Lam Kim U (Class of 1994, Bachelor of Education), the current principal of the Concordia School for Special Education, was among the first to graduate from the University of Macau (UM) Faculty of Education (FED). She has been serving students with special educational needs for over four decades. Looking back on her golden years at UM, she still feels grateful for the education she received at the university. ‘The guidance of the professors and the education I received at UM have been infinitely useful to me,’ she says.
Eager to Enter College
In the 1960s and 1970s, there were no formal higher education institutions in Macao, and UM, formerly known as the University of East Asia (UEA), was established in 1981, as the first modern university in Macao. ‘The founding of the university was a big event for many Macao residents,’ says Lam. ‘It happened decades ago, but I still remember it vividly.’
At the time of the establishment of UEA, Lam was already an educator. With only a secondary school diploma, she had great anticipation for the new university, ‘When I found out that a university was going to be established in Macao, I was overjoyed. In the 1980s, university education was not as commonplace as it is now, so it was something I yearned for.’
From Regular Education to Special Education
After graduating from secondary school, Lam worked as a teacher of regular education at St Paul Lutheran School, the predecessor of the Concordia School for Special Education, for four years. In 1973, the school opened a class to offer special education with the support of its chancellor, Dr Jasper Rudolph from the United States, and Lam was selected to be the teacher for the class.
When Lam was first introduced to special education, she received lessons that were focused on language training, in order to learn how to help students with special educational needs to improve their ability to express, understand, communicate, and learn. When the school began to accept students with autism, she began to learn strategies, methods, and techniques for teaching autistic children. Later, with the change in the local government’s policy, Lam also began to teach students with other developmental disorders, such as hearing impairment.
As she gained more experience in special education, she became more eager to learn new knowledge in this field.
Applying to Bachelor’s Degree Programme in Education
In 1987, when Lam learned that UEA was offering a professional diploma programme in teaching, she enrolled in the Professional Education Programme for Teachers in Primary Education (In-service). After UEA was acquired and restructured by the government in 1988 (later renamed the University of Macau in 1991), the Faculty of Arts, the Faculty of Business Administration, the Faculty of Social Sciences, the Faculty of Science and Technology, and the FED were established. During the transitional period leading up to the handover of Macao, there was an urgent need to improve the quality of teachers in private primary and secondary schools, so the training of primary and secondary school teachers became a priority for the Portuguese government in Macao. In 1990, to meet this need, the FED launched a four-year degree programme for secondary school teachers.
When Lam found out that the FED was going to offer a bachelor’s degree programme, she applied immediately. During her studies at UM, She continued to teach during the day while taking classes in the evenings and on weekends.
Grateful to UM for Its Quality Education
During her teacher training and undergraduate studies at UM, Lam not only gained professional knowledge, but also learned a great deal from her professors who led by example. To this day, her eyes still brim with tears of gratitude when she recalls her professors’ teaching and the friendship between teachers and students. ‘I was most touched by how much the professors cared about their students, not just as teachers, but also as friends. What they taught me was not just textbook knowledge, but years of valuable experience,’ says Lam. ‘The professors taught me what it means to be a good teacher, and how to be selfless and giving to the students. I will never forget Prof Law See Yee. I was already a teacher of special education during my studies at UM, and he said to me, “I had to take the time to study special education in order to teach you”, which touched me deeply.’
Prof Kwan Siu Fong was another professor who influenced Lam deeply, for it was Prof Kwan’s encouragement that gave Lam the courage to move forward in her career in special education. ‘Prof Kwan once said to me, “It’s time for you to take a step forward and lead others to promote the development of special education”. She really gave me the courage to take on more teaching and administrative responsibilities,’ says Lam.
The Tireless Principal
Lam graduated from the FED in 1994. Two years later, when Dr Jasper Rudolph returned to the United States, she took over as the principal of the Concordia School for Special Education. Ever since she began working in education, first as a regular education teacher, later as a special education teacher and an academic director, and now as the school principal, Lam has encountered challenges on a daily basis. ‘Every job has its own set of challenges, and the same is true of special education,’ says Lam. ‘It is not easy to be a special education teacher. Both teachers of regular education and special education need to tailor their teaching according to the students’ aptitudes. If a student is lacking, or not learning well, in a particular area, we teachers have to find ways and use different teaching materials to help them learn better. Over the years, I am most happy to see the personal growth of the students.’
As a teacher, Lam has certain demands on her students, but she cares about them deeply. One time, a student got lost near Portas do Cerco and he kept saying Lam’s name to the policeman. When the student was finally escorted back to school, he hugged Lam tightly and would not let go. ‘I was really touched. The students seemed to be in their own worlds, but at that moment, I realised how much they counted on me,’ says Lam, tearing up at the memory.
Giving is its own reward. For teachers, there is no greater reward than witnessing the growth of their students, and this is what has motivated Lam to stay committed to the cause of special education. Having worked in education for decades, Lam still has no intention of retiring. ‘Becoming a principal was not planned. It just happened,’ she says.
‘So I won’t plan when to retire either. I will retire when it is time to.’
Source: My UM e-version