Since this week is National Teacher Appreciation week, and this is a blog for teachers (and parents who are ultimate teachers in my mind), I thought it only fitting to take a moment to share some thoughts on the subject.
First off, thank you to all of you teachers of blind children out there in whatever capacity you may be. Whether it’s an itinerant teacher, classroom teacher, or O and M instructor. There really aren’t enough of you, and those of you who are in the field are definitely overtaxed. Thank you to those of you who go the extra mile, give of your time, and who help empower your students with high expectations for themselves as blind people.
I would like to highlight three of the qualities I believe truly make a great teacher of blind children, and trust me, they’re out there.
1. Passion for the work: It is really easy to get burned out in education, especially since so many teachers are spread thin and taken for granted. I love it when I meet teachers who have such a love for what they do. These are the people who are always coming up with great new ideas, are always trying to improve their skills, and love and respect the children and families with whom they work. It’s invigorating and makes me want to be a better teacher.
2. A willingness to go the extra mile: Sometimes when teaching blind children, there is a lot of other little things that can really make a difference. It’s the things like brailing labels for the school soda and snack machines so your student (even if they are the only blind or low vision child in the place) can use the machines (btw, this also helps educate others about blindness and the value of Braille), taking time to read a technology manual or website to learn how to teach your student how to use a new piece of equipment, even though you’re not the technology specialist for the district; calling up a blind adult for some advice as to how to teach your student to do something in an alternative way, or spending time sitting down with a parent after regular business hours to really talk about the issues of their child’s education. .
3. Being willing to think outside the box: Necessity is the mother of all invention, and I believe teachers of the blind are some of the most creative inventors ever. I really admire teachers who have this quality and can think up fun and creative ways to help engage their students in the classroom and with their peers, or who find creative ways to make something accessible which wasn’t before. I also admire teachers who are open to new ideas and learning new things as things are always changing in the field of educating blind students. What worked thirty years ago may not necessarily be the best approach today. A good teacher is always trying to improve his/her skills and knowledge.
Now, if you’ll indulge me for a few more minutes, I wanted to spotlight two of my favorite teachers.
Natalie Shaheen—Natalie is a good friend of mine and someone who I greatly admire as a teacher. Natalie was a member of my education team at the NFB Jernigan Institute who pretty much popped out of nowhere and was this great find. She is now the Director of Education for the NFBJI. She is a teacher of blind students and also has a drgree in special Ed. She is so creative and great at thinking outside of the box and really putting the student first. I follow her on twitter, and practically everything she tweets about is related to education in some way—a 24/7 teacher. She thinks up the most exciting activities, makes the most awesome accessible bulletin boards (which I’ll have to write a post on someday), loves literacy and always introduces my daughter and me to great new children’s books, and is truly passionate about her work. She is also my go-to with any questions I have about Apple devices or working with blind children who have additional special needs. She’s a real rock star of a teacher.
Roland Allen—Roland is a cane travel instructor at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. I attended the adult program there back in 2002 and had Roland as my cane travel instructor. I also worked with him while training to become an O and M specialist. I truly believe Roland is one of the best in the field, and I greatly admire him. Roland is also blind and demonstrated such skill and confidence in his abilities as a blind person which really inspired me as a student. He is passionate about what he does and pushes his students to be the best they can be. He is such a natural teacher and has a great way of putting you at ease and encouraging you to believe in your abilities to do something, even when you don’t think you can. I will admit that I struggled some in my travel classes at the center. I have some residual vision and it was hard for me to fully believe that a blind person could travel competently without any vision or assistance from others. But, I had a lot of great experiences which taught me otherwise and gave me a newfound confidence in myself and my abilities as a blind person, regardless of how much vision I had. I owe a huge part of this to my classes with Roland and his great example to me.
I hope you will take a moment to acknowledge the great teachers of blind students around you. I am told that there were really cool Braille cell suckers at Target, so maybe wrap one of these up for them with a little note telling him/her how much you appreciate them. I also would love to hear from some of you what qualities you think make a great teacher of blind students, and about anyone you think deserves an extra pat on the back.