The following article originally appeared in the March 13, 1997 issue of the
Los Angeles Times.
As her students wrestle with adjective clauses, Tari Livingston-Hughes listens.
"Elizabeth, how are you doing on your work?" she asks. Blind all her life and an English teacher at Kennedy High School in Granada Hills since 1983, Livingston-Hughes may not see her students' faces, but she knows most of them by their voices.
"Fine, Ms. Livingston-Hughes."
"Good, because I know you're doing well on your conversation," she says with a hint of friendly sarcasm. Talking with fellow students is allowed for this written assignment. "I don't want you to stop, but I want you to do your work."
Livingston-Hughes has taken roll using a stack of cards imprinted in Braille. She flips the cards over for absent students and later will note them in attendance records with a Braille typewriter. "I'm sort of a clerk-typist and secondary mom," Livingston-Hughes says.
Students marked absent from class the previous school day are called to her desk. One has no excuse. Another can't prove he was in class, but was 15 minutes late. A third was sick, but didn't have a note. Each is ordered to come through with the right paperwork.
"That's all right, sweetheart," she says. "But I'm a bureaucrat. Go get the documentation."
Helping her is Wanda Vernon, a Mission College education student who has been Livingston-Hughes' assistant for three months. Among other duties, Vernon takes a daily visual attendance count of the class. "I'm very impressed by her," Vernon says. "She keeps on top of things."
Livingston-Hughes is a role model for her as a teacher.
"She is fair with the students," Vernon says. "But if you break the rules, you have to pay for it."
When she's in front of the class, Livingston-Hughes' natural shyness melts away. "It is not enough to be here and look pretty," she says emphatically to the students. "You are here to work. You have a job--to work for your education."
As she talks, a new student interrupts and asks her to use small words. "No," she says. "If there are no challenges in life, you will not grow."
Born prematurely, Livingston-Hughes received too much oxygen in an incubator, causing her blindness. But the eyes of a twin sister, Lari, were not damaged. "I knew what it was like to grow up as sighted person, because I had my sister," she says.
Raised in Culver City, she fell in love with books and reading as a student at the Frances Blend School for the Visually Impaired in Los Angeles. She earned her bachelor's degree from Westmont College in Montecito in 1975 and a teaching credential from Cal State Northridge.
When discussing the story of Helen Keller, Livingston-Hughes uses her disability as a teaching tool. Rather than focus on the inabilities of the deaf and blind Keller, she asks the class to consider, "What do you think that a [blind-deaf] child could learn to do?"
The class also asks her questions about blindness. "They were surprised to learn that I live alone and do my own cooking," says Livingston-Hughes, a Winnetka resident and a short-wave radio fan, who spends an hour and 20 minutes in her door-to-door commute by bus to school.
"I can have my bad days when I crab at everybody, and my kids know that," she says. But usually, the complaint is that she smiles too much, she says.
"I love them," she says. "And I want them to all know that when they come in."
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