By Fazeena Saleem - The Peninsula - Qatar

The first male special education teacher at Qatar Foundation’s Renad Academy has emphasised the importance of more men taking up the profession.

Joseph Norton, lead teacher at Renad Academy, said that the required change in pattern would enable teachers to show students that male teachers can also be enthusiastic, compassionate and gentle.

In 2016, Norton joined Renad Academy, which provides educational services to students identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

“It is an interesting scenario worldwide that more males compared to females are diagnosed with autism, while most teachers are females. In order to give students with autism a better and holistic  understanding of their relationship with their families and society the existing ratio of male-female-teachers has to be changed,” he told The Peninsula.

From being a geographer to teaching students with autism, Norton has come a long way. He has worked several years in the US and in Malaysia before joining Renad Academy.

“One of the major roles of Renad Academy is to help parents of children with autism know that we are there to help them, they can trust us,” he said.

The school works with other organisations to bridge their services with the needs of children with autism and their families.

“All along, we have tried to emphasise the fact that we work with these entities, not separate from them, and that it is a concerted effort,” said Norton.

“This is one of Qatar Foundation’s biggest achievements — this is not just Renad Academy based at Qatar Foundation; this is Renad Academy in Qatar Foundation to support and work with the entire community, to help those with autism and their families,” he added.

At Renad Academy teachers are given the freedom to plan their ideas and themes to help give students the best.

“The training we receive via Qatar Foundation is outstanding. Throughout the year, we have specialists flying in from the US and the UK to mentor us through workshops and teaching sessions. In that way, Renad Academy, with the support of Qatar Foundation, has been able to provide us with in-house training that is unlike anywhere else in the world,” said Norton.

Terming the first few months of his professional journey in Tampa, Florida as a special education teacher as ‘challenging’, he said: “I passed through the experiences that tested my newly-acquired skills a lot. In that first year, I had my shirt ripped, my hair pulled, and my face scratched. But through it all, I never once regretted my choice,” said Norton.

“I had a student who was aggressive and had to be taught alone in a different classroom. By the end of that first year, that same student had been fully integrated with the rest of my class. So for me, as a teacher in his early twenties (at that time), it was an accomplishment – it was progress,” he added.

Now with ten years of experience as a special education teacher Norton finds his work more meaningful.

“In any profession, there are challenges – and rewards. For me, the satisfaction comes from knowing that I have made an impact on my children. The smiles I get from the faces of my students enriches that feeling, reminding me that what I do is not a career – it is a calling,” said Norton.