American Association of Blind Teachers

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Marcia Nigro

I went to public schools all my life, starting out in a school with a resource room. My role model was an excellent Braille teacher who taught me not only Braille but the important things like social skills. After high school, I got a B.A. in elementary education and childhood development. My master's degree is in a combination of rehab teaching and teaching the visually handicapped, so I could teach in either field. For a while I did work in the rehab field.

Now I teach for the state of Connecticut. I am an itinerant teacher, which means that I don't work for a particular school system, but for the Board of Education in Services for the Blind, which is a division of the Dept. of Human Resources. I am assigned a case load of 30 students in six towns. Much of my time is spent driving from school to school, so my day has to be well organized to make the most of my time.

7:30: By this time, I'm on the phone while drinking my tea, because much of what I do is to act as support person for the school and parent. The time to talk to the parents is in the morning before they and I go to work, or at night after work. The time to get the school guidance counselors is in the morning when they have just arrived at school. After my phone calls, I write my notes from the day before.

9:00: My assistant, who is provided by the state, picks me up, and we go to our first school. Whenever possible, I schedule all the schools in one area in the same day to minimize my driving time. Sometimes it's not possible, like at the end of the year, when there are planning and placement meetings on the students for the next year, or the IEP is planned. I may have a meeting at 8:15 in one town and another at 11 in a town thirty miles away, and then have to go back to the first town to work with a Braille student on a test. It's frustrating to spend that much time driving, but I spend as much time as possible with the students.

The first student is one I teach directly, taking him out of the classroom and working on an area of need. This print-reading student has an assignment involving reading a passage, interpreting a table, and answering questions. He must go from one to the other and back again. I help with scanning techniques. I have my assistant help me first in knowing the layout of the page, where the passage is, where the table is, and where the questions are. That way I can teach the student how to efficiently scan.

I also work with computers, Braille, typing, and listening skills with students. What I do depends on the student's needs. 10:30: My next student is developmentally delayed I work with him on money and telephone skills, and reinforce what he does in his classroom.

1:30: The state allows 45 minutes for lunch. Since my assistant must have lunch, I try to schedule a student or a meeting with a teacher while she has her meal. Sometimes I just get something at the MacDonald's drive-through and eat in the car on the way to the next school. Occasionally I even get my 45 minute lunch.

2:00: My next student is a junior high school girl with social adjustment problems. I will just sit and talk with her. Whenever the junior high and high school students are having problems getting along with others, we talk a lot about that. I have an advantage here over the other consultants. Because I'm blind, the students believe me when I tell them to do certain things to work out the problem. On some days, I'm asked by the sighted consultants to go to their area and talk with a student having a problem. I feel really good about doing that. Sometimes blindness is a disadvantage, but this time it's an advantage.

On the best day, I see five students in five schools. If there are workshops or meetings, I might see none. I see several at one time only if there are two with, say, albinism, and similar interests; then I'll arrange for them to meet after school. Time is a problem, though, because of the need for my assistant's day to end at 4:15. I have arranged for her to get comp time now when the day runs late.

3:00: In the next school I see only the teacher. This is not uncommon with a multihandicapped student, where blindness is the least of the problems. My role there is ordering materials like tape recorders and computer programs.

There are other students who are borderline and don't want to or need to see me. There are some partials who dislike me. They are terrified because I represent what they fear most--total blindness. I just check to make sure they have all their materials and maybe speak to them once or twice a year, but I don't see them unless there's a need. My policy is they should be in the mainstream and be singled out as little as possible.

3:30: The day is finally over, unless I have a late meeting. My assistant drops me off. I do my notes if there is time before 4:15. There are usually messages on my answering machine. Even though I have an office in Hartford, I also have a home office, and the schools and parents have my home number.

One day a week, I have to go to the office in Hartford to do my paperwork. This is the day to submit all orders for equipment, catch up on phone calls, schedule next week's appointments. Some students are standing appointments, seen every Wednesday and Friday. Others I see once a month by appointment. I might brainstorm with another consultant to see if there's a simpler solution to a problem I'm having. It's also our staff meeting day. My job differs from that of the classroom teacher because a big part of it is working with the kids on self-esteem, and also talking to the parents. Many parents with a blind child are terrified, even if the child has fairly good usable vision. Some of my students have good acuity, but they don't know how to use it, so I have mobility people or the optometrist work with them. Much of my job turns out to be counseling, particularly with parents. Sometimes I get calls at ten o'clock at night from parents suddenly worried about the future of a child with RP.

I enjoy the counseling, and I enjoy the one on one. I enjoy the rapport that I establish with my students, which I might not in a regular classroom. Sometimes there are teachers who are reluctant to work with me as a blind person. I ignore it, unless a teacher or parent is openly hostile. In that case, I ask them to sit down and discuss things with me. This usually clears the air, and gives them a more open mind. When they see I'm successful, that's another plug for blind teachers--something else I feel good about.

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