As you read this article, many of you will be starting back to school. Along with a new school year come new students. The most effective teachers make every effort to know their students as well as possible and teach towards their students' needs. This can be especially challenging for a blind teacher who cannot recognize students by sight. Here are a few tips to help you meet this challenge.
If you have any usable vision, use it to your advantage. If you can pick out facial features, you may be able to learn to recognize your students by sight. One technique which has been helpful for several visually impaired teachers is to mount a photograph of each student on a card which is marked with the student's name. Studying these cards and using them for reference will help you to learn to recognize your students by sight more quickly. If you do not have enough vision to pick out facial features, take special note of the visual details about your students which you can see. Some of these may include: a student's build, skin color, hair length, style and color, whether or not a student wears glasses, mannerisms such as the way a student walks, etc. In short, take note of every visual detail which you can see and use. Capitalize on these details to form a mental picture of each student. By the way, make sure that the lighting in your classroom is adequate. This will enhance whatever vision you have.
Whether or not you have any usable vision, try to learn to recognize your students by voice. This can be especially challenging for a teacher of lower elementary grades. The voices of young children are often very similar because they are not completely developed. However, learning the voices of most of your students is not an impossible task. Start on the first day of school by having each student say his or her name and a few sentences about hobbies or special interests on a voice recorder. Be sure to use a good recorder and have students speak clearly into the microphone. Review the tape periodically. Take special note of such things as vocal inflection, the way certain words are pronounced, regional accents and dialects, and the pace at which they speak. Using the tape, make a written list of students' names and special interests. When possible, use this information to draw students into classroom activities and make your classes more relevant and interesting.
As an example, one of my students was much more interested in hockey than he was in my French class. I made French more interesting to him by allowing him to learn the French words for hockey terms and equipment. He also practiced his listening skills by listening to tapes of French-Canadian hockey games and picking out words that he knew. After that, he paid more attention in my class and was no longer a discipline problem.
To reinforce the learning of your students' voices, ask students to state their names each time they respond in class and when they talk to you outside the classroom. Take the time to listen to them talking to each other as they enter and leave your classroom and practice picking out individual voices. Spend as much time as possible conversing with them both inside and outside the classroom. Not only will this help you to learn their voices, but the more they share with you, the more you will learn about them. This will enable you to relate to them on a more personal level. As a result, students will become more cooperative and eager to participate in class. They will spend more time learning and less time disrupting the class.
Finally, there are two techniques which I have found to be especially helpful. First, always have assigned seats in your classroom. Half the battle when learning who they are is knowing where they are at all times. This is especially important if you cannot recognize students by sight. If you have discipline problems, seats can be changed. The important thing is to have a regular seating arrangement. It may even be helpful to seat students alphabetically or in the order in which they appear on the class roster. Second, have an oral roll call every day. This will not only help you to attach names with voices on a regular basis, but it will also help you to remember the location of every student in the classroom. This will also alert you if a student is not in his or her proper place.
In conclusion, getting to know your students will take some extra work and time on your part. However, it will be well worth the effort! It will enrich both the learning and teaching which takes place in your classroom, and it will make you a more effective teacher.
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