By Julian Richter | TeachBeyond Global Communications
When your child has learning difficulties, you look to the school to help them. Testing a student and setting up an individualized education program is common practice in North America. It is not common in other countries. Fortunately, there are teachers like TeachBeyond member Celia Preusse in schools like the International Christian School of Vienna to provide some assistance.
“In my role as the middle school learning support teacher and department head, I work behind the scenes and almost in the shadows supporting our students with various learning, social, emotional, and physical needs,” she says.
Sometimes, parents are so relieved when Celia explains why their child has learning difficulties, they cry. “They have never had someone care enough about their child to find a reason for their learning difficulties.” Even if not all issues or difficulties are known, students find a supportive and safe place in Celia’s classroom.
That’s not always parents’ reaction, however. “It’s a very difficult situation when parents come from a culture where learning differences are not recognized, or it’s offensive to parents if you tell them that their child has one,” she explains. “We’re trying to help the student, but parents think we’re criticizing their parenting. I have to have different strategies when talking to parents from different cultures. I had to learn who to talk to, the mother or father, and what vocabulary to use in describing the diagnosis.”
It’s not only the parents who need help understanding learning difficulties. The students often have a very limited understanding of why they have pull-out classes with Celia to receive extra help. Due to cultural reasons, many of them do not know they have a diagnosis or a specific learning need. This makes her role a mystery or almost a secret to many in the school.
“Many of our international teachers are unaware or confused as to what my role is, and what I do all day. Unless you work with me regularly, it is difficult to ‘get it.’”
Varied Backgrounds Are Challenging
With students from 60 countries, the Vienna school has a very international student body. “They have very different educational backgrounds,” she observes. “Some students that I am helping come from North America or another international school and have a diagnosis of a learning difficulty or being on the autism spectrum. In some students, we don’t know what’s going on. We don’t know if we’re seeing a learning difficulty or the result of a TCK who has gaps in learning as a result of frequently moving between countries, languages, and schools.”
She recalls the success story of one student who came from an Austrian public school with social anxiety and other issues. “He wouldn’t leave the classroom for a couple days,” she says, “but very slowly we were able to integrate him into the school and you could see the barriers dropping. He became a different person. He has friends now, and does activities with them after school. His parents cried with joy when they described the transformation they see in him.”
Celia says she is fortunate to have outside resources in Vienna, including two English-speaking psychologists who can provide testing for a diagnosis. However, resources are very thin. Most international schools don’t have access to speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and other specialists to help students.
She also is fortunate to be using the gifts God gave her to make a difference in students’ lives. The transformation she sees in students has been a blessing to her and to their parents.