Our Stories: Empowering lives in the classroom and beyond

Empowering lives in the classroom and beyond


Success means different things to everyone.

For Guo Yanyan, 39, Special Education (SPED) Teacher at Fernvale Gardens School (FGS), success means empowering lives and enabling possibilities for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities (PWIDs) beyond the classroom. 

One of her proudest – and happiest – moments, was when her 12-year-old student learnt to take the bus by himself. It was a big achievement to travel independently to school and everyone was so proud of him. 

Yanyan was heartened to be part of the preparation process. “For two weeks, we took the bus together every day to school and back to ensure he knew the route and what to do. However, during his first solo trip, we had a near-panic moment when he did not reach home at the expected time. It turned out that he had forgotten to top up his EZ-Link Card. Thankfully, a kind person helped to pay for his fare home. After that incident, he also learnt to monitor the stored value in his card, and would remind his mother to top up whenever the amount ran low,” shared Yanyan. 

This was a deeply-cherished experience, a reminder of how teachers can make a difference in someone’s life. She thrives on making a positive impact, encouraging her students to reach their fullest potential, celebrating their small wins and milestones alongside. 

teacher standing in a garden
Guo Yanyan, Special Education Teacher at Fernvale Gardens School, finds joy in helping her students achieve their fullest potential.    

13 years on, this has been more than a job. There is much fulfilment from seeing our students grow and realise their potential
– and how you are privileged to be part of their journey

Guo Yanyan
Head of Department (ASD & PD)
Fernvale Gardens School
a teacher teaching a student how to identify colour
Yanyan teaches communication skills and patiently guides a student how to express his choice of colour.

From volunteering to teaching

Yanyan’s journey with MINDS started in 2003 as a volunteer at Towner Gardens School (TGS), where her mother worked as a Teacher Assistant. She helped out at school events, manning game stall booths and ensured the students were well looked after during these activities.

During this period, the 21-year-old found herself getting along well with the students and looked forward to spend more time in school. Her interest gradually paved the way for a career in Special Education.

Following her graduation from the National Institute of Education (NIE) in 2010, she joined Special Education and was part of the pioneer batch of the Foundation in Autism Studies (Certificate Level) course, jointly developed by MINDS and Griffith University. She is currently enrolled in the Graduate Course.

Special Education as a career

Special Education is a special career path that calls for multi-talented individuals with the aptitude to transform intellectual disabilities into abilities.

Yanyan shared, “When I first started out as a teacher, I was blessed to have supportive and encouraging colleagues who generously shared their experience and knowledge with me. I was also grateful for the opportunity to attend a conference on autism and visit a school for autism in Sydney in 2017 and 2018. Autism is not an easy condition to understand or empathise with – the exposure really helped deepen my understanding of the condition, and develop a greater sensitivity towards the challenges faced when conducting programmes.”

As a SPED educator, Yanyan designs the curriculum and lessons with her colleagues, customising activities to the students’ learning abilities and needs. “We teach, sing and dance. We create lots of visual teaching resources to engage our students, and also repurpose materials to new teaching resources.”

Besides working with fellow teachers and the school community, SPED educators also work with parents for a better background understanding, to help students develop holistically beyond the classroom.

teacher planning matching activities
Teachers plan and customise activities based on the students’ interest, learning abilities and needs.

Managing transitions

Managing transitions are an important part of the education journey. Settling into a new school can be daunting for anyone, let alone a child with special needs.

To help new students integrate better, Yanyan consults their previous teachers, allied health professionals, and reviews file records for a better understanding. Besides requesting for the students’ favourite items to be brought along to school, she also checks with parents how visuals are used at home and how triggers are handled. This enables the school to provide similar support proactively.

Every year, Yanyan looks forward to the school assembly, usually held two weeks after school reopening. “This is when class photos and photos of new students would be shared or flashed onscreen to welcome everyone to the school community,” she explained. “Our students are always excited to spot themselves and their friends – everyone happily shouts out the names of their friends and teachers.”

Reflecting on her teaching journey, Yanyan enthused, “13 years on, this has been more than a job. I am always inspired by the passion and love my fellow teachers have in creating an inclusive empowering culture in our school. There is much fulfilment from seeing our students grow and realise their potential – and how you are privileged to be part of their journey.”

As MINDS celebrates its 60th anniversary, we would like to encourage a deeper understanding of intellectual disability and autism among the community, especially in caregivers.

MINDS provides a holistic environment and inclusive curriculum for Autism Spectrum Disorder and Intellectual Disability, and is committed to advancing the skills and knowledge of our teachers and staff. Learn more about MINDS Schools here.

Find out more about starting a career in Special Education here and career opportunities with MINDS here, and more about our collaboration with Griffith University here. 

Be a friend of our MINDS community! Explore volunteering opportunities or consider donating to our cause.

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NOTICE OF THE 59TH ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING OF MINDS: NOTICE is hereby given that the 59th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) will be held by way of electronic means as follows: Date: Saturday , 18 September 2020 Time: 9:30am (Registration starts at 8:30am) Venue: Online via ZOOM MINDS members will be receiving an email on the notice of AGM and are strongly encouraged to register your attendance to facilitate the verification process on the day of the AGM. For enquiries regardingthe AGM, members may email to agm@minds.org.sg or call 849607358