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Travis Yuan - special education and early childhood teacher | S1E11

December 02, 2021

Travis Yuan - special education and early childhood teacher | S1E11
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In this episode:  What happens in a special school classroom. Joys and challenges of working with special needs kids. Holistic education, personalised learning and free play approaches. Similarities and differences between special education and early childhood education. Migrating from Taiwan to New Zealand. A 50-hour birthday celebration across timezones and continents. Following your own path.

About the Guest:  Travis Yuan is a special education teacher based in Auckland, New Zealand. Travis migrated from Taiwan and trained as an early childhood educator before later moving into special education. [Travis' LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/travis-yuan-2ab7b79a/]

Recorded 16 November 2021

Links:

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About the Host: Danu has been thinking hard about education, technology and society for 30 years. His ambition is to start a company that offers holistic learner-first experiences that set the soul on fire. He is based in Auckland, NZ and is currently working as a consultant on research information systems, academic performance and games for education. [Danu's LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/danupoyner/]

Music: Kleptotonic Swing by Tri-Tachyon

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Website: stillcuriouspodcast.com
Twitter: @stillcuriouspod
Email: stillcuriouspodcast@gmail.com

Transcript
Travis Yuan:

I told her what's happening at school. She got emotional and teary because she did not think we were talking about the same child. I was really proud of that because I did not expect this person that will be able to actually talk at all.

Danu Poyner:

You're listening to the Still Curious Podcast with me, Danu Poyner. My guest today is Travis Yuan who is a special education teacher based in Auckland, New Zealand. Travis migrated from Taiwan and trained as an early childhood educator before later moving into special education. In this episode, we discuss the day-to-day realities of leading a classroom full of kids with special needs and why it's so important to adapt and improvise.

Travis Yuan:

It changes daily. When one or two or all the students set off by something we have to throw out the plan for that day. my mind is constantly planning and thinking what's going to happen in the next 10, 20 minutes

Danu Poyner:

Travis shares his views on free play approaches and the similarities and differences between early childhood education and special education.

Travis Yuan:

The students show you their interest and then you plan along the journey to guide them to go further and to go up a level. If you just dump a basket of blocks on the table for them to do whatever they want, that's not intentional planned experience

Danu Poyner:

We also discuss Travis's experience of migrating from Taiwan and why it matters to him to follow his own path

Travis Yuan:

I figured out that's the only way I can actually get out of the system as soon as possible to do well at school. So no one will actually bother me, and let me do what I want to do.

Danu Poyner:

It's a fun, fascinating and surprising conversation. I learned a lot. I hope you will too. Enjoy it's Travis Yuan coming up right up to the music break on today's episode of the Still Curious Podcast hi, Travis. Welcome to the podcast. How are you?

Travis Yuan:

I'm good.

Danu Poyner:

So you're a classroom teacher at a special school that describes itself as having a holistic approach where students can expect to be supported in their personal social, emotional, and educational growth by participating in personalized learning programs. What would you say is the most important thing for someone to understand about what you do?

Travis Yuan:

Everything is pretty much similar to a mainstream school but we kind of slow down everything that we don't need to actually get in to achieve certain milestones as the mainstream school students do. For special needs students, you need to actually know what they can do. What's their ability where they're interested in doing. And also what's the best approach for each of the students instead of using the same approach for the whole classroom? We called it play based learning. For example making Play-Doh, which is probably one of the most popular activities at school. You set up this activity, they engage in making it, so during the time you're making Play-Doh, they learned math cause they have to measure the ingredients. They learned that develop their literacy skills because they're not only counting, they also learned how the read recipe the names of the tools also while they are engaging in the activities they're focused. They're calm which is good for their emotional growth. So that's kind of a thing that we try to do at school. We don't just teach them. We don't just sit down and say, we are learning alphabet today, but we use songs or game for them to actually learn those knowledge without knowing that they are actually learning. They just naturally remember what's happening. And of course, we try to make the activities fun and inviting, so they just naturally want to come and know what's happening. So they learn.

Danu Poyner:

Makes sense. Thanks for sharing that I'm keen to understand a few more examples of holistic learning and the personalized learning programs. What goes into those, but I guess before we get into details we should probably address this category that we call special education. How would you explain what special education is to say a 10 year old who doesn't have direct experience of it?

Travis Yuan:

So the difference between my students and mainstream students is more like they have emotional behavioral issue or they have shorter concentration spans. or they can control the emotions when things don't go their way. so I just need to find out how long they can actually focus on engaging one thing. Then they just need a break. They need a break in between activities before they have a tantrum that will be a success that will be a success. so you just need to figure out how everyone works. some students can actually focus on doing something longer than others. You just need to know how each of their systems work and then you have those breaks in between that actually help them engaging in those periods while they learning.

Danu Poyner:

That makes sense. is That a common kind of scenario in your classroom situation where people can't handle their emotions?

Travis Yuan:

I have seven students in my classroom and they all pretty much on a spectrum of autism. Some of them are more capable than others. They can control their emotions? they can learn more. And others, it's pretty much like they, they can't deal with frustration. They're like really thinking directly only about themselves or what they want to do. If things get changed or doesn't go the way they expect it to, they can't handle it. So they have a meltdown, they cry, they scream. They will try to do what they want to do. Yeah.

Danu Poyner:

How do you engage with that kind of situation when that happens?

Travis Yuan:

can kind of trying to find a balance between what they want to do and what we want them to do. let me think. I have a student who is sensitive to noises and have another student who screens whenever he's angry or upset. And Whenever the screamer screams, that will set the other

Danu Poyner:

Like a chain reaction

Travis Yuan:

Yes. So it's not only two of them. So I have one that's sensitive to noise. One this that who screams one would just shouts whenever he's happy or for no reason. And one will cry whenever he doesn't want to do what he's asked to do. So pretty much these four people, they kind of set off each other constantly every day. So what we need to do is to try to minimize or reduce the time, they actually scream or shout or cry to try to keep the whole classroom calm.

Danu Poyner:

That sounds intense Can you kind of tell when this is going to happen can, you detect, oh, this is going to set people off

Travis Yuan:

yeah. Cause, actually a lot of things can set him off first of all, the noises we can't control. So like the sound of cicadas, uh, yes. And lawn mowers outside the window, or any machine that's being operated outside the window, but that we can't actually stop immediately. That will set someone off. Or even during our group time, okay, so I can talk about someone else who hates a gingerbread story. Gingerbread main story. Whenever I played a story, he just screamed and cry and try to run out of the classroom. So those noises will set one person off and for me to stop the story for who liked gingerbread man story will set them off because they want to continue listening to the story.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah.

Travis Yuan:

So, Yeah. so that constantly happens. I just need to know the timing when I can actually stop the story or when I can start a story or song so my mind is actually planning thinking ahead all the time.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah. It sounds like quite a complicated balancing act. And you'd have to be quite good at improvising. Is that, a fair assessment?

Travis Yuan:

Yeah. I just need to know them very well. So we have a morning circle time when everyone's sitting at the table saying greeting everyone choosing a song that they like so I know who I can who can have a turn first, and once they have their turn, they can leave the table. So they wouldn't get affected by what's happening next. Yeah, so for me what's most important thing is to build relationship with them, even for mainstream students, the relationship is important because doesn't matter how good you as a teacher, if no one wants to be around you or curious about what you're doing, they're not gonna learn anything. So especially these students, they have more or less emotional behavioral issues. They want to feel comfortable and, be in a familiar environment. So if you don't have a good relationship when they wouldn't even get close to you,

Danu Poyner:

Okay. How do you go about getting to know the students? I understand that would be very important. How do you approach that?

Travis Yuan:

ah, the first thing is observation. You have the, the student to find their personality the interest and their behaviors or the habits, or. Of the that, that they have in their life, like eating learning how they play, how they react to instructions. When I was working as a preschool teacher and we usually spent a month, usually four to six weeks to observe just one student and find out what they are really interested in doing and learning before we plan anything for them.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah. Okay.

Travis Yuan:

Yeah. In the beginning. It can get really full on, but once you get used to it, as the time goes, you also, you get to know them. They get to know you more. So you kinda know where they are going in their learning journey.

Danu Poyner:

Hence the very personalized kind of programs you, you mentioned there were seven people in your class are the people in the class all the same age or they are they at different ages?

Travis Yuan:

Okay, That's a really good question because the students place in certain class, according to the condition or their ability. We have a classroom where the students are more academic, they're more communicative and they're ready to go to a satellite class in the mainstream school. And we have more sensory class where they learn through the senses. So you don't plan too much academic activities for them because that just doesn't make sense. They're enjoying more and exploring with materials. Yeah, so that's pretty much how the setup is. For my class, I pretty much have a entry class cause they all just turn five or they, they just transitioned from a preschool to a school setting. Yeah.

Danu Poyner:

Okay, thank you. So I'm intrigued by the holistic approach and the personalized learning programs. How do you go about creating a personalized learning program? What kinds of things are important to consider when you're doing that?

Travis Yuan:

First of all the ability we call it age appropriate activities, again, you build a relationship, you observe them. So, you know, their level of learning and development. Also we try to get them to learn based on the interest. So that w that would be easier for them to actually want to explore new stuff. I have a student in my class who is physically capable. And he he's pretty much academic. He just can't talk that much. But he shows that interesting, like just a few weeks ago, he was singing the songs of different film production companies. Now those songs before the movies. And then he started writing the names of like Dreamworks Columbia, that kind of thing.

Danu Poyner:

Oh, wow

Travis Yuan:

Yeah. We was shocked because we had no idea that he, he knows how to write. Yeah. So I just built on that. I start printing out those like movie posters or the names of the production company. And he started doing tracing and he was watching a video on YouTube about those movie things. And then I teach, him how the alphabet, I didn't know. I don't think he knows all the alphabets, but I was just teaching how the alphabet works while he was writing. So it's, I'm not asking him to memorize or all the letters, but he was kind of slowly, gradually remembering what the words say and how to spell them.

Danu Poyner:

So you being quite spontaneous in adapting to something that's coming out in the, in front of you, it sounds like and changing your plans based on, yeah. I'm really curious to understand how that works. Cause you've got, this kind of curriculum sitting behind things that you need to hit. And I really liked the phrase you used before about balancing what they want to do with what you want them to do. It, it sounds like a really nuanced kind of thing how do you approach that can you sort of share any examples of it?

Travis Yuan:

I'm trying to find out how it works too. Cause in early childhood education, you change the topic once that the child's interests changed. So you don't have a set time focusing on one subject or learning areas is changing all the time according to the the, the kid, but now I'm in the school setting as a primary school setting. We do have plans for the whole Say a school term? I don't actually follow the term, the term plan sometimes I try, I try to, but sometimes it's hard. What I do now is I plan in something for the students to learn for the term and they don't need to achieve it if they don't achieve this, the goal that we set for them, it could go on for the next term and just keep going on till they get to a certain level. We don't, we don't need to push it, or we don't have that pressure from mainstream school that we need to learn. certain content in a certain amount of time.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah, I was going to ask you how often you stick to the plan and how often you throw it out and which has better.

Travis Yuan:

I don't throw it out. It's actually it's it It changes daily. We have daily plan, weekly plan, term plan, that kind of thing. I try to stick to the plan but usually when one or two or all the students kind of set off by something on the day we have to throw out the plan for that day. And we, and we just carry on the following day. So there's no, there's no end we just, or just keep going along.

Danu Poyner:

yeah.

Travis Yuan:

Yeah.

Danu Poyner:

Constantly adapting.

Travis Yuan:

So we run the program as a group and then once they done where they asked to do say one teacher aides can take a particular student out in the playground as a break or reward and leaving the rest of them in a classroom and they can scream, they can shout, they can do whatever. Yeah. So we're kind we just need to take turns and know when to remove someone from the situation or environment. And then once another person achieved what they need to do for the day, they can go out for a walk and the other person can come back. So it's constantly changing the plan just to kind of coordinate with everyone's needs.

Danu Poyner:

Hm. Is that a skill that you bring into your life outside the school, being able to adapt and change your plans?

Travis Yuan:

I am a really organized person. yeah, But I I've at work. I kind of take that skill to extreme because my mind is constantly planning and thinking what's going to happen in the next 10, 20 minutes. And I'll let my teacher aides know. So we know how to manage, to keep everyone, everything calm and manageable. It's kinda hard to explain if you don't see it. It starts from the beginning of the day when they come in, you already know someone come in in a good mood or. So you plan, you start your planning from that point.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah. So thanks zooming out then. I'm interested to understand how you came into this line of work. Is there something that particularly resonates for you about special education?

Travis Yuan:

No, not really. Like I said, I used to be a preschool teacher. I had so much fun working with children under five until one day I left the job do something else I'll try to put this in the, in, in a nice way.

Danu Poyner:

Well, put it in an honest way.

Travis Yuan:

Okay. So I had. I did not enjoy working with some adults I found it more challenging to deal with adults then teaching young kids. That's, that's why I, thought, okay. I did this for more than 10 years now. It's time for change. Because of COVID I had to come back to teaching. But I didn't want to do the same thing. Again, so I started exploring other fields of education.

Danu Poyner:

I think we better back up here and you tell me the story we'll come to the early childhood education, but was something in education, always plan A for you.

Travis Yuan:

Oh yeah. I can't tell you why, but that's, that's the only thing I wanted to do when I was a child. When I was a kid

Danu Poyner:

When's your

Travis Yuan:

earliest memory

Danu Poyner:

of, thinking I want to do something.

Travis Yuan:

when I was in kindergarten, I told my mom that I am going to be a teacher and this, I play a marking paper. Dan teaching, teach on a pretend, teaching the staff toys and stuff, things like that.

Danu Poyner:

Wow. So it really was there was no doubt that it was going to be education.

Travis Yuan:

Yeah. And I don't know why.

Danu Poyner:

Do you know why now? We often say you know, you have to live your life forwards, but you only understand things backwards. Is it something you have a reflection on now?

Travis Yuan:

I thought, I just enjoy helping others. I like to see how students grow or learn something new I thought education is a very important things in like everywhere. It's not business, it's not something that you make money out of. It's more like developing people for a country for for the society, for the environment. Yeah, enjoying that. I enjoy seeing people grow. Maybe that's why.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah. So you trained as an early childhood educator, is that right? Can you share anything about that experience?

Travis Yuan:

I always enjoy more kind of open ended learning situations growing up. And I, I can't say I experienced that when I was a student back in Taiwan where I'm from and I came to New Zealand and I realized I can do everything the opposite way of my experience? growing up

Danu Poyner:

Oh, really.

Travis Yuan:

and it worked.

Danu Poyner:

Okay. Could you tell me a little bit more about that? What was it like in Taiwan?

Travis Yuan:

oh, that's pretty much you listen to the teachers. You listen to your parents, you do what they want you to do. And I didn't think I, I need, I, I need to put this in a very nice way.

Danu Poyner:

You can do it. You can do two takes. You can do a nice way, and then you can do an honest way.

Travis Yuan:

Okay. The nice way. is that I just thought I am a very, I see myself as a pretty creative person open to learning, trying different things, but I don't think I experienced that growing up until I came to New Zealand and I decided to, to study early childhood education and I realized I don't need to limit myself or the students to do what I dunno the society, wants them to do, wants them to be, or achieve, certain things at certain age and certain environment. It's more about exploring. When I first work in the early childhood center my, my parents will be upset to listening to this, but I remember that I was not allowed to be messy at school and I let the students to be messy during art activity. And I remember I was told to draw or create certain things that a teacher wanted me to do I was a kid. So I, so I let my students do where they where they want to create and everyone was happy and learning and, and everything was fine. It's not the end of the world. And I just liked the, the, the feeling of that. And I was told I did the right thing and actually a lot of the people asked me, how do you know how to do it? Cause you didn't grow up here. I just do the opposite of what my parents want me to do.

Danu Poyner:

well, that's a good rule to live by. Isn't.

Travis Yuan:

I know. Yeah. But yeah, I, yeah, my mom's not happy about this.

Danu Poyner:

So, is that a, is that a very conscious thing? Just starting to do, the opposite.

Travis Yuan:

yeah. At the beginning? Yes. Now I'm used to it, so, so I don't need to have that mindset anymore. It's more, it's very natural when I talk to a student or young kids, even my nephew or niece. I, yeah, I don't actually have assumptions or too much expectations of what they need to do or listen to me all the time.

Danu Poyner:

Given your experience in Taiwan that you've described, have you had yourself a learning experience where you've been able to take that exploring curiosity based kind of messy approach?

Travis Yuan:

at school? Probably not, but when I was trying to learn I have other interests, like singing. I was singing in the choir. I enjoyed painting, creating, drawing that kind of thing where I don't need to listen to anyone then. Yes.

Danu Poyner:

Not not having to listen to, people's kind of it's, it's a bit of a theme I'm detecting.

Travis Yuan:

yes, because I know what I'm doing. So, I mean, I know where I'm going. I know which, which path I'm going actually to go. No, no one knows because they're not me.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah. You know, our best, how to be you.

Travis Yuan:

Yes. So, yeah, but at school I can't, I had to listen to the teachers and pass the test and stuff and did that exams and what I was supposed to learn.

Danu Poyner:

yeah. And did you

Travis Yuan:

Oh, that was the top, top students all the way through. I figured out that's the only way I can actually get out of the system as soon as possible to do well at school. So no one will actually bother me. and let me do what I want to do.

Danu Poyner:

so doing what you needed to do kind of gave you the freedom later to to be left alone. It sounds like.

Travis Yuan:

yes.

Danu Poyner:

And what do you do when you're left alone to your own devices and follow your own path?

Travis Yuan:

Oh, I sing, I dance. I create artwork. I make my own clothes and

Danu Poyner:

own clothes? Tell me about that.

Travis Yuan:

I'm really good at sewing. I don't know why I never learned professionally, I don't know how to use this sewing machine, but I sew by hand. Yeah.

Danu Poyner:

What kinds of,

Travis Yuan:

of,

Danu Poyner:

do you make?

Travis Yuan:

what all sorts of things. Like I put two old t-shirts together

Danu Poyner:

yeah.

Travis Yuan:

a new one. Even haircuts, I did my own haircut at school. Cause I didn't think anyone would do it the way I want it. So I started developing these skills to kind of cater to my own needs.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah. You sound like you've got very clear ideas about what you want.

Travis Yuan:

Yes. Yeah. I hope. Yeah, I think so.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah, that's good. I like it. I'm curious, is there something else you want to share before we move on?

Travis Yuan:

I just love languages. and I have a, this I can't, I have no other talents, but when it comes to language, I tend to learn them quite quickly. I don't know why. And they're just one of my interests.

Danu Poyner:

How many languages do you have?

Travis Yuan:

I speak Mandarin English. I understand Cantonese. I speak a little bit of Japanese and Spanish. I'm learning Russian at the moment. Yeah. So I try to create some more connection with my half Taiwanese half russian, nephew.

Danu Poyner:

right?

Travis Yuan:

Yeah. If I don't master the language, but I seem to be able to learn then quite well.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah. You pick them up quickly. It sounds like you're interested in using them to kind of connect with other people. is that

Travis Yuan:

Yeah. Yeah. When I was a kid, I thought if I could talk to most of the people in the world, that will be a very cool thing. So I checked Mandarin English and Spanish are the three most spoken languages. And I already know two why don't I learn Spanish as well. And I had my cousins living in Paraguay who speak Spanish. So I thought, okay, I can give a go. That's why

Danu Poyner:

Well, I like this. Give it a go thing. I think that does your great credit. Can you say I follow my own path in a language of your choice?

Travis Yuan:

Okay. I can try and Mandarin *speaking in Mandarin*

Danu Poyner:

Thank you.

Travis Yuan:

Thank you so much for embarrassing me.

Danu Poyner:

Ah, you're a good sport. Just to loop back a bit. What, what drew you to New Zealand? How did that move?

Travis Yuan:

So I always have a thing of improving my English growing up. And I became a English teacher in Taiwan. My major was social studies, but I can also teach English. And I thought if I never lived in the English speaking country, how can I teach people to, speak English in a real in a appropriate way, because they know that those things we learned from textbook doesn't count.

Danu Poyner:

So it was a very conscious thing about getting some lived experience that would improve your expertise.

Travis Yuan:

Yes, yes. Yeah. And I came here for holiday in my second year of uni and I really enjoyed it I had so much fun. I made great people. My host family was amazing. I met really good friends. Yeah. So I thought I could maybe come back here to do something.

Danu Poyner:

Nice. And so that was it. That was the decision made. Wait, was that the nice version or the honest version?

Travis Yuan:

That's a nice version.

Danu Poyner:

That's the nice version. And now tell me the honest

Travis Yuan:

The honors version. is that I just don't like all the expectations in the Asian society environment, from the family, from the society, from pretty much everything that you have to do really good. You have to have good grades to proceed or to succeed in your life and all that. I just don't like everyone has their own mindset of how other people should live their life,

Danu Poyner:

Hmm.

Travis Yuan:

including my parents. So I D I was just trying to run away from that.

Danu Poyner:

And has that worked out for you? have you got what you need from that move

Travis Yuan:

Yeah. Didn't I tell you about the success that I had at work. I just did everything the opposite way.

Danu Poyner:

that's right. It's it seems to be working. you, you mentioned that you found it challenging in the early childhood role, dealing with the adults. Can you explain a bit what was challenging?

Travis Yuan:

Hmm, how do I say this?

Danu Poyner:

Honestly.

Travis Yuan:

okay. Yes, I know, aye, Like I told you earlier that we observed the students and then we extend their learning based on their interest. For me, that's normal. You do that for everyone in your classroom. However, I work with some people who are observed them, get to know them and then stop. They did not extend. They did not, they did not plan in anything for the students to grow based on their interest. That's what they believed as open ended learning. But that's not true. The truth is the students show you their interest and then you plan along the journey for the, to guide them to go further and learn more to go up a level. I observed them too. the children just come to a classroom and they find the toys they want to play with all the time with no instructions or any further learning, they just come here to play. That's not how we learn. If you only do the same thing over and over again, how do you develop more skills know more about what you're doing?

Danu Poyner:

Why do you think those people were not doing that?

Travis Yuan:

The teachers still need to do intentional planning. So I don't see any of that. we're not talking about putting toys on the table and for them to play with that's it, there will be a reason why you do things with the student. So building Legos, the language that you use during the activity, or you show them photos or the the structures for them to actually copy that's all something that they can actually learn and decide whether they want to go further or not. But if you just dump a basket of blocks on the table for them to do whatever they want, that's not intentional planned experience.

Danu Poyner:

So, this is a really interesting point to me, Travis, because, you know, you've talked a bit about your experience in Taiwan and some of the reasons why you left and what you were looking for and that, that exploration and that extending of people and developing people was not really part of the experience that you personally had had, but it's very important to you. It sounds like to be bringing that to your practice as a teacher. How do you explain that you are able to do this in the classroom, but the people you're working with weren't necessarily able to bring that mindset to their practice.

Travis Yuan:

In the beginning of my teaching days there were more people like me. So when we come across someone like what I just described we kind of prove them wrong, but as the time goes, they are more people that like them.

Danu Poyner:

like them?

Travis Yuan:

yeah, so people like me they will think us to be wrong and we just complicated

Danu Poyner:

Hm

Travis Yuan:

From my experiences, that's what kind of frustrated me at a time. we often argue about the meaning of free play some people believe that free play is that children just choose whatever they want and we don't need to do anything

Danu Poyner:

The way you explain it makes it sound to me. Like there's a version of it where the teacher takes some responsibility and, and a version where the teacher doesn't take some responsibility. Is that, a fair

Travis Yuan:

yes and no, because they do take responsibilities cause they provide materials. But then there's no extension from that experience

Danu Poyner:

I'm lingering on this point a little bit because it seems really important. You've talked about how you were always going to be in education and Teaching and education means to you. And yet you're in this situation frustrated enough to leave the profession to do something else. So I want to understand what that was like for you.

Travis Yuan:

I worked in several different ECE learning centers. when you first go into a new environment, you can definitely see how the children behave to tell what kind of guidance or learning they're being provided with. You can just tell from the way they act, they talk you can clearly tell the difference which group they coming from. for adults. It's more like we can initiate actions to find more knowledge that we're interest in. But for children, they need people to guide them

Danu Poyner:

Hm.

Travis Yuan:

they pretty much learn from zero. To be honest, when they grow up to a certain age, everyone is pretty much to same it's not that important. After a while, but I just thought if you call yourself a teacher, you should provide. the opportunity for them to actually explore as much as they could, you don't just watch them. It doesn't sound very nice.

Danu Poyner:

But it sounds honest.

Travis Yuan:

Yes. That's what I, that's why. I mean, I'm, maybe I'm a bit too full on. I'm crazy about this early learning, uh, stage.

Danu Poyner:

it matters to you very much.

Travis Yuan:

Oh yeah. Gosh, this is a really intense,

Danu Poyner:

Oh, well, let me, let me change tack then. I noticed you spent a little while doing cabin crew for an international airline. How did you get it?

Travis Yuan:

An opportunity came up and I took it. That was just a, no, I happened to talk to someone at the birthday party who used to work for Air New Zealand and, we were talking about visiting my family in Taiwan and I said I actually didn't have many chances to go In the past few years and he suggested that I should try to be cabin crew then I can visit them because in New Zealand flies to Taiwan.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah.

Travis Yuan:

I didn't take that seriously until a few days later, he sent me a link of the ad, huh? I didn't expect to do anything, but there happened to be a long weekend. I think that was Queen's birthday. So I thought it wouldn't hurt if I just fill out the phone and I did

Danu Poyner:

and the rest is history.

Travis Yuan:

Not really. It went no, I had to go through full rounds of interviews after filling out the form I didn't expect to get a job. So I just keep, uh, doing what I asked me to do.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah,

Travis Yuan:

eventually I got it.

Danu Poyner:

there you go. It sounds like quite a lot of work to go through for something that you, that you weren't expecting or necessarily looking for.

Travis Yuan:

Yeah. And I had the fear of flying, So I would never thought I could. A flight attendant. I was trying to just get out of what I was doing

Danu Poyner:

And this this, this came up. I understand. What's one of your best memories from that time.

Travis Yuan:

I happened to work with a manager that was very friendly, and kind to me on my birthday to Vancouver. We had one flight previously together. That's how we got to know each other. And then we realized we have another flight in a week's time. And he knew that was my birthday. He bought the cake without me knowing

Danu Poyner:

That's nice.

Travis Yuan:

yeah, so he used the passenger announcement to tell all the passengers that it was my birthday. So sa to me. Ha. And we had a party at the back of the.

Danu Poyner:

That's nice. there's some good stuff on the plane to have a party with as well. I imagined.

Travis Yuan:

Yeah. I pretty much. I spend 50 hours spending celebrating my, birthday because that was a Sunday in Auckland so I already had my birthday party before the flight and then the flight was 13 hours. And when we got to Vancouver, it was still my birthday. So we went out. Yeah. So we went out for dinner and drinks after that. So it was about 50 hours celebration.

Danu Poyner:

Now that is a pretty cool story. Extending the birthday across multiple time zones and continents. That's that's pretty stylish.

Travis Yuan:

Yeah. So the, probably that was my memory, I think.

Danu Poyner:

Did did that experience change you in any way? Not the birthday so much,

Travis Yuan:

oh,

Danu Poyner:

the flight well, I mean, yeah, maybe the birthday thing, but the flying

Travis Yuan:

I wanted to take on that that job to kind of push myself out of my comfort zone because, you know, I have limited social circle with the teaching job So I wanted to see if I could actually communicate with people that I don't know. It did help me actually, two weeks, two weeks after. I started flying I remember chatting with Uber driver

Danu Poyner:

Oh yeah.

Travis Yuan:

I was with my sister and she was like, why, what were you doing? I'm like, I don't know. I just like naturally started talking to everyone.

Danu Poyner:

Oh, wow. So it really did change

Travis Yuan:

Yes. They helped me. That helped me jump out of my comfort zone and I become more. sociable, I guess.

Danu Poyner:

Nice. I take it. Is, is COVID what put a stop to the flying career?

Travis Yuan:

fortunately, unfortunately,

Danu Poyner:

Well, why fortunately and Why unfortunately,

Travis Yuan:

Unfortunately I just put a stop to my traveling life,

Danu Poyner:

Hmm,

Travis Yuan:

but fortunately I think my passion is still there about teaching I have So much fun. Now

Danu Poyner:

So COVID put a stop to the flying and then you decided to come back to teaching. And is that how you got into the special education area?

Travis Yuan:

Again, this opportunity came up in this special school, so I took it.

Danu Poyner:

Was that daunting at all as a bit of an unfamiliar situation.

Travis Yuan:

Yes, of course. In my teaching days as a preschool teacher, we always had one or two students with special needs in the class. But I didn't know what it will be like work in a school where they are all students with special needs. So

Danu Poyner:

so that you had some experience of it, but yeah, it's a

Travis Yuan:

different situations actually my first kid with special needs with autism in my life it's still in this special school.

Danu Poyner:

wow

Travis Yuan:

That's why I, I know there's a special school there.

Danu Poyner:

Hm.

Travis Yuan:

Yeah, he's still there. His 12 probably. Yeah, when we found that he was autistic, he was one and he stay in my classroom until he turned six.

Danu Poyner:

What happens to the kids who've had this kind of experience of holistic and personalized learning when they leave that environment and, and go into either another of a learning environment life situation that's not like that.

Travis Yuan:

to be honest, I don't know.

Danu Poyner:

Hm.

Travis Yuan:

In my school they can stay in my school until the 20. they turn 21,

Danu Poyner:

Well,

Travis Yuan:

but of course, before they leave the school we have life skill or vocational programs for them to learn how to work if they are, able to kind of learn how to be in a professional, working environment, they will be in those programs before they leave school. But after that, I actually don't know.

Danu Poyner:

Interesting do you use any thing from your early childhood education again, the special school school situation that that you bring over?

Travis Yuan:

Yes all the time, even though the primary teaching training and early childhood education training two different programs, but for the students I work with their development is obviously a few years behind or delay, which make them in early childhood stage. So I thought there'll be useful if I can use what I learned before which is true cause you still need to build relationship and find the interest to know how the, you can help them. So it's pretty much the same, but in the primary school setting, you need to bring academic aspects into the whole. Which is not happening in the early childhood education level. So I've been learning to do that, to kind of incorporate both in my classroom.

Danu Poyner:

is it difficult to find someone's interest?

Travis Yuan:

No. no, no, really. If you watch them, if you just leave them along in the classroom and the first toys they will touch, or if you play certain songs or story, they immediately, you will come over and try to get engaged in it. That's really obvious just like watching the adults because adults can pretty much tell you whether they like,

Danu Poyner:

Hmm.

Travis Yuan:

But also through conversations and, observation, you know, someone's interested in what you're talking about or not. That's obvious.

Danu Poyner:

That strikes me. It's very true. Although I think something happens sometimes to people as they get older where they kind of forget what they're interested in and they they get sick it's muted in their lives. Not everyone keeps this this interest and this exploration close to the surface. It goes away for a lot of people.

Travis Yuan:

Yeah, because as an adult, I can choose whether I want to explore something today or if I want to do something about my interest or hobby, but in school, I don't think that's a case. Students. I expected to actually learn something or engage in learning activities at school. So they can resist it, but more or less, they will have to be involved in. things that the teachers plan in for them

Danu Poyner:

that comes back to what you're saying. at the start about balancing what they want to do versus what you need them to do.

Travis Yuan:

W we're learning to be resilient

Danu Poyner:

Hmm.

Travis Yuan:

and also express yourself for me in the classroom. If they're able to express that I don't want to do something. I will listen. If they throw a tantrum or they cry or they scream. I leave them alone. We're constantly teaching them how to communicate. If they actually learned to say, no, I don't want to do it, or I want to do it later then I definitely listen. Yeah,

Danu Poyner:

That's that's pretty powerful. I think there's probably some adults who could stand to learn that as well.

Travis Yuan:

Yes, exactly.

Danu Poyner:

I'm just remembering long years of customer service.

Travis Yuan:

Yeah. Oh, exactly. Yeah,

Danu Poyner:

Yeah. The holistic learning personalized learning program is following your interests in this kind of exploration, guiding that scenario that you're talking about. Sounds really great. I'm now starting to wonder why don't we do that in regular education? Do you have a perspective on that?

Travis Yuan:

Ah, okay. So, I like to know too, because there's apparently a big gap between early childhood education and the formal school education in New Zealand. So that's something that I personally want is to find out why there's a big gap between that. So if they experienced open ended explorative learning in the first five years of their life, once they, get into a school. That approach changed.

Danu Poyner:

It seems almost a shame that someone should have to go from, as you say a few years of, exploration, curiosity based learning that someone should have to adapt to something. That's kind of inferior

Travis Yuan:

Yeah. But while I've learned now there are more and more primary schools. They are bringing this play based learning, or open-ended environment kind of setting into the school environment. So it's probably changing

Danu Poyner:

Hmm.

Travis Yuan:

time, but it's not going to happen. I went,

Danu Poyner:

No, these things do take time.

Travis Yuan:

Yeah.

Danu Poyner:

Well, that's very interesting. I mean, listening to you talk the care that you have for the kids and the students and their development. really comes through. And I'm wondering if you have any stories you want to tell about experiences you're particularly proud of or that have resonated

Travis Yuan:

with you strongly

Danu Poyner:

in, in your teaching?

Travis Yuan:

Hmm. I'm not good at talking good about myself.

Danu Poyner:

well, let me, Let me help you out of

Travis Yuan:

Okay.

Danu Poyner:

I found that you have received a couple of teacher excellence awards in, in,

Travis Yuan:

whoa,

Danu Poyner:

20, 60, 20 16 and 2012. So tell me about that. I always do my research.

Travis Yuan:

Okay. I was going to talk about the proud moment as a special ed teacher, not the past. To be honest, I don't think this should be a scale or a comparison between teachers, because whatever you do in the classroom depends on students that you come across this different approaches you can say, who's, who's better. And who's the best one. So I actually told my boss that not to give me an award after my first award. Cause that doesn't make sense,

Danu Poyner:

And they didn't listen. seemingly cause you've got, you've got two.

Travis Yuan:

but I was brainwashed over the years saying it's not a competition, but it's just a way that they appreciate your work. Just a way to say thank you

Danu Poyner:

Hmm.

Travis Yuan:

And that was kind of okay with that.

Danu Poyner:

I think that's a good point. I learned at some point that awards because awards make me very uncomfortable personally. It was also, but they're kind of often more about the people giving them than the person receiving it. It's, it's something that other people get from the experience.

Travis Yuan:

Yeah.

Danu Poyner:

And it sounded like you were going to tell a story from the special education space that you were proud of.

Travis Yuan:

So I had two non-verbal students joining my class beginning of the year who never spoke before and one day so I, of. course I just trained them to recognize their names, the letter. I don't do anything further than that. I just keep doing the same thing over and over again, matching letters in their names, reading, same books, over and over again, and teach them how to communicate using signs and visuals. And one of them one day, suddenly he pointed to the word on the sign and said I need some food. He said it words

Danu Poyner:

Wow.

Travis Yuan:

and, and he spelled his name.He's got a really long name, but one day he just did all the matching himself and started spelling his name whenever he sees it. I did not expect that at all.

Danu Poyner:

You must've known the significance of that as it was happening.

Travis Yuan:

yeah, his parents as essential worker I told her what's happening. at school. She got emotional and teary because she did not think we were talking about the same child. I was really proud of that because I did not expect this person that will be able to actually talk at all.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah,

Travis Yuan:

a few weeks time,

Danu Poyner:

that's amazing.

Travis Yuan:

going to cry.

Danu Poyner:

Oh, it's a, it's a beautiful thing I think. What strikes me about that is just The persistence without expectation that you have to have to do what you're doing. That sounds like a big part of what you do actually.

Travis Yuan:

Yeah. So you don't actually need to rush or trying to get them to to do what you expect them to do. You just keep doing it one day, you will see the progress and then you move on. So that, just one of the example, they, they have so many, it's not only me. My team is really good. The two ladies I work with as my teacher aides, they also kind of support me all the time. And we, we have constant discussions about how to support students learning. I'm really appreciative of what they do as well.

Danu Poyner:

It takes a village as they say. Um,

Travis Yuan:

And then the child the one I mentioned earlier, who screamed all the time and after one, a half term, he stopped screaming. He started using words saying helpfully.

Danu Poyner:

no. Wow.

Travis Yuan:

And every morning I asked one of my teachers to, to read him same book over and over again. And one day we just caught him reading the same book, turning the pages by himself, reading the exact words in the book,

Danu Poyner:

Hm.

Travis Yuan:

every page that was either.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah.

Travis Yuan:

Yeah. they just surprised You

Danu Poyner:

Yeah. You must see so many surprising things about humanity. I think doing what you do.

Travis Yuan:

Yeah. They know what's happening, even though they tiny bit delay, but they definitely have the ability to actually acquire new. Inflammation in their system. You just need to find a way to, help them, show it or

Danu Poyner:

Um,

Travis Yuan:

to show it. If they don't feel comfortable enough, they wouldn't show it

Danu Poyner:

so part of it is creating an environment where you provide the encouragement so that they get to know you and trust you that way to express. Hmm. Well it's not everyone could do that. I think Travis.

Travis Yuan:

I'm trying my best.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah. I think it's very, very inspiring. Something I ask everyone who comes on the podcast if you could give someone a life-changing experience for learning, but would it be

Travis Yuan:

okay. I dislike two types of things that people say when they come across and the issue

Danu Poyner:

Yeah.

Travis Yuan:

one is I don't know. The other one is I can't do anything about it. I've been, doing this to some people, when they, when they say, I don't know, I say you do and ask them to think, Yeah.

Danu Poyner:

well, that's a great way to make friends.

Travis Yuan:

Yeah. Yeah. Oh, well, they're already my friend, so,

Danu Poyner:

Yeah.

Travis Yuan:

so yeah, definitely need to think and come up with something that can actually solve your problems in life or whatever issues you come across professionally or personally. So. I just hate people telling me, I don't know. And I can't do anything about it. Maybe in some situations you really can't do anything about it. It's out of your control, but I just don't believe those people who sit, I don't know.

Danu Poyner:

Hm.

Travis Yuan:

you just need to

Danu Poyner:

Yeah.

Travis Yuan:

and think harder.

Danu Poyner:

Very powerful response. Am I hearing that the life-changing experience, you would give to someone is a change in mindset?

Travis Yuan:

Yes. Oh, I think of something else too,

Danu Poyner:

Go on.

Travis Yuan:

is, to, I would encourage people to let Go of things, not to worry about the past or assumptions about others. Like I said, when I grew up their expectations pressure from the family members, society, the whole environment, but that's not actually their problem. I live my own life. So why do they put my issues or my behavior or whatever. On. to themselves. That's not, they don't need to worry about it. You just need to let it go. Or

Danu Poyner:

Um,

Travis Yuan:

I

Danu Poyner:

well,

Travis Yuan:

sense, but,

Danu Poyner:

no, I'm glad you mentioned that. Travis, because I think a life-changing experience for a lot of people would certainly be how to let go of the expectations they feel that are on them. And it strikes me that listening to you today. You have talked about exactly that process of learning how, how to do that. But I don't know if you learn how to do it or whether it was just always in you, you seem very determined and driven from the from the start that you were not going to have anyone tell you what to do, and you're going to follow your own path. So it's a, it's interesting.

Travis Yuan:

When it comes to my own issues, I tend to listen to myself, but professionally I always say to people, I'm a better follower than an initiator. I see myself as a good follower then a leader, some people think the opposite, but I would rather follow cause I can achieve tasks pretty well then starting things or telling others what to do.

Danu Poyner:

And yet you've recently been appointed a team leader in your

Travis Yuan:

leader and you

Danu Poyner:

is

Travis Yuan:

five roles. Do

Danu Poyner:

I do my research.

Travis Yuan:

When I'm a leader, I do not consider myself a leader who tells people what to do. I like to encourage people and create environment where everyone works collaboratively. So I thought that will be. Another opportunity for me to push myself out of that comfort zone and share my professional knowledge with others. I like to get everyone to work together and I will be a facilitator in the situation where I get inspired by the people in my team. And they can be inspired by me. I'm hoping,

Danu Poyner:

Oh, I have no doubt from everything you've said today. I think your humility really comes through and your resilience and your persistence and your ability to bringing out the best in people and encourage them and create that environment where people can Go further. I think that's so important.

Travis Yuan:

life is so hard.

Danu Poyner:

It's hard enough, right? Without, yeah.

Travis Yuan:

Yeah. So if I can, if I can make a couple of people's life easier, then I'm happy to do it. Yeah.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah. Well, I think that's a good, spot to wrap it up. Thank you so much. Travis, for sharing your thoughts and experiences, it's been a great pleasure. Uh,

Travis Yuan:

for having me.

Danu Poyner:

I have no doubt. You're going to go on to, great things in your role. Thank you so much. Once again, it's been lots of fun.