American Association of Blind Teachers

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The following article originally appeared in
The Dayton Daily News
on June 20, 2012. It elaborates on the article,
New York Blind Teacher Sees Students Like No Other Educator,
which also appears on this site. It underscores the determination necessary to be successful as a blind or visually impaired teacher.

Daryn Kagan

Jim Hughes has a special gift. He can see things other people can’t, which is all the more incredible when you find out that Jim Hughes is blind. Has been his entire life. “Congenital glaucoma,” he told me this week. “My family says I had some vision up until I was 3, but I have no memory of that.”

Spend a few minutes with Jim and you quickly realize being blind and being able to see are two very different things. Early on, he could see that his dream for his life was bigger than others around him could see.

“I told my college counselor that I’d like to teach. And she said, ‘Oh that’s wonderful. You can teach in a school for the blind, for special needs.’ And I go, ‘No, no, no, no. I want to teach social studies in a regular, in a public school.’ And then she goes, ‘I don’t think that will work.’ And I go, ‘Why not?’ And she goes, ‘Because of your disability.’ ”

That was the perfect thing to tell a guy who gets fuel from people telling him he can’t do something. Jim did what you do to become a public school teacher: got his degree, did his student teaching and sent out a lot of resumes. I mean a lot of resumes.

“I probably sent out a hundred resumes, if not more,” he estimated. Out of all those, he got only a single interview. Farmingdale, N.Y. Turned out to be the one he needed. He’s been teaching American history at Farmingdale High School for the last 20 years.

You don’t have to look far to find a kid who will tell you he’s his favorite teacher. Probably because the one teacher who can’t see the kids, actually sees them best.

“They can come into my room with blue hair, weird dress, piercing, and it will have no impact on me at all. I judge them as people, you know?” Jim said.

Jim believes being blind, the adjustments he has to do, make him a better teacher. Think about it: A kid raises his hand to get called on?

“Well, your arms are going to get very tired,” Jim tells his students with a smile on the first day of school.

“We develop over time as they’re learning that they have a right to just have a conversation and speak. As the discussion progresses, kids just jump in.”

“What do you say to someone else who has dreams bigger than those around them can see?” I asked him.

“Be motivated by the challenge that people don’t think you can do it and be willing to work hard. Really hard.”

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