An aide can be a valuable asset to you in the classroom. He or she can monitor tests, alert you to problems in the classroom which you cannot see, assist with clerical work, and perhaps even correct papers. In short, your aide can be your eyes and help you to perform the tasks which require sight.
Some blind teachers feel that having an aide isn't a good idea because you may be perceived as being less independent and skilled as a teacher. Respectfully, I disagree with this view. An aide can make you a much more effective and independent teacher because a sighted person can help you to keep on top of classroom management and other important tasks, and you will seldom have to ask for extra assistance from the principal, other teachers, the secretary, or the janitor. Also, many school administrators will feel more comfortable about employing a blind teacher if there will be a sighted person in the classroom to help, as long as it doesn't cost the school or district too much money. Finally, if you feel ashamed about having an aide, remember that many fully sighted teachers have classroom aides; some even have lay readers who help them to correct papers.
There are several alternatives for finding an aide. In the best case scenario, your school will assign one of its aides to your classroom or hire one specifically for you. If your school is unable to provide an aide and you only need part-time help, consider hiring a substitute or part-time teacher to come in on certain days and schedule all your tests and other tasks which will require help for those days. This may be costly, but you may be able to take off all or part of your aide's salary on your income tax as a necessary work expense. If having a paid aide is not possible, consider using volunteer power. A volunteer parent may be willing to work in your classroom. Another good source for volunteer aides could be your local college or university's department of education; students in education could earn credits and valuable field experience working in your classroom. The biggest drawback to this approach is that a student aide will only be with you temporarily. Then, you will have to find and train someone else. In general, a volunteer aide may not be as reliable as someone who is paid to do the work, but you may be lucky enough to find an exceptional volunteer.
Here are a few more points to keep in mind when working with your aide: (1) Before classes even start, clearly communicate your expectations to your aide including classroom procedures and rules and what his or her responsibilities will and will not be. (2) Keep the lines of communication open at all times. Both you and your aide should feel comfortable discussing problems, requests, and suggestions. (3) Consider carefully the duties that you will assign to your aide. Try to perform most classroom tasks as independently as possible and only delegate those tasks with which you truly need assistance. This will make you a more self-sufficient and competent teacher. (4) Devise a contingency plan for those days when your aide will be absent so that your classroom will run smoothly at all times. (5) The most important point to remember is that you, not your aide, must be the ultimate authority in your classroom. Only you should make decisions about such matters as lesson planning, testing, assigning grades, discipline, classroom management, and who can leave or enter your classroom. If you allow your aide to make such decisions, it will be almost impossible for you to maintain discipline and earn the respect of students, colleagues, and administrators. Remember, the ultimate responsibility for teaching your classes and running your classroom lies with you and nobody else.
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