American Association of Blind Teachers

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The following article was originally posted by
The California Federation of Teachers
May 24, 2011. It underscores not only how a blind teacher may be successful in the classroom but also the contributions that may be made in the larger community.

Mindy Pines

Theresa Sage wanted to be a teacher ever since first grade, hooked by the magic of receiving a gold star from her teacher. Now in her sixteenth year in Morgan Hill Unified, the high school social studies teacher wants “to move kids forward.” She cares about “social justice and equity,” and hopes that through teaching, she can strengthen democracy and help bring about “a more humane society, moving it away from racism, war, and other ills.”

It hasn’t been easy for the upbeat and energetic Sage. At 16, she was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease effecting the retina, rods, and cones of the eye. By 21, before she began teacher training, she was legally blind. By 35 she was “profoundly blind, perceiving only a little light around windows or ceiling lights with the rest just dark.”

The first district where she applied for a job did not hire her, expressing concern about her blindness. When Morgan Hill Unified in Santa Clara county, the second district to which she applied hired her, she moved with her husband and two children and has been there ever since.

“You really can make a difference with kids if you connect with them,” says Sage, who teaches advanced placement U.S. history; psychology; and marriage, sex, and family to eleventh and twelfth graders. “If you’re fair and respectful, have high standards and good solid lesson plans, you don’t have as many discipline problems.”

She hopes to be seen as a role model for overcoming obstacles. “My students see…okay, she’s blind, married with kids, has a job, and is being productive.” In 2009, Sage was Morgan Hill’s Educator of the Year.

“Being blind means that some things take a lot longer, so I am very organized and efficient to maximize my time.” She gets help from a classroom assistant who takes attendance, corrects papers, and reads to her. Schubert, her loyal guide dog, helps her navigate. She relies upon speed typing skills she learned before losing her vision, and her computer is configured to read textbooks and other documents aloud.

Sage’s dedication to improving the world goes beyond the classroom. Through her church, she has organized major fundraisers and food drives for the homeless. She supports charities as well as civic and cultural organizations.

She sees her union as the way to “promote the professionalism of teachers” and education workers. Now serving her second year as president of the Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers, she was vice president for 10 years and served as site representative while still on probation. She got active in her union because she admired its leaders. “They were smart, talented, and respected teachers and unionists.”

The daughter of a union waitress in San Francisco, Sage grew up understanding the struggles workers face and “how unions have promoted a solid middle class, helping people get decent paying jobs with good working conditions.”

She is as enthusiastic about her union work as she is about teaching. In the last two years, the local has focused on building leadership, increasing member involvement, updating its constitution, launching a Web site, and navigating through difficult budget cuts. Recently Sage helped negotiate an early retirement package, bringing back all laid off teachers including temps.

During these difficult times of teacher- and union-bashing, she says, “We need to look at different ways to improve teacher efficacy and quality, but public schools are not broken. If you listen to our students’ parents,” she adds, “they may talk about problems in general, but when they talk about their own kids’ teachers, they say their kids’ teachers are good. We need to look at the really good work that is going on.”

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