Fri | May 24, 2019

Christopher Turner - A special calling for special needs

Published:Monday | May 1, 2017 | 12:00 AMTamara Bailey

He was uncertain of what he wanted to do in his younger days; however, he was influenced by his eldest sister to enrol into teachers' college.

He had no idea where he would end up, but offering an education to students with special needs was the farthest thing from his mind.

"I went to Mico Teachers' College, just following my sister and, at that time, they would accept you without full requirements, so I did preliminary studies that year and that was where my transformation took place in terms of my academic achievements because I really didn't do much in high school," Christopher Turner began.

Having got his CXC and GCE subjects in mostly ones and A's, it was time for him to choose a major, but everything was filled.

"Special education had the only opening I was basically forced into doing it, but after being in it, I developed a passion," Turner beamed.

Fast-forward to today, and Christopher Turner has dedicated all of his 24 years in teaching, to the Woodlawn School of Special Education, serving as teacher and for the past eight years as vice-principal.

"I got my diploma from Mico Teachers' College and then later I attended the Catholic College where I received my bachelor's degree. Right after leaving Catholic College, I came to Woodlawn School of Special Needs. Then it was called School of Hope, but I have been here ever since, never left."

With his new-found passion for this field, Turner had high expectations but he was in for a rude awakening.

"Woodlawn is a special school that caters to the the unique needs of children with disabilities ages 6 to 18, though I would have done teaching practice and had the experience. My very first day was a bit shocking. Based on how the students reacted, it was difficult to have class control and there were different disabilities that needed different groupings."

Turner realised that as a result of the low performance levels of the students he had to change his strategies and even his mindset.

"I spent days and long nights preparing teaching aids. It was a full commitment to the job and I loved what I was doing ... ."




Because of this unquestionable dedication, Turner, and by extension the school, celebrated notweworthy successes of several few students.

"We have quite a few success stories. We have a graduate who was able to get a job at the Three Angels Pharmacy. We have another that does delivery for a restaurant in Mandeville, and several of our students move on to getting jobs through the NYS (National Youth Service) programme."

Turner added that one of their most successful students is Roshane Foster, who moved on to enrolling in a special programme at Northern Caribbean University and now operates his own design and printing business.

"I particularly love seeing my students happy. We have students who go abroad to participate in the Olympics and when they share their stories, it's really something else."

Turner told Flair that his greatest wish is to create greater awareness for special needs, especially among parents who may be in denial.

"I have completed a master's degree in teaching and learning at the St Mary's University of Minnesota, and I also recently completed an aspiring principal's programme at the National College for Education and Leadership. I also lecture at the Church Teachers' College and it has been a dream of mine to move, even on to the PhD level, and make an impact in the field of special education, beyond the walls of this institution."

When asked what drives him to continue the good work, he acknowledged his sincerity as the driving force.

"Special-needs educators and general educators truly have a responsibility to make their best efforts ... affirming the mantra of the Ministry of Education that every child can learn and every child must ... understanding that they are individuals first and the disability is just a characteristic," he ended.