Juliana Stinglin, Online English teacher at Acadsoc.
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The educator I introduce today is not famous, but her student is. Her name is Anne Sullivan, like thousands of online English teachers working at Acadsoc or at other ESL companies, contributing their full effort to education but being forgotten. The reason why I recommend Anne Sullivan is not just I am a big fan of Helen Keller, but I really appreciate her teaching method and patience shown when Helen was very young. As a teacher, an online English teacher, a peer to Anne Sullivan, we shall take her as a model when facing kids or any disabled students in our classes.
There is an African proverb that says “Unfundisi Akamuzali Unfundisi”. This can be translated as “A Pastor Does Not Give Birth to a Pastor”. This is such a powerful proverb when we look at so many instances where parents who are of moral high ground, give birth to children who are somewhat not the same or share the same views. In many countries, there exists pressure on kids to live up to their parents’ achievements, desires or even hopes. This makes it very difficult for one to follow their dreams and excel in them. It is very easy for those very same children to put their kids under the very same pressure in the future – so the cycle somewhat continues. There are special cases though, where a mentor ‘adopts’ a child and helps them achieve their dreams – therefore playing the role of a parent, role model, and friend. We see many of these instances in the business sector, but there is one woman in the educational industry, who has shaped the lives of so many students, and one in particular – Helen Keller. It is very rare for people to have an undying passion for the educational sector but here, a lady played the role of a teacher as a mother, educator and as a friend. This powerful woman is known across the world for her contributions and many other teachers still learn from her methods. Her name – Anne Sullivan, a lifelong companion to a child who was blind and deaf.
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Born Johanna Mansfield Sullivan Macy, on the 14th of April 1866, in Feeding Hills in Massachusetts, Anne Sullivan was set to change the world. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Ireland during the Great Famine of the 1840s. The two had five children, two of which died as infants. Sullivan and her two surviving siblings grew up in impoverished conditions and struggled with health problems, Anne of which had bad eyesight. At the age of five, Anne contracted an eye disease called trachoma, which severely damaged her sight. Her mother, Alice, suffered from tuberculosis and had difficulty getting around after a serious fall. She died when Anne was eight years old. Even at an early age, Sullivan had a strong-willed personality. She sometimes clashed with her father, Thomas, who was left to raise Sullivan and her siblings after their mother’s death. Thomas was very abusive and he later abandoned his children – possibly as a result of losing two kids and a wife with no money to raise the surviving children.
Anne would grow up to change the life of a blind and deaf girl through determination and innovation, not only entrenching her name in history but cementing the woman as a formidable force in changing lives and leadership in general. Anne and her infirm younger brother, Jimmie, were sent to live at the Tewksbury Almshouse, a home for the poor. Some reports say that Sullivan also had a sister who was sent to live with relatives. Tewksbury Almshouse was dirty, rundown, and overcrowded. Sullivan’s brother Jimmie died just months after they arrived there, leaving Anne alone. One can only imagine the type of resilience that it took to maintain a level head after so much loss at such a very young age. While at Tewksbury, Sullivan learned about schools for the blind and became determined to get an education as a means to escape poverty.It is there where Anne Sullivan met a six-year-old Helen, who was not only deaf but also blind.
It is believed that only a handful of things are strong enough to stop a determined mind, and when coupled with a determined heart, only death can stop one in the journey to success. When Anne first met the young Keller, she was determined to not let her be a victim of her circumstance, but to rather introduce her to a new way of thinking, a new way of feeling, and ultimately, a new way of thinking. Anne was of the opinion that, just because two senses are underperforming, in this case, hearing and sight, didn’t mean that it was over, but that Helen had to find a way to use her other senses to supplement her hearing and sight. What followed is the true essence of how powerful the mind can be – and to everyone’s surprise, Helen learned her first word, ‘it’. This ‘miraculous’ occurrence was a result of the following: When one or more of our senses are not present, all our other senses are heightened, and, through training, can be controlled in a way that supplements the absent ones. In this case, certain letter vibrations bounced off various parts of Keller’s body and she could replicate them. The way in which she learned her first word was how the letters ‘I’ and ‘t’ bounce off of her hand and when she placed it on Anne’s face. One of the most prominent sentences that Helen constructed was the following, “I am not dumb now!” As a mother, Anne took Helen into her home, gave her a shelter and more importantly, she gave Helen love – something that she needed much of. As a teacher, Anne was able to find a way to make sure that Helen achieves her learning goals despite the disability. Being able to find a way for Helen to use the vibrations felt through touch to speak, had to have happened through many feats of trial and error. As a friend, Anne really gave up so much of her life to give life to Helen – to the point where Helen became her life, her friend. Being all this in one would give rise to a formidable teacher in her own right, her name – Helen Keller.
In a letter that A. Edward Newton wrote to Anne Sullivan, he described Helen Keller as one of the most formidable personalities alive at the time. This was absolutely true. However, through the aid and companionship of Anne Sullivan, Keller would eventually reach a formidable feat of graduating. Helen would not stop there, she would eventually write her biography with Sullivan’s help, titled, “Teacher, a Tribute to Anne Sullivan Macy, by the Foster-Child of Her Mind (1955).” That that very same biography would highlight just how formidable Helen was. We can only imagine the types of challenges that a young girl like Helen had to endure, even with the help of Sullivan – many insecurities come with any disability. Even at 75, Keller was working hard to educate the world about the formidable effect that love can have on anyone – to teach them to overcome their challenges. Through her work, ever since she uttered her first word, Helen was an educator. She challenged the reasons that so many people had not to excel – she challenged even herself.
Today, computers have facilitated the role of educator, turn them into online teachers and many people use the internet to learn on platforms such as Acadsoc, but the conventional classroom still exists. We still have many educators who not only stop in the classroom, but they feel bound by their profession to teach children love, companionship, and perseverance outside of the class. Children with disabilities have a dedicated way of manoeuvring around the conventional schools these days, and there is no need to take them to special schools. Even blind students who can hear can find themselves talking to a teacher on a platform such as Acadsoc and learn valuable life lessons from someone they will never have the liberty of seeing in their life. This is the essence of an educator and we all need to take a leaf from either Anne’s or Helen’s ‘book’, or even both. To learn perseverance as educators and to learn resilience as students. Anne’s teaching methods through love can only be replicated by teachers who are just as dedicated and they may not need to change millions of lives, but just one is enough.
Disability does not mean inability. That is the lesson we learn from Keller. But more formidable, we learn from Anne that love conquers all. Loving yourself, loving what you do, are all determining factors on the role we will play in this world. You don’t have to be rich to start, you only have to be determined. No two lives are as influential in life as Anne Sullivan’s and her spiritual daughter, Helen Keller.