From the Associate Editor: Sometimes we forget how much encouragement we can give one another just by sharing our reflections on our own jobs. It can also happen that talking with others about our work provides us with new insights and perspectives on our lives. In June, 1990, Judy Krecek, a member of the Kankakee-Heartland Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois, spoke to her chapter about her job as a teacher. Her remarks were reprinted in the Summer, 1990, issue of The Blind Educator, the publication of the National Association of Blind Educators. Here is what she had to say:
Perhaps today is not the best time for me to talk to you about teaching because yesterday was the last day of school. I am suffering from burnout. I think I'm happier than the kids that we all made it through to another June. This has been a stressful year, but each one is very rewarding.
I was examining my conscience and asking why I am a teacher. My answer was "June, July, and August." But really, this is a rewarding job, for many times I can touch children's lives and make a difference. Even if I help only one child in twenty years, I feel my work has been successful.
Of course, when I was young, I played school; however, my goal was to be a waitress. But then I wondered who would ever hire me. Then I thought I would be an organist, but we did not have an organ, so that was the end of that. It was actually a junior high teacher who suggested that I become a teacher, but she thought I should teach the blind.
I think maybe I went into teaching because of my family. Neither of my parents had a happy childhood. My father grew up in an orphanage. For that reason he made sure that our family was very close. My mother was unloved and was encouraged not to further her own education, so education and affection were very important to her.
I spent my early years in a class for blind children, but they did not teach Braille, which was a big mistake. In fact, I did not learn Braille until I was in college. I did not enjoy my experience in school, for I was pulled out of regular class and sent to the special education class. I was encouraged not to play with the regular kids, and I was basically segregated from the mainstream.
In the sixth grade this program deteriorated because the teacher said that I should be able to read large print books as fast as the regular kids. Never mind that I had several eye problems. I ran home to my mother and told her that the teacher said my IQ was okay, but I failed every test I had taken because I could not read very fast and sometimes not at all. The truth was that no one knew Braille, so I was not taught, and as a result I was set up to fail. I simply could not see.
Finally, my parents decided to pull me out of that school and put me into a Catholic school. My family asked why the school was reluctant to take me and were told that there was a special class for me right down the street. In the end they said that I could enter the school but that I would have to repeat a grade because I was two years behind in math and three in English. Of course, no one recognized that I was behind because I could not see to do the work. I went back to the public school and told them I wanted to transfer. They told me that I could pass to the seventh grade even though I was behind. They were getting state and federal money to educate me, and they did not want to lose it.
My parents left the decision to me. I had always wanted to be in a regular class, so I repeated a year at the Catholic school. My mother tutored me in the subjects I was lacking, and everything was better. Again I must remind everyone that the problem was my blindness, but no one really understood that.
In those days, when a blind student went to private school, there were no materials, so my mother bought a tape recorder she could not afford and read all my books for me. She continued doing all my reading through college and even typed my Latin in large print. If I had not had a mom like that, I would not have made it through the system. Mom had three other kids, so she was very busy. She was invaluable to me. In high school I would sleep only three or four hours per night because it took me so long to complete my assignments; I simply could not see. This is why Braille is so important. I could not keep up using print. When I was sixteen, my mother asked if I wanted to quit because it was such a strain. Of course I did not.
When I was ten I did get a Talking Book Machine, but we had to fight for it. They said they did not have children's books and that if I had the machine I might not push myself to read. Again, I did not read because I could not see, but no one realized this.
When it came time to decide about college, I had my mother's support, but my father thought it unnecessary. Of course, now he brags about how I have two degrees. At that time I think my father was afraid of what would happen in a new situation.
When it was time for student teaching, I was told I could not do it. The woman in charge said that she had wanted to be a doctor but that we do not always get what we want. She said she would not want her child in my class for safety reasons. I did not know how to answer, but I said that if they did not let me student teach, I would sue. They made me teach on campus, but I did do it. They gave me a rough time, but I still got the credentials.
I have had several parents who wanted to pull their children out of my class because it was too hard, but not because of blindness. I have always talked these parents out of moving their children. It is good for everyone to have challenging classes. What I am trying to tell you is that when you meet the people in your life who tell you that you cannot do something, you have to prove them wrong. All the way through school people would say that they admired my enthusiasm, but.... When people say "but," it is time for combat.
I had many interviews when I was looking for my first job. On my credential one line stated that I was blind. When the interviewers read that, there were all kinds of excuses about why they did not need me. I had a lot of rejections before I got my first job. The only reason I got the job I did was that Latin was my minor and the district was desperate for a Latin teacher. The superintendent offered me the job on the spot. It was August, and he needed a teacher that day. He asked if I had any questions, and I said that I did not but that he had not asked about my blindness. He simply asked if I thought I could teach, and of course I said I could. He said that was all that he wanted to know. I was thrilled because I was going to earn real money, $5,300 a year. I taught there for two years, but church was twenty-five miles away, and it was eight miles to a bus stop. The town had no theaters and maybe one restaurant.
After two years there, I saved up my money and went to Europe. I resigned before going on vacation. I realized later that it was foolish to have quit, but Kankakee did hire me. I was sure they would not choose me for the job because it was a rough class, but I interviewed because I could get to the job from Chicago by train.
I was offered the job but was not really happy there for about four years. It took me all that time to feel a part of the community. After eleven years I bought a house.
I do love my job. The first day of class I always tell my students in what ways I proceed differently. I have a closed- circuit television, which I use to enlarge material. I work from recorded tests. I have the students listen to prerecorded stories, which they love. When a student needs help with pronunciation, I instruct that student to spell the word rather than point. Even though the students know I am blind, they ask what kind of car I drive because everyone in their world drives. I have to remind them that blind people do not drive.
Of course, my students pull pranks, but they are all out of love. One day they turned my desk around so that, when I sat down, I banged my knees. They just wanted to know how I would react. We talked about people's feelings and how we must respect one another. I give them assigned seats and tell them why, and I hire a reader to do some of my grading. Also I teach computers and use one myself. I got roped into teaching the class because I had the skill.
I have two classes of three hours each--language arts, social studies, etc. Using the computers has really helped my students' writing skills. Every year I have them participate in the young authors contest, which is quite a challenge. I also use my talking clock calculator, which has other features as well.
A lot of people think that I am smart, but I, like many, have to work hard at my job. I insist on the best from my students. I know that the results are worth the struggle. One problem I see these days is that they want to give up too easily. I do my best to encourage them to keep on trying. Blindness does make for more challenges, but we all know that. All people face challenges; being blind simply makes them obvious. I have worked now for twenty-four years, and I have been happy to have a job that is very, very rewarding.
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