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#ThankYouTeacher - Elizabeth Shirley’s grit & determination to help children with disabilities is inspiring

This month we are presenting stories of teachers who have touched lives of people in many ways. Today, we bring you the story of Elizabeth Shirley, headmistress of Raksha Society, one of the oldest special schools in Kochi. Shirley joined the society as a special educator in the year 1985. In her career span of over thirty five years, she has empowered thousands of children with disabilities.

When Elizabeth Shirley decided to pursue a Bachelor of Arts for her degree, she knew that her true calling was teaching profession. A special educator for the past thirty five years, Shirley has empowered thousands of children with various kinds of disabilities. Her colleagues point out that her grit and determination to help improve a child is what makes her stand out unique from the rest of the teachers. Shirley has faced many obstacles in her career, but she was always determined to give nothing lesser than the best to her students.

Shirley, who had a nephew and niece with intellectual disabilities, knew the plight faced by the child and parents, especially due to lack of awareness in society about disabilities. That is when she decided to step up and do her bit. She joined the institution in the year 1985 as a special educator under the guidance of Reena Sen, one of the founders of Raksha. Since 2003, Shirley works as a Headmistress with the famous Raksha Society, one of the oldest school for children with disabilities in Kochi.

When I joined Raksha, I had no clue about what I was signing up for. Though I was interested in teaching profession, empowering children with disabilities are different. But in due course of time, I learnt a lot from them. Today, I'am glad that I picked up this career which gives me so many opportunities to explore myself-Elizabeth Shirley, Special Educator.

According to Shirley, the lessons shared by her mentor Reena Sen has been of immense help even today. "The child must have a normal life. As a special educator, that is what I want to focus on. For instance, if a five year old child communicates like a two year old, work on it and help him improve his skills. Never look into their weakness, instead focus on their strengths. Finding out their needs based on their age is equally important", says Shirley.

It is known that working in the disability space need not necessarily reward a person with high income. For Shirley, her family comprising of her husband and two children have supported her throughout her career. "If you look into the monetary part, the benefits are less. But the smiles on each child's face is priceless", adds Shirley.

In spite of her many years of experience, Shirley is looking out to still keep growing in her career. She believes that there is more to be learnt. She has a message to aspiring special educators too. "Patience is important when you interact with children with special needs. I have seen that there is a lack of motivation amongst young teachers today. They give up easily. Over the years, I wanted to develop and is still learning new things. If you are having a rough day, never show your problems to children with special needs who are already struggling too much", says Shirley. She hopes that government will take efforts to construct rehabilitation centres for youngsters with disabilities who are above eighteen years of age.

"I have worked closely with her for many years and her determination to bring out the best in every child is great. She is very structured in her work. In fact, her passion towards her work is a blessing to every child that she reaches out to", says Elizabeth Philip, Principal, Raksha Society.

Also Read: #ThankYouTeacher - Sharmila Ray has helped add many colours to her students' lives



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