Reena Bhonagiri may be mistaken for any other remedial teacher in the city but her clientele sets her apart from other teachers. Reena has been teaching students with learning disability for the past 24 years. This year, two of her students scored above 8 Common Grade Point Average (CGPA) in CBSE Class X exams.
"After completing MA in Psychology, I did a course on special education from Chennai. Then I started teaching students with severe disability such as cerebral palsy and autism. In 2000, I started teaching students with learning disability. People gradually started realising then that there was something called learning disability and it was not mental retardation. Unil then psychologists doubled up as remedial tutors. Back then, I was the only remedial teacher in the city," she said.
She said it was tough then as schools, parents and the education boards didn't accept that students can have learning disability. Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia have now been recognised by all boards in India. "Now it is much easier as boards have made special provisions for these students. Parents and teachers are now more understanding that this is not a permanent disability and it can be overcome with special care," she said.
Recounting her initial experiences she said, "Earlier when I told the parents that their child had a learning disability, they would walk out in a huff and then admit their children to boarding schools. They assumed that their child was just lazy. But after the movie Taare Zameen Par, people became more aware," she added.
Processing information is the main problem for these students. "We understand the blocks in their mind and then try to move the kids away from the natural process of learning. If students come to us at a senior KG level, it is easier to deal with them as there is less unlearning to do and they can be taught how to learn. For every kid there is a different programme," she added.
She has many success stories to share. "A student's mother called me to say her son had graduated from an Australian University. She was crying with happiness. Another day I came across a student who teaches English to slum kids. This is the greatest reward I can ever get. I know how traumatising it is for them. Their peer groups and teachers treat them like losers. So when they finally achieve success, the feeling can't be described in words," she said.