Destined to serve
It was chance that brought Priscilla Theseira to a career in special education and she hasn’t looked back since.
BY: Eleanor Yap
Priscilla Theseira accidentally chanced upon a career in special education and from that time, she has never looked back. “I was a housewife at that time and wanted to explore an area of interest which was teaching,” the 73-year-old explained. That interest led her to become a teacher in 1976 at the special needs centre in Buangkok run by the Movement of the Intellectually Disabled in Singapore (MINDS), and before it merged with two other centres to become Towner Gardens School.
As a teacher looking out for about 300 students, she was tasked to teach these students the importance of character development and etiquette. She also taught daily living and self-help skills, such as washing the dishes and buttoning a shirt. Priscilla said: “These may be things that we often take for granted, but it takes a lot of effort to teach students who are intellectually-disabled. It is frustrating at times when these students take a longer time to learn these things but as an educator, it is very gratifying when they are able to grasp what you teach them. This was what kept me going.” She later rose up the ranks to become a principal of Jurong Gardens School (now renamed Woodlands Gardens School) for four years.
Her students were not the only ones who learnt something. “By educating them, they have taught me to be patient. They have also shown me what it means to be resilient. While they may not learn things as quickly as we do, they never stop trying. This is something a lot of us take for granted because we do not face much difficulties in simple tasks such as taking the bus and getting from one destination to another,” said Priscilla, who is a grandmother of four and a godmother of 10. Today, she still keeps connected to some of her students. “I have seen my students grow into adults with careers, and I still keep in touch with some of them. It never fails to make my day whenever my former students wish me on Teacher’s Day or Christmas Day.”
Even after retiring from her career, she has never strayed away from helping those with special needs. She has been volunteering for the Special Olympics Singapore for 36 years. At this year’s 9th Special Olympics Singapore National Games in May, she helped to supply 4,000 meals to more than 680 athletes, coaches and volunteers participating in the Games. She even pulled in her family and friends.
She shared: “I volunteered with about 30 people who are my family and friends. Some of them even took leave from their full-time jobs to be at the Games. One of this year’s youngest volunteers was my grandniece who is eight. I hope that the volunteering spirit will rub off on her, to see that the Games for the intellectually-disabled is no different from any other sporting events.” During her recent stint, she also picked up new technology to keep up with the younger volunteers in the coordination and the logistics.
“I hope to continue volunteering with Special Olympics as long as I am able to, and when they have their weekly events – be it other competitions or workshops for the school teachers. I’ll be there if they need my help, and if I am in Singapore,” said Priscilla.