Editor's Note: Dr. Homer Page is blind and for many years has been a professor in the Department of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is also Chairman of the Boulder County Board of Commissioners and President of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado. At the 1993 meeting of the National Association of Blind Educators he had good advice for blind students planning to do student teaching. His remarks were printed in the Spring/Summer 1994 issue of the Blind Educator, the publication of the National Association of Blind Educators. This is what he said:
I am very pleased to have a chance to speak to you on this topic. Of course, the blind student teacher must have a good knowledge of the subject which is to be taught, but equally important is mastery of the skills of blindness. The blind student teacher must be literate in Braille, quick with keyboard skills, and experienced in the use of the long white cane. Since sighted student teachers are expected to pick up a list of student names on the first day and read them quickly, the blind student teacher must have the skills to do the same. For most of us who do not see or do not see very well, Braille skills are a requirement. When closed circuit TV or very enlarged materials must be used, so much energy is consumed in decoding the print that the teacher inevitably loses contact with the students. Braille is the solution for such a teacher.
Always remember, classroom management is essential. The blind student teacher must be assertive. The teacher manages everything in the educational process. It is absolutely necessary that the blind student teacher do everything required of the sighted teachers. If the blind teacher gets by with not doing something, a mark will almost certainly be placed in the record showing that this teacher cannot perform required tasks. Never let an on-site teacher or friend talk you out of completing a requirement. In fact, it would be better to do more than other students are doing. The blind student teacher must have a lot of pre-student teaching experience. Take advantage of opportunities such as observations, internships, summer camps, and other experiences which build confidence. Make sure that the faculty of the Department of Education are aware of these pre-teaching experiences.
A lot of students tell me that they would love to teach because math, English, history, . . . is the field in which they have knowledge. The reality is that, in most schools and universities today, classroom management is every bit as important as subject knowledge. If a teacher does not have the management skills, he or she should choose another career. If the teacher cannot keep the students under control, it simply does not matter how much the teacher knows. Not only will the teacher not last, but he or she will be miserable while trying to teach. My definition of hell is trying to instruct students who are not learning. These days an educator must have the skills to handle students with a variety of unique needs. The talent of dealing with individual needs is developed by working with a variety of students in different settings. One cannot learn all these skills while trying to student teach.
I use an important word when talking to student teachers; it is "presence." By this I mean that the teacher has the talent to tell students what to do and have them do it. As a professor in a Department of Education, I have supervised hundreds of student teachers, most of whom were not blind. Their major problem was that they could not control the people they were expected to educate. Many student teachers appear to be teaching on their heels when they need to be instructing on their toes. The teacher must sit or stand tall, leaning forward and truly engaging with everything and everyone in the area. Careful listening is a necessary skill.
One of the hardest techniques for new teachers to learn is to encompass the entire environment in their attention, rather than one or two students. If the teacher's full attention is on one or two students or one portion of the class, he or she has lost. Everyone and everything must be in the teacher's consciousness. This skill is not easy to learn. I have read estimates that it takes five years to learn to engage completely with the class. Blind educators must learn these skills for all the usual reasons, but it is also true that students are perfectly happy to take advantage of the teacher's blindness. If the blind teacher does not recognize this truth, I don't believe he or she is long for this profession. Blind educators must hear and engage all the students simultaneously. This ability only comes with a lot of practice. I recommend that you get it before you begin student teaching. Schools always want speakers on blindness, so take advantage of these opportunities to take over a class and deal with students. Do not forget internships, observation, and off-campus experience. And always remember that magic word, "engagement."
It is also very important to be organized. When the blind teacher goes into a classroom, the lesson must be planned, and he or she must have prepared all the necessary materials and know where they are. A teacher can't be hunting for things or wondering what comes next or what the sequence is. If the student teacher is not well organized, the students will be gone. Being organized is part of having the presence of a real teacher.
I always tell my student teachers, be they sighted or blind, to get the list of students and learn their names before meeting them for the first time. If a teacher does not know names, the students can really get out of control. Have a relationship with each student; take the time to learn something about each one and remember it.
You have probably heard these ideas before; however, it is very easy for the blind student teacher not to have realized that extra effort before student teaching would make all the difference. Learning to deal with a variety of activities in the environment, with the layout of the school, and with the building plan for fire drills--all these take planning and practice. The bottom line is that blind student teachers must obtain the same results as their sighted peers. How blind teachers learn about the environment is not important. What is crucial is that we accomplish the same goals as all other teachers.
The first day of student teaching the teacher must feel at home in the classroom. That means a lot of preparation ahead of time and being aggressive and assertive. Make the lesson plan for the first day the best one of the whole year. Remember to start in control. It is very hard to recover from a poor start. When any student teacher loses control, the supervising teacher must take over. This happens all the time, but if the student teacher happens to be blind, the supervisor is all too likely to conclude that this student cannot teach. He or she may well communicate these reservations about the blind student teacher's ability to the education faculty, who are still too often just waiting for such a report. The next thing you know, the blind student teacher has not obtained a credential.
By taking heed of this scenario, the blind student teacher can take the necessary measures to earn a place at the top of the class in a Department of Education. So remember these things:
In your heart be in control and believe that you have a great deal to give each student. If the blind student teacher follows this plan, he or she should have an enjoyable student-teaching experience.
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