American Association of Blind Teachers

Telephone: (865) 692-4888

Home  |   Join Us  |   Subjects Our Members Teach  |   Contact Us  

Dana Walker

"Each day is different," says Martin Kleiber, professor of mathematics at Villanova University. Like many college teachers, he has no typical day. "We have three or four classes a day; I like mine early in the morning. I come in, prepare for class, and go. I teach an hour, have an hour off when I meet with students for advising. I go from class to class like this. Sometimes there are meetings to attend; sometimes there are papers to grade. Some days are very light; others, you see somebody steadily. I might go from 8:30 to about 3:00 and realize that I didn't have a minute to myself."

Kleiber, who has been at Villanova for 25 years, has made several adaptations of teaching techniques. He has his students learn the abacus, for instance, in his classes in Mathematical Concepts and Finite Mathematics. "I teach them the history of it," he says, "and they're expected to know its use, just as they're expected to know how to do a little multiplication and division in the Egyptian system. I have to practice with them, because often they don't understand that it takes practice. But we have fun."

For board work, Kleiber uses two approaches. He usually has an assistant who takes care of it. When an assistant is not available, he simply asks the students to help him out with the board work. "Years ago, I would sometimes keep a student volunteer for the whole semester so the class would get used to his handwriting. Sometimes I just have two or three people in succession."

Kleiber has also tried an electronic solution for the chalkboard problem. "A friend and I put together various components, because at that time you couldn't buy ready-made stuff. We figured out that we could use a graphics terminal, and programmed into it certain symbols. We found a speech synthesizer and hooked it up with a VersaBraille. We found a big TV screen to use as the monitor and hooked it up. I used it for a while." The system was a success in terms of getting material written and visible to the students, but it had an unexpected result. "I found that the kids were just sitting there copying. I lost some of the interaction with the students. They wanted me to talk to them as individuals, to call on them, to relate to them, and to deal with them as people. They said I was unfriendly, so I gave up the machine. Now I walk around the class and speak to them. They like that."

As with all of us, Kleiber finds grading papers a problem. He admits pressing his wife, Joyce, into service in the beginning. "That was an awesome job, " he says. Now his graduate assistant reads the papers to him, a method he finds necessary even in math. "I have to know what the students are thinking, what they are learning and what they are not learning. Also, I have my own system of evaluation, so I really can't turn that job over to an assistant. I want to know which student is learning what and to get to know the students. They need that." Kleiber's grading system is based on how much would be required to teach the student to solve the problem perfectly. A student who puts forth no effort gets zero. Others must e evaluated carefully for part credit. "The answer might be totally wrong," says Kleiber, "but from there on in, based on what he did incorrectly, it might be worked correctly. You have to evaluate in terms of the total subject."

A graduate assistant who works with him all year might begin to learn his system. "Sometimes they call me on consistency," he admits with a laugh. Many of his assistants end up going into teaching. "They start out being very timid," he says. "But once they start, they really love it because they get a lot of attention. It's a fun thing to do and is not a high-pressure thing, because the responsibility is on me. They get a good deal of the pleasure of teaching and not so much of the burden. It attracts them."

Other adaptations Kleiber has made include calling roll using file cards, one student per card. He turns the absent students' cards face down. This is a technique he borrowed from a sighted colleague. "If you write the names on paper and read them off, how do you remember who was there and not? This way, you remove the card so you don't call on that student."

The students are what Kleiber enjoys most about teaching. "You teach people," he says. "People say, 'You've taught this course many times.' But you teach it to different students. They all have their own problems. They're all interesting people." Kleiber also has the good luck to like his colleagues. "We have a lovely group of people in my department," he says. "We have peace. You can't say that about all departments."

Kleiber, who after his long career still is not burned out on either math or teaching, says, "Toward the end of the semester, one does get tired, and things get hectic. It's good to take a couple of days off and think about nothing. But I've still got good years ahead."

Top of Page