Blind Teacher Keeps His Vision

by Marie C. Franklin

Copyright © 1995
National Federation of the Blind

          From the Associate Editor: This article appeared in the March 8, 1992, edition of the Boston Globe. The subject of the portrait is David Ticchi, President of the Boston Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts. Dr. Ticchi lives his Federationism every day, and as a result he is teaching his students more than mathematics. Here is the profile as it appeared in the Globe:

          It is time for Algebra II at Newton North High School, and David Ticchi asks one of his students to take attendance for him.

          "Here's my clipboard, Heather," the teacher says, handing his roster to a male student in the front row.

          But the real Heather pipes up from another spot in the room: "I moved. I'm in the third row."

          "What are you doing in the third row?" the bearded teacher asks jokingly. "You know I can't talk to moving targets."

          The confusion in this classroom is understandable: Ticchi is not the regular classroom teacher; he is a substitute. And he is blind.

          He is also very quick to say, "I'm a teacher who is blind, not a blind teacher."

          For Ticchi, the distinction is important. His classroom is probably one of the most disciplined ever for a substitute, but he says the students don't behave "because I'm blind, but because I conduct myself in a competent manner and demonstrate to them that I know what's going on."

          As if to demonstrate, he suddenly asked a student one recent afternoon, "Is that a Walkman I hear?"

          "No," said the student, who was, indeed, wearing headphones. "I could swear I hear music," Ticchi continued gently, but firmly.

          "He hears everything," another student said.

          The teenager with headphones unplugged.

          Classroom discipline is a function of a teacher's rapport with students, said Ticchi: "You don't have to have 20/20 vision for that."

          "Mr. Ticchi doesn't have to ask for respect," said James Marini, Jr., seventeen, whose father is the principal. "He just gets it."

          Ticchi, said Principal James Marini, Sr., is "an outstanding teacher, who has a real ability to communicate with kids."

          He is a teacher with "a terrific sensitivity to kids," according to colleague Charles Kramer, and "a wicked good teacher," in the words of student Jennifer Martell, seventeen.

          It wasn't always so. A 1967 graduate of the College of the Holy Cross, Ticchi, who had gone to public schools in West Bridgewater, was rejected by numerous school systems when he first tried to get into teaching. "There was prejudice against me in the job market," he said.

          In 1971, after serving in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Ticchi found a job teaching English at Day Junior High School in Newton. "This community will always be special to me because they gave me a chance," he said.

          For the next seven years he taught full time while pursuing master's and doctoral degrees in education from Harvard. As part of his postgraduate work he produced and starred in "A Blind Teacher in a Public School," a documentary film about his experience as a public school teacher. The project was aired several times on the Public Broadcasting Service.

          The film was so successful, in fact, that when Ticchi left teaching in 1978 to begin an eleven-year career in corporate training and marketing, he could not escape it.

          "Wherever I went, someone recognized me from the film," he recalled. "It convinced me of the power of the documentary."

          Today, Ticchi blends his love of teaching as a permanent three-day-a-week substitute with his love of film. He is currently executive producer of a PBS documentary called "Out of Sight," a biographical portrait of a blind person.

          There are, to be sure, certain tasks that Ticchi performs differently from other teachers. For example, he grades papers with the help of readers or his students. He relies on Braille textbooks and audio tapes for curriculum information. He rarely writes on the board, although he is able to, asking students to take the chalk instead.

          "Having them put the math problem or paragraph on the board engages them in their learning," Ticchi said.

          "When I first told my parents I had this math teacher who was blind, they were surprised because math is so visual," said John MacWilliams, eighteen. "But Mr. Ticchi's real good, and he explains things real well."

          During class Ticchi is a modern-day teacher who would make Socrates proud. Tweed jacket off, he finds time to kneel or sit by each student's desk to talk about their work. "Part of that is my style and personality," he said, "but it's also my way of being with their work."

          "Make my day," he said to a struggling student who finally finished the problem. "Music to my ears," he complimented another. "That's it; that's it," he called to a third student working at the board.

          "When kids come into my classroom, I want them to feel good about themselves," Ticchi said. "Regardless of their academic records or how they're feeling about themselves, I want them to feel my classroom is a good place to be."

          Marini, the principal, is effusive with praise: "To every discussion he has with kids, he brings a passion about what it means to get an education."

          At Newton North High School, many would say, having sight is not what makes a good teacher; having vision is.

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