Note: While, like sighted colleagues, visually impaired teachers vary in how they handle their work, the following article describes how one foreign language teacher deals with some of the most common problems presented in her work.
Over the years, I have received many phone calls, letters, and E-mail messages from prospective and working blind and visually impaired teachers, teacher training personnel, and administrators who are considering the possibility of hiring blind and visually impaired teachers. It is amazing to me how many times certain questions are asked. I thought it might be helpful to publish a sampling of the questions I am frequently asked and my responses to them.
Q. How do you write on the chalkboard if you are totally blind?
A. I don't. Instead, I use the overhead projector to present much of the visual information which would normally be written on the chalkboard. Transparencies are great because they can be independently prepared in advance, used over and over again, and filed along with a Braille or large print copy of the information which appears on the transparency. Other alternatives to writing on the chalkboard which I use include flash cards, flip charts, and posters which can be purchased or prepared with the help of a sighted person. I use bulldog clips to attach these materials to the magnetic chalkboard in my classroom. When I need to have something written on the chalkboard, I ask a reliable student to be my scribe and I dictate the information that I need to post.
Since this article was written, The advent of Power Point has provided an additional option for presenting visual material to a class. While using this technology poses some unique challenges, a number of visually impaired teachers use it successfully in their classes by employing the same underlying logic as described above.
Q. As a blind teacher, how do you handle classroom discipline?
A. I start by having a regular seating chart for my students so that I know where each student is sitting. This makes it easier to identify and, if necessary, separate troublemakers. Instead of sitting behind my desk while teaching, I constantly move around the classroom. Sometimes, just my mere proximity to the students is enough to prevent potential discipline problems. Another useful strategy is to divide the class period into two or three shorter activities rather than one long one. By doing this, students are less likely to become bored and get into trouble. Finally, I have only four or five classroom rules which are easy for the students to remember. I enforce these rules rigidly. I try to make the consequences for breaking the rules severe enough that the students will not want to misbehave again.
Q. How do you handle non-teaching duties which require sight?
A. I use the help of a sighted aide or reader to help me perform certain tasks, such as attendance records, administrative paperwork, and writing grades on report cards. There are other duties which I don't necessarily have to perform, such as cafeteria and bus duty. I arrange with the principal and other staff members to exchange these duties for others which do not require sight. In this manner, I am always pulling my load as a staff member.
Q. As a blind teacher, how do you prevent your students from cheating on tests?
A. It is important to acknowledge that even sighted teachers must deal with cheating from time to time. It is true that some students may be more likely to try cheating with a blind teacher, but there are strategies which can lessen this problem.
First, I always have a sighted person to monitor tests. This person can help to make sure that all textbooks and notes are put away, students are separated as much as possible during the test, and that they are not looking off each other's papers. Second, I find it helpful to give more than one form of the test and alternate the forms of the test when distributing them, making it more difficult for students to copy answers from their classmates' papers. Third, I identify possible cheating problems by looking for telltale trends, such as more than one student having the same unlikely answers to test questions, changes in the quality of students' work, etc. Fourth, when I know for certain that cheating has occurred, there are severe consequences for those involved. This, alone, can act as a deterrent for students who may consider cheating in the future.
Q. As a blind teacher, how do you correct all the print tests, papers, and homework assignments that your students must complete?
A. My reader helps me to correct all the tests and papers which are done for a grade. Having an answer key for each objective test speeds the process because she doesn't have to read every test paper to me. I have students read their essays and compositions on tape in addition to turning in the print copy. Then, my reader corrects them for spelling and punctuation, and I correct them for pronunciation, grammar, and content and assign the final grade. Rather than correcting every homework paper, I allow students to correct each other's assignments, assign a grade on the basis of how students answer selected questions from the assignment orally, and occasionally collect and grade certain assignments without announcing it in advance. By using these strategies, all the work gets done and the students are evaluated and graded in a fair manner.
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