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Dyslexia did not stop Shi Ying from attaining her dream of becoming a teacher.

She had always wanted to work with children. However, her disability stood in the way and for a few years, it seemed like her dream was impossible.

But Tan Shi Ying, who was diagnosed with dyslexia when she was 5, never gave up. Today, the 24-year-old is a special needs teacher, and works with children every day.

"My own disability inspired me to help children with disabilities," said Shi Ying.

Decked in a simple denim jacket and jeans, the bubbly and outspoken youth recounted how her dyslexia was discovered: "My mother first realised that I couldn't read simple words like 'he' and 'she' as a child. Until now, I still struggle with forming sentences."

Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects reading and the learning of languages.

"What others take one hour to learn, I'd probably need two hours," she explained. 

Shi Ying was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age.
Shi Ying was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age.

It caused her to struggle with her studies in school – she spent all her weekends at tuition classes, and often sacrificed leisure time with friends to study at home.

Family support was crucial, she said.

"My mum gave me a lot of moral support. She taught me mathematics from primary to secondary school," recalled Shi Ying. 

Her mother also sought help from a teacher specialising in teaching students with dyslexia.

Although Shi Ying completed both her N levels and O levels, her results were not good enough for her to pursue the course she wanted – early childhood education. She went on to study Biotechnology at Republic Polytechnic. 

 Shi Ying’s good friends in secondary school, who encouraged her during her school days.
Shi Ying's good friends in secondary school encouraged her during her school days.

However, after graduating from polytechnic in 2014, Shi Ying refused to give up her dream of working with children.

She applied for jobs but the doors shut on her. 

"A lot of childhood education centres rejected my job applications because my diploma wasn't relevant, and I had zero working experience," recalled Shi Ying, who also enjoys outdoor activities.

Undaunted, the avid runner took up part time jobs as a gym coach to conduct classes for different pre-schools, and conducted leadership workshops at schools. It was then when she realised that she really wanted to work with children with special needs.

She took on an internship at a school for children with special needs, and became a full-time staff after that.

But teaching children with special needs was challenging. 

"My students had autism, so the way they handle emotions is different," she said. "I often had a hard time dealing with their meltdowns at first – it was frustrating and I thought that I wasn't cut out to be a special needs teacher."

It did not help that some of her students refused to listen to her at first as she was a new teacher. However, with the help of her colleagues, Shi Ying learnt how to understand and manage her students better.

"My students bring me a lot of joy because of their pure and innocent minds – they don't lie," she said. 

"Once, my student surprised me with a card for my birthday. I was really touched because I had only mentioned my birthday once in passing," she recalls with a smile.

Little acts of appreciation like that keep her going.

Shi Ying, who teaches daily living skills, is currently pursuing a part-time degree in Education, specialising in special needs.

Shi Ying (left) with her family: (left to right) Her father, mother and sister.
Shi Ying (left) with her parents and sister.
PHOTO CREDITS: SHI YING

We asked Shi Ying what she would say to others who are facing difficulties in attaining her dreams. 

She replied: "Don't let small setbacks defeat you!"

Emphasising the importance of having support from family and friends, she added: "They're the ones who will motivate you and push you on in hard times."