American Association of Blind Teachers

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The following article, which appeared in the
Santa Cruz Sentinel
July 3, 2011, outlines the career of the rare blind, male elementary-school teacher. AABT would, however, disagree with the assertion in the article that "there were 275 blind teachers in the nation, and very few who taught sighted children." While AABT has many members teaching blind children, the large majority (about two-thirds) teach sighted students. Moreover, it is impossible to determine an exact number of visually impaired teachers, although we would estimate that, while still unusual, the total number is considerably in excess of the figure quoted here.

Cathy Kelly

Mike Jones does not mind being called "the blind teacher." In fact, the 62-year-old seems to have the ability to smoothly adapt to many things, and to just enjoy life.

Jones retired this month after 37 years teaching second-graders and third-graders, mostly, in the Soquel Union Elementary School District.

"I had a lot of fun as a blind teacher," Jones said, adding that last he heard, there were 275 blind teachers in the nation, and very few who taught sighted children.

Calling himself "a rarity," he said his "kids" learned the standards, some Braille, cane use, music appreciation and more.

In a recent interview at Pacific Coffee Roasting near his Aptos home, Jones spoke with the Sentinel while his wife and San Mateo High School sweetheart, Hibbe, watched the grandchildren -- Jackson, 7, and HollyMae, 4. The couple has two sons, Liam and Carter.

Jones says he will be spending more time with his grandchildren and his band, the Farmer's Market String Band. He is a singer, guitar and banjo player who has produced four CDs for the band, he said. He is a member of Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Santa Cruz. He has run marathons.

As for the timing of his retirement, Jones said a Soquel teacher once told him he would know when it was time to retire, and that he didn't believe her. But he said he now knows that to be true, and knows it is time -- due to his "maxed out" retirement benefits, the so thinly stretched state education budget and his desire to do other things. That includes taking up the mandolin.

"Retirement is really not the right word," he said. "I'm going in a different direction. And I figured it was better to stop when I still feel good about it. I do worry about what's happening at the state level. Teachers are facing larger classes and larger expectations. They are idealistic and hardworkin, and I'm proud to be part of that group."

Jones said he got lucky when he stepped into the Soquel District in 1973 as a part-time music teacher and then was there, Cal State Los Angeles degree and teaching credential in hand, when they had a full-time opening in 1976. He called that "getting in the back door." The district went on to provide a "talking computer" and more, the popular Jones said.

His blindness stems from retinitis pigmentosa and has been gradual, he said. It started with night blindness at age 5, progressed to peripheral and depth perception losses as a teen and young adult and eventual blindness.

Jones said he attended a German university for one year, and when he was 21, a specialist at a "world-famous eye clinic" finally told him straight -- "OK, this is it, you're going to be blind," Jones related, 41 years later.

"It was a really big surprise," he said. "But I had a lot of support from my wife, and it got me out of Vietnam. And I've been extremely lucky being in the right place at the right time. And in getting to live here."

Jones had two grandmothers who lived in the county, he said, Lucille Jones of Capitola and Violet Lindrosof Santa Cruz. Lindros and her husband moved from Alabama, he said, adding that he thinks of them when he sings Woody Guthrie's "Do Re Mi," a folk song about Dust Bowl migrants.

Back to teaching, Jones said his specialized "blind teacher's assistants" have been lifesavers, and that his wife wanted to make sure he included that. His last assistant was Kay Johnson.

He said he will really miss working with other teachers, and will volunteer in the classrooms of his grandchildren if he misses the students too much.

Superintendent Kathleen Howard said Jones was a special part of the four-school, mid-county district. "Mike Jones is a talented teacher and musician who brought something very special to the classroom," Howard said. "In addition to learning the academics, students in his class learned about having humor and perseverance in the face of life's challenges."

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