Alison Hobson, a teacher in Brunei for 19 years, initially came for experience. Her journey started by teaching English to Muslim refugees in Australia, and her original goal was to bring that knowledge back to Australia. However, she fell in love with Brunei’s lifestyle and local colleagues. She had taught in Tutong and Temburong schools but found one of her most monumental experiences when placed at her current school in Temburong, where she teaches a blind Year 10 student.
On meeting her student, she did not know what to do as it was her first experience with a student with this disability, but her first response and question was:
“How can I give her the same opportunities in her education as everyone else?”
Initially, Alison sought a student to collaborate with her student, fostering a greater sense of inclusion. The first attempt, using a friend as a partner, provided all answers, hindering her student’s learning of inclusion. This endeavour involved a trial-and error process. Her current learning partner has proven to be much more successful.
Alison adapted her approach by seeking assistance from Suhairany, a local teacher experienced in the Special Education Unit, to support L in the English classroom. Each week, Alison sent materials to Suhairany for Braille transcription, enabling her student to review them before class. During lessons, Alison, Suhairany, and L collaborated to develop strategies that would make the Learning Outcomes attainable for her student, ensuring her full comprehension of the tasks. Her student was also equipped with a recorder and a Braille machine, offering additional resources.
Additionally, Alison consulted another Braille-proficient teacher for guidance on preparing materials for Braille. At the end of the day, Alison’s priority was to ensure her student felt like she was part of the class. She also used Plickers, a versatile tool for continuous assessment, allowing her to monitor all students’ progress. Through her journey, Alison perceived the entire process as more of a learning curve for herself than for her student.
Beyond supporting her blind student, Alison has been teaching 24 other students simultaneously in the class. Hence, Alison needed to ensure that she was mindful of implementing a range of strategies for Las well as the rest of her students.
Despite the unique support that her student requires to succeed in class, Alison recognised that at the end of the day, she was just like every student in her class.
“There are many students who need support and have other different needs. I have to adapt my teaching, so she has the same chance as everyone else. I think of different strategies for her while the others have their own.”
“The first time I saw her read, I was amazed at the speed of her hands going over the Braille, and both hands were reading different sentences simultaneously. I realised that she could pick things up easily. I think she enjoys being challenged; she has the skills, and therefore I am going to match my teaching with her skills.”
Another distinction that Alison wanted to stress is that L has a disability, but she is capable; all she requires is extra time to read Braille, talk about the content and to answer questions. Therefore, it was necessary to provide her with additional time for both activities and exams. This extra time, and the support of Cg Suhairany and Alison are the only special considerations her student receives, which so far has ensured that she can fully participate in the class experience just like everyone else.
As a result of everyone’s dedication, Lis often in the top 3 in her class. In addition, Alison has seen the growing confidence in her student in using English as compared to when she first met her.
Her student’s progress in class often attracts interest from other teachers. During one class, five additional adults came to observe Alison’s teaching. She used a spin-the-wheel app, which randomly selected a student to answer a question. The first spin landed on a boy who struggled to provide the correct answer. However, when the app selected her student’s name, she confidently answered all the questions correctly. The spectators, except for Alison, burst into applause, astonished by her student’s performance. Their enthusiasm also inspired the other students to join in applauding.
Alison mentioned, however, that she does not want to treat her student differently from other students; she does not encourage clapping. This moment marked a significant shift in mindset about what it means to create an inclusive classroom. Alison’s intention was not to disregard their natural reaction to celebrate but to underscore and reshape everyone’s perspective. She may look different but as one of the high achievers in the class, we do not need to belittle her by clapping when she gets a question correct.
She emphasized that an inclusive classroom thrives on collaboration and support. The pandemic reinforced her commitment to continuous learning, incorporating technology without compromising core educational principles.
“I am proud of being a team member at the school. I recognise that, even with my age and experience, I don’t have all the answers,”
Their story serves as a poignant reminder that progress and making a lasting impact often require unlearning certain deeply ingrained beliefs, such as our preconceived notions about inclusion and diversity. Alison exemplifies the value of inclusion and diversity by treating all students equally in class, that is adapting her teaching where possible to meet their individual differences.
To find out more how you can apply as an English teacher in Brunei, visit –> careers.cfbt.org