American Association of Blind Teachers

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Don Thornton

Retinitis Pigmentosa caused me to lose most of my vision by age 22, but I could see before then and have a good visual concept of the world. For the last seven years, I have possessed only a small amount of light perception.

In my biology classes, I have a classroom aide who is a very important part of my classroom. She is in the classroom for me, not for the students. When the school district hired her, we looked for someone that had some laboratory skills as well as clerical skills. We wrote her job description to specify that she helps with grading and record-keeping, assist with labs in the class, and serves as my eyes in overseeing the class. She tells me who is not working, who is not there that day, or who is causing problems. I could not work in a public school with today's problems without her. She is constantly taking classes in computers and keeps up with policies to help me in class.

My school day starts the evening before. I have learned that good planning, organization, and time management make teaching much easier. Being well-prepared and having a full class period planned means the students are kept on task, and there are fewer discipline problems and less stress for me. So I plan my time and keep the students busy. In my class, there is always plenty to do. Also, a well-prepared teacher is better prepared to cover the materials and still have plenty of time to deal with students that have off-the-wall or very inquisitive minds.

I also believe that every teacher, especially the blind teacher, should have a computer. I have my text book on the computer, and this makes reading and finding specific materials easy. I had to talk to my textbook's publisher several times, but I finally convinced them that I was using the book on disk only because I could not read the print version. This enabled me to get a copy of their ASCII text file for my own use.

I also keep my grade book on the computer where I can easily check grades and keep up with students' progress. The other important things to have with the computer are: a scanner, speech synthesizer, and a good word processor. I use Word Perfect to make my own tests, work sheets, lesson plans, lecture notes, or supplemental materials. This allows me to keep a record of materials that I have used in the past, to make new materials, or to modify materials as conditions merit.

I also use the word processor to keep a file on each of my students. I keep the student's name, parents' name, phone number, and any school-related notes that I have on that student. This includes parent contacts, discipline problems, or learning behaviors that may need special attention. I have learned that by keeping good contact with parents, I stop many problems before they get out of hand.

I said that my day starts the evening before. That is not totally true. I try to work a week ahead in my plans, planning my week loosely with the knowledge that I can move things around depending on how well the previous day's materials went. In trying to fill my time slots completely, I actually plan for more than I can get done. It is easier to drop some materials than add more material on the spur of the moment.

My week starts at least by Sunday afternoon. I sit down at the computer and read over at least the materials that I planned to work with for the next week. I check my files and see which materials I wished to use, modify, or make up for the week's lessons. Using this time, I make test, worksheets, etc. which help me in remembering exactly the things that I wish to really stress (criterion referenced), and the best ways to illustrate the materials to the students.

I then try to call some parents, trying to call at least 20 parents a week. This is not always possible, but I try. I find it helps with several things. First, if the student knows that I talk to his parents, he is more likely to work hard in class and cause fewer problems. Secondly, parents do not like to be surprised at the end of a grading period with poor grades. They much prefer to correct the problem before the student gets far behind. This takes some time, but I feel that it is worth the effort. And, I call parents for the good as well as the bad. It really surprises a parent when the teacher calls to tell them that they have a really good child that is a pleasure to have in class. Even a problem student tries harder in class after a phone call of that nature. During the phone calls, I also use the computer to give specific information to the parents concerning grades. After all, what matters to most parents is the grade.

Then on Monday, I start my day by setting up for class. I get to school earlier to help kids with work or to make up missed work. In my class, all missed work must be made up before school or at lunch. I start the actual class day with a planning period which I use fully. In this time, I explain how I want my aid to grade materials or enter grades into the computer, have her help with laboratory set-up, and make sure that I have the materials I need. I try to present materials visually, auditorially, and tactually. I may copy materials that the kids will use, put materials on the blackboard, and go over specifics for the day's class. My aid will go over correspondence, grading questions, or other procedural questions that she may have. This is also the time that I meet with parents, counselors, or administrators if necessary.

Class starts. It's Show Time! If I have planned well, then the class should go well, as if it were orchestrated. This keeps me in control. Few problems occur in a class where the teacher has control. It also takes stress off me. Being in control actually makes me more flexible to change plans and work with the students in the best way for the moment. This is something that a teacher develops with experience.

I start the class with enthusiasm immediately when the class bell sounds. My aid takes role and handles the administrative duties as I get started. An immediate start sets the standard for the students. If I am lecturing, I use many questions to keep the kids alert and paying attention. Calling names out randomly helps. I also move around the class all the time. I am one of those terrible teachers that set up a seating assignment for the students. This helps me to know where the kids are, helps with classroom management, and makes it easier for me to follow the individual student's progress with directed questioning and discussion. The students also respond if you can personalize your work with them. By moving around, talking with them by name, and speaking directly with them in a directed discussion, I keep the class on its toes. Besides, itís harder to hit a moving target!

If I am working in laboratory that day, I truly have a hands-on lab. This is really little more than like cooking or other task that a blind person does daily. Dissecting is just like stuffing a turkey in reverse. By knowing what the parts of the animals feel like, I dissect and help the kids with their own work. If it requires mixing and handling materials, I include the students with directions to show how to do the experiment and explain what to look for within the procedure. Even outdoor field trips, plant classification, population surveys, and water analysis are easily done with hands-on and directed Questions. But I am sure to include everyone. This increases participation and minimizes problems. Also, it's important to have a sense of humor. Don't be so structured that you can't laugh at yourself or with others.

At the high school level or lower, I feel that it is important to reinforce the dayís materials with written assignments. I use handouts or worksheets to reinforce the materials that I felt were important to the class. This can also be used as a summary for those students that were absent that day. This material is usually given in the last ten minutes of the class period. This gives me a chance to talk to or work with the students that I feel were lagging behind or not grasping the material. I either work with these students individually or suggest they come in before school for extra help. I come in early and stay through lunch to help those that need it.

Also, since I try to keep the class period full of activities, any student that misses a class period must come in on his own time to make up the work. This reduces absences and gives the students a chance for help so they do not get behind. It also tells the parents that I am there for their children.

As each class period goes by, I try to modify my lessons and plans for each group of students. Taking note of the things which work best helps me in planning and working with different students.

When my class day ends, I usually go home and do something physical to help relieve stress. Playing blind baseball (Beep ball) or working in the flower beds are favorite activities. Working out with weights is also a good way for me to keep in shape and get rid of the dayís tension. Then itís back to the computer to start on the next day's work.

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