Every week, we will post a new blog that will help you learn about the daily challenges and rewards that accompany teaching. You will go on the road with an outstanding itinerant teacher of blind students to learn how she works to help her students gain the skills and attitudes that they need to thrive. Happy reading!
I started my third full year of teaching in August and I feel like I'm finally finding my groove. Experts say it takes new teachers three to five years to settle in to the routine and I can tell that I'm getting there. I feel like I'm learning from past mistakes and growing as a teacher. I don't get lost driving around as often, which being itinerant, was a bigger problem than you may think. One thing I learned very quickly is that with parents, assessments, administrators, 21 campuses to coordinate with, the eternal battle of Special Ed versus General Ed, an O&M (that's Orientation and Mobility) Instructor who is only in district at certain times during the week, and only one of me, the actual teaching of blind students may be the least of my problems.
It's hard for me to believe that I got to where I am today. Everyone's path in life is different: some are straight, some are curved and mine was more like a maze. My college career was a nightmare. I had no idea what I wanted to be, so I changed majors 4 times. Then, just when I had it figured out, I got cancer. I was forced to drop out and by doing so I lost so many credits that I would not be able to graduate as a teacher without retaking almost all the classes. I was lost, had no direction, until a good friend mentioned a summer job opportunity to me: a camp counselor at a camp for blind kids. It sounds so hokey, but for me, some things "just click."
Later, I can pinpoint the exact moment when I felt all of the pins slide into place and I knew it was exactly right. I felt it when I first met my husband and I felt it when I started working with blind kids. There was a moment when I was working with a kid teaching her to tie a knot. This particular kid seemed to struggle with most things and often just seemed happy to follow along and watch activities rather than participate. I encouraged her to and after maybe ten minutes, she got it. She looked up at me with a huge grin on her face and said, "I never thought I could do that!" I was hooked. From there, I graduated with a degree in Japanese because, ironically, it was convenient and I entered the Masters in Teaching Blind Students program at Louisiana Tech University.
I chose LaTech, not because it was close, since it was over 1,100 miles from home, but because of the philosophy that influences every one of their classes. The philosophy behind their program was one of confidence in blind people's abilities. I am a firm believer in expectations. People, students especially, will strive to achieve what you ask them to, but only rarely will they push themselves beyond that. Because of that, I wanted to ground myself in a university program that believed in the capabilities of blind people. After doing research, I found that LaTech has the only certification program in the country that is paired with a training program for blind adults. So, in their program I got to interact with blind adults every day and see what they are capable of. What are blind students but future blind adults? The program might not be feasible or right for everyone, but it was definitely the right decision for me. The classes weren't easy, but I left with a strong background in Braille, adaptive techniques, and high hopes for my students.
Three years later, I like to think I haven't lost that. I may still get lost once in a while but I managed to pass the National Certification in Literary Braille test on my first try. Maybe I just don't have any room left in my head for directions. Some days I do lament the fact that I have so much "other" stuff to do that has nothing to do with teaching blind kids. Some of what I do was expected and I was prepared for and some of it I've had to learn on the fly, and hope I don't make too many mistakes. And I have made mistakes. Still, everything I do is worth it in those hokey, shining moments when everything "just clicks."