Meryl De Coteau dreams of “proper schools” for special needs children in this country. She has a vested interest in seeing this happen as she’s been a teacher for more than 40 years and has spent over 20 years educating special needs students – particularly the hearing-impaired
De Coteau, who is from Chaguanas, believes more can be done to educate special needs students, even though she says there have been improvements. “People have become more aware of it.” Even as a child, she had deep empathy for special needs people.
“I remember my mother bringing home a book about the story of conjoined twins. It was so fascinating. The twins were joined at the head. After I read that story I said to myself, I either had to become a nurse or a teacher to deal with these kinds of children.”
De Coteau realised she did not like working at nights and so decided to become a teacher. She wanted to become a special needs teacher, but it was not fashionable when she entered the profession in 1970. De Coteau attended
Port of Spain Teachers College in 1974 and did her teaching practise at Princess Elizabeth Home for Handicapped Children, Ariapita Avenue, Port of Spain.
She described her time there as “thrilling” because she was so inspired by the students and teachers. When she left college she moved from Port of Spain to Chaguanas
and soon began teaching special needs students at Pointe-a-Pierre Government Special School.
“It was challenging at first. I was disappointed the first day. But I always remember I came home and was voicing my disappointment and my son told me, ‘Go and make a difference.’ And that carried me through.”
De Coteau is so proud of the accomplishment of her students she remembers the grades they received at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC). She has tutored hundreds in her time.
She felt so strongly about educating special needs children that even after retiring as a primary school principal, she returned to teaching and educating
She has worked with students who got under 30 per cent in the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam and hearing-impaired students at Marabella South Secondary School. In 1995
she went to the UK on the invitation of a charity, the Commonwealth Society for the Deaf, which wanted to introduce audiology maintenance technology (to maintain hearing aids).
De Coteau studied audiology in 1998 at the International School of Technical Audiology in the UK. While at Pointe-a-Pierre Government Special School, De Coteau had many accomplishments. Common Entrance had not been done at the school before De Coteau arrived in 1990.
The school’s administrators asked if any of the teachers were up to the challenge of preparing the students for SEA, and De Coteau volunteered. “I did it and in 1995 we entered four students and two passed.” In the second year, De Coteau’s students got 100 per cent passes, with one student passing for the school of her second choice.
She also introduced music to her special needs students, teaching them to play the recorder. She even introduced a sign language choir. She has seen some her students through from the primary to the secondary school system. In 2013, one of those students got two grade ones, one grade two and three grade threes at the CSEC level.
In 2011 and 2012 she got funding to assist him to go to Birmingham and Malaysia for Scrabble tournaments. At the Malaysian tournament he was awarded the trophy for perseverance.
Another of her students, whom she saw through the primary and the secondary school systems, got two twos and two threes. Both are now studying at the University of TT. A girl who entered the school with a 13 per cent score got four grade threes at CSEC after being taught by De Coteau.
Another student she tutored at home got four passes at this year’s CSEC, with a grade three in English A. This was a major accomplishment for De Coteau, as it is “usually difficult for hearing-impaired students to pass English A.”
De Coteau has no plans of slowing down in educating special needs students and hopes to see greater emphasis on speech and language development for the deaf children who already have speech and language and whose parents would like to do the programme.