese by mistake, in my attempt to ease her a little (break the ice). Her response was a fragmented sentence with undertones of robust anger of how the Japanese had killed her people, with gestures of be-heading included. Lesson learnt, I did my research and now with a more open heart and mind I enjoy learning about the cultures and languages that these students belong to and that avoidance of eye contact at times is a sign of respect for authority. The general stereotypes don’t apply and society robs itself of the possibility of a better world,  by lack of understanding of our diversity. The IBO philosophy humanistic in form makes it possible for humanity to get along, with mutual respect and celebration of one’s uniqueness and that of others, peace is a possibility.

I recently ventured into the world of Japanese Anime to learn some conversational words of  which my Japanese student finds hilarious and always unpredictable, nevertheless he nods me on. I find it refreshing that we can both laugh at our mistakes and that learning English shouldn’t be laborious and bland, but with cultural understanding, the academic part, is a bonus. I have been privileged to work with German, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Czech, Swedish, Italian, Spanish/Italian/French, Norwegian,Jewish and I await the opportunity to grow more.Above all I have learnt that we are all human and possess things we value and as an educator it is important that I understand these things first.

I  held a professional DSC00309workshop in 2014 that outlined the theories behind language acquisition and most importantly how to help support the third culture population of language learners. The most valuable asset is empathy.

One student I had was multi lingual and learning English for the first time. His homework on one occasion was two pages long of information he had to cite in a persuasive essay. As expected I found myself in a whirlwind of papers, tears,pencils, furniture and shoes as he found this the only effective way to express his frustration. I watched as he wore himself out. From that, I learnt a few Spanish/French/Italian words not appropriate for this platform, however, I became his advocate. His interest in soccer was our common conversational starter and from there he learnt mathematical vocabulary. It’s a journey that thrills me especially when these children gain confidence to speak English for the first time (the silent period can be daunting for both teacher and student), but when that period is over as I’ve recently found getting them to stop at times, can be interesting!

Its not a disability its just another way of thinking

Special Needs Education ha2014-04-08 11.18.00s many societal biases, I have been told that I must be a saint, incredibly patient, or have a heart of gold. All of which are quite complimentary but honestly its been the most exhilarating career thus far. With google serving a vast platform of information teachers, guardians, parents and the concerned have made diagnosis just based their child’s behavior, which in most cases is quite normal. A child that appears just a little hyperactive may be singled out as potentially having ADHD,sloppy handwriting as a sign of dyslexia.. the list goes on.

In schools children with learning disabilities are unconsciously targeted,closely monitored for any slight behavioral changes.  Their academic expectations for the most part are unrealistic to be achieved all at once.On the other hand it is important to monitor their behavioral changes and support these children closely to achieve goals but an awareness that the route taken may not be the expected one. These children have their way of understanding and it works for them.

I once worked with a group of students with mixed abilities including a child who receives learning support. All the other children had been taught a method of  where to place the point/period in decimal notation. The answer they got was incorrect due to the placing of the point. The student who is receiving support however explained that the placing of the period didn’t make sense, he deducted that his product had to be much higher due to the numbers he used to multiply with. His explanation led the other children to understand a basic fact about multiplication which they overlooked due to a new trick in placing the point.

Children with learning disabilities usually take a longer route in understanding concepts and require step by step explanations in order for the dots to condepositphotos_85886456-dreamy-kid-girl-with-pencilsnect. They are the hardest workers and deepest thinkers and leave no blank spaces in understanding information. When a child with a learning disability understands that inaccurate measurements in math due to not using a ruler for example, would be as though building a lopsided house with unequally measured windows. They begin to see the value of using accuracy in math.

My lessons are exploration expeditions into deeper understanding of the basic. I am always challenged to see things through various lenses and have been challenged to always broaden my explanations in order to provide wholesome instruction.

My Educational Philosophy

I believe …That education is empowerment, liberation of the mind and a journey of discovery of self and the world.

Learning... Is fluid, its everywhere and a natural part of our existence and survival.

The role of a teacher... Is to advocate for learning, facilitate the best environment and photo (69)opportunity for learning to take place. To Inspire and provoke the mind to engage in the learning process.

The classroom... is a place well adapted to suit individual student needs, a place of positivity, organization and diversity. Its a space of collaboration, debate, exploration, reflection and experimentation, where there are no wrong answers, only learning opportunities.A place where each child is equipped, recognized and appreciated.

Teaching... is supporting students to discover and nurture their potential. I believe the constructivist methods of teaching allow for student-centered learning where student2013-05-28 08.41.17s take the lead in their learning and inquiry. Teaching is providing relevantly differentiated work and challenges are used to stimulate further inquiry. Teaching is providing instruction that is deep and wide in scope to facilitate trans-disciplinary learning. The use of research based sequential and progressive teaching
methods for student achievement.

Special Needs Education... Is equality. Children with Special Needs are always the hardest workers. Their unique learning styles and strengths demand continuous knowledgeable and skillful teaching. It is to foster independence, equip students with skills and knowledge whilst students to reach their full potential.

Success.. is the ability to try again and to introspect.

Learning to Communicate

Over the Summer break I was fortunate to be granted the privileged of teaching students with Autism at the Autism Society of Zimbabwe. Autism has only recently gained some attention in Zimbabwe as a disabilityIMG-20150626-WA0002 that requires specialist support, rehabilitation, therapy and early detection. The founder Helen, has a big heart and great vision of one day building a vocational center for skills training for a means of possible income for the older children. Her team is made up of graduates who volunteer for a small remuneration, in comparison to the workload, their efforts are priceless and commendable.

I was in awe at the hunger to learn these children had. I learnt their language of communication through occasional touches, nibbles and sniffs as they searched for sensory input in identifying me. My days there were inspirational and fulfilling, I became part of the family and part of their routine, which is quite important to the children. I discovered how creative and artistic some of the children are and giIMG-20150626-WA0004ven the chance to use an I pad they created the most alluring abstract pieces! Of course turn taking was also part of the lesson but each child savored their chance. I also tried to introduce a variety of colors but work was handed in with drawings colored in one color!

On one of our morning walks one child who is working very hard at his speech therapy, but shys away from speaking yelled “Ice-cream!” as a truck sped past. That was a moment of many tears for me! Im back at work now but I miss my morning hugs and gentle touches of inspection from the children. Their moments of awesome when they say a word or point to an object in relation to a previous lesson. When they respond to a greeting without echoing and the best is when they show caring for each other even if it means wiping tears or mucous all over the other’s face.

Welcome to my personal Blog!

What we want is to see a child in pursuit of knowledge and not knowledge in pursuit of the child- George Bernard Shaw

From an early age i have always been inquisitive. I have always wanted to know why things worked the way they did and what caused the cause! I familiar practice when I was in high school was to break our pencils at the end of our final exam as symbol for “the end of learning”. Since then I have pursued degrees, courses, diplomas and certificates because as true as life is to itself learning is a journey. One of self-discovery, adventure, widening of ones’ perspectives and schema to say the least. My education was/is a good foundation for all areas of life and a basis to explore further into impossibilities that change has brought about. As an educator I believe my role is to provoke the investigation and inquiry process, to support students to discover their potential and endless possibilities that present when we take risks. To encourage a celebration of diversity and individuality and to advocate for the next generation. To allure students to pursue knowledge for the sake of living.