Hanoi teacher has no plans to retire from painstaking task



It can take years to teach the alphabet to her students with intellectual disabilities, but 78-year-old Nguyen Thi Coi has been taking the trouble for 26 years.

Here is the teacher, a student, 1.8-meter tall, run to his classroom at the Tan Mai Community Center No. 2in Hanoi’s Hoang Mai District.From the gate, teacher Nguyen Thi Coi, 78, carries a big bag and walks to her classroom. For years, no matter what the weather, at 8.30 a.m. on weekdays, Coi always presents at the community center which is 1.5 km from her house.

“Here comes the teacher,” yells a 1.8-meter tall student, running into his classroom at the Tan Mai Community Center No. 2 in Hanoi’s Hoang Mai District. The teacher’s routine never changes.
Come rain or shine, Coi will get off a motorbike taxi at the community center’s gate at 8.30 a.m., carrying a big bag. The center is 1.5 km from her house.

Coi started to teach homeless children for free in 1994, when she was the principal of Hoang Van Thu Primary School in Hoang Mai District. In 1998, she retired and decided to open a free class for children living with autism and intellectual disabilities.The teacher latter asked the local authority to help her with a classroom so her special students can have a place to sit and learn.Currently, her class is named Flexible Class and located at Tan Mai Community Center No. 2. This means that teacher Coi teaches her students with flexibility, based on their ability and knowledge. The class includes reading, writing, maths and soft skills.

Coi began to teach homeless children for free in 1994, when she was principal of the Hoang Van Thu Primary School in Hoang Mai District. In 1998, when she retired, she decided to open a free class for children with autism and intellectual disabilities.
She asked the local authorities to help her with a classroom so her special students can have a place to sit and learn.
Her class is called the “Flexible Class,” because she has to accommodate students with widely different abilities. The class teaches reading, writing, math and soft skills.

Most of the 23 students in Coi’s class, from 8 to 30 years old, are intellectually disabled. Some have spent five years in primary schools, but cannot write. Some have been with Coi for 15 years and are still learning the alphabet. Some can read and write, and are trying to remember the summation and subtraction. Coi makes a daily duty schedule for her students to clean the classroom, which helps them to improve their soft skills.

Most of the 23 students in Coi’s class, from 8-30 years old, are intellectually disabled. Some have spent five years in primary schools, but still cannot write. Some have been with Coi for 15 years and are still learning the alphabet. Some can read and write, and are trying to learn to add and subtract.
Besides the academic curriculum, Coi has a daily duty schedule for her students to clean the classroom and do other tasks, helping them learn some soft skills.

The classroom is filled with a board and posters of the Vietnamese alphabet and syllables. Coi divides the board into three parts: the left column is for the letters in the alphabet, the right one is for the Vietnamese rhymes and a small corner for questions from her students, which will be answered later.In this class, some students cannot remember letter ’t’ after three months, so I have to keep the letters and rhymes on the board, then they can see them all the time, Coi explains.

The walls of the classroom are filled with posters of the Vietnamese alphabet and syllables. Coi divides her blackboard into three parts: the left column is for letters of the alphabet, the right one for Vietnamese rhymes and a small corner is reserved for questions from her students, which will be answered later.
“In this class, some students cannot remember the letter ’t’ after three months. I keep the letters and rhymes on the board so that they can see them all the time,” Coi explains.

Seeing a students forget taking his books, Coi comes to his seat to remind him. I am strict to them, I tell them that they must not attend the class if they do not try to learn. Once they hear that, they take their books and notebooks out immediately, Coi said.Nonetheless, she never raises her voice or resorts to violence. Once, a student bit her, Coi asked calmly: Why do you bite me? and the student responded with a big smile. She knows that her students cannot understand things around them well, and they just want to stay close to her to show their love for their teacher.

Seeing a student who has not taken his books out, Coi comes to his seat and reminds him.
“I am strict with them. I tell them that they cannot attend the class if they do not try to learn. Once they hear that, they take their books and notebooks out immediately,” Coi said.
Even if she is strict, she never raises her voice or resorts to any form of corporal punishment. Once, when a student bit her, Coi asked calmly: “Why do you bite me?” and the student responded with a big smile. She knows that her students are different and cannot understand many things. Mostly, they just want to stay close and show their love for her.

Nguyen, 25, has been a member of Coi’s class for more than a decade. Usually skipping class to go to the hospital, Nguyen still tries to remember the alphabet. Her biggest improvement is that she now can hold a pencil to write.According to Coi, helping Nguyen to get used to holding the pencil day by day, children like Nguyen need patience from their teachers. Two or three years for students to learn holding pencils are a normal thing, Coi maintained.

Nguyen, looking far younger than her 25 years, has been a member of Coi’s class for more than a decade. Often skipping the class to go to the hospital, Nguyen is still trying hard to learn the alphabet. Her biggest improvement to date is that she can hold a pencil to write.
Coi said helping her get used to holding the pencil day after day is par for the course for “children” like Nguyen. It is normal that such students take two or three years to learn to held a pencil, she said.

For those learning spelling, Coi asked each of them to come to her table and spell out loud. This is time-consuming, but it helps students to remember, Coi said.

Coi asks her “advanced” students to come to her table one by one and spell words out loud. This is time-consuming, but it helps students to remember, she said.

Coi teaches Khanh Linh, 14, the alphabet. Praised by her teacher, Linh keeps saying that she would become a teacher to help Coi in the future.According to Linh’s grandmother Le Thi Lien, 75, the students has been in Coi’s class for six years. Coi is enthusiastic, she teaches them steps by steps. She is strict but the students enjoy that. Now if I tell Linh to stay at home instead of going to the class, she will disagree, Lien said.

Coi teaches Khanh Linh, 14. A frequent recipient of her teacher’s praise, Linh keeps saying that she will become a teacher to help Coi in the future.
Linh’s grandmother Le Thi Lien, 75, says Coi works wonders with her students. “Coi is enthusiastic, she teaches them step by step. She is strict, but the students enjoy that. Now, if I tell Linh to stay at home instead of going to the class, she will refuse,” Lien said.

Coi sews a book for her students. Many active students ruin their books or lose their rulers and pencils. The teacher uses her own money to buy them school things, clothes and sometimes, she helps them with hospital fees.

Coi sews a book for her students. Many active students ruin their books and lose their rulers and pencils. The teacher uses her own money to buy them school stationery, clothes and sometimes, even helps with hospital fees.

A box on Coi’s table is filled with flu medicines, medicated oil and hand sanitizer, in case the students or myself get sick.

A first-aid box on Coi’s table has flu medicines, medicated oil and hand sanitizers, “in case the students or I get sick.”

Going to the class makes me happy. I love my teacher, said Tung, 25.

“Going to the class makes me happy. I love my teacher,” says Tung, 25.

Students rush to the yard and wait for their family members to come after the class ends at 11 a.m. Coi remains at the community center, keeping her eyes on them and telling them not to be obstreperous.As long as I can walk, I will teach. How can I abandon them, the teacher said while watching her students play with others.

After class ends at 11 a.m. students rush to the yard and wait for their relatives to pick them up. Till the last student leaves, Coi remains at the community center, keeping an eye on them and telling them to behave. She has no thought of retiring from the onerous task she has taken up.
“As long as I can walk, I will teach. How can I abandon them?”



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