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By Elsie Rao, VI Teacher, Tyler Independent School District

The beginning of school is such a busy time for everyone, and it is especially busy for teachers of students with visual impairments. The following is a summary of some of the things I try to do to cut down on the annual hassle surrounding the start of school.

  1. Obtain class schedules for students and school bell schedules. If you have high school students on your case load, try to sit down with the scheduling office in the summer, usually around the first part of August, (this depends totally on their schedule) and develop a schedule for your student. This can be particularly beneficial if you can pick the student’s teachers. Ask questions of the scheduling officer or a teacher who has been on the campus for a long time about different teachers. You need to try to find teachers who USE the state adopted textbook and not their notes or another textbook. You also need teachers who do not solely use the overhead or write on the blackboard for presentation of materials. These practices can leave a VI student with little or no hope of academic succeeding. Middle schools usually have their schedules ready before school starts, so usually I can pick them up before school starts. The elementary campus can tell you who the teacher will be, but usually you can’t get their schedules until you have a chance to sit down and talk with the classroom teacher. You need a student’s schedule regardless of whether you see the student on a direct basis or consult. You need the bell schedules too because the student’s class schedule will be meaningless if you don’t know when classes begin and end.
  2. Prepare a folder, preferably one that is brightly colored, to hand out to regular teachers. Include, a letter of introduction about yourself, schedule, and contact information. Provide a handout about either a low vision student or Braille student, and a copy of your progress report. Some type of written communication is important for documentation of service since there are times when you have little contact with a student, like one you see 1 or 2 hours a semester. When you meet the new regular teacher you can go over all of these forms and tell them that each 6 weeks you will be sending this form for them to complete and return to you. This will prevent you from showing up at an annual ARD only to find out the VI student is failing a class. I usually send this to all the teachers I work with because I want to know what is happening in the classroom and this prevents the teacher from telling you that everything is “fine” when it is not. If a teacher has to indicate if a student is passing their class, then you have documentation to show the progress being made.
  3. Braille and enlarge copies of school calendars for your students. This is a great organizational tool. If they have something where they can write dates for special projects or tests, then they are more organized. Laminate the large print copies, fold them in half, and 3-whole punch them so they fit in notebooks.
  4. Plan lessons by writing down what you intend to teach. If you don’t, you will find that time just slips by. When I have a lesson plan written down, I am talking about what the lesson will cover from the moment I meet the student. Since I usually have to take the student to another room for our lesson, I am introducing material, giving background info., or reviewing previously learned material as we move. I also take the students IEP and rewrite it in a check-list format, laminate it and carry it in the student’s folder or in my lesson plan book. This helps me stay focused on my job of TEACHER. I am an “intensive teacher” because I realize that my student has twice as much to learn as his/her peers and I have half the teaching time (or less) to accomplish the lesson. So I teach, check for comprehension, re-teach, check again, and so on. When I walk away, I want to KNOW that I did the best I could do. This will not happen if I don’t have a lesson plan and follow it.
  5. Tape record a lesson from time to time. This will make you realize how to help yourself become a better teacher. You can pick up on your student’s learning style and your teaching style. If you don’t like what you hear, then you can figure out what to do. This is something special to share with your appraiser. They will be impressed that you are strong and caring enough to implement a technique to improve your teaching style.
  6. At some point, you will have a student who has a poor home life in your opinion. Try not to judge the parents too harshly. You don’t know where they have been or what they have been through. If you are asked for help, then give it, but you must accept the situation. You can encourage parents to change some things, but for the most part, your main effect will be on that child. Make school the best it can be for your student.
  7. Invite your “boss” to see your student’s when they are being recognized or participating in special programs. Rarely, does my director have time to visit with me or my students, but she knows what honors they receive and what activities they participate in. Your director or supervisor will come to trust you to keep him/her informed. It is also important that you tell your boss about other district and campus administrators who are really helpful to you or your students. Being positive has tremendous rewards.
  8. I often run into people who think that special education means “stupid.” It is part of your job to teach them to see special education and special education teachers in another light. There have been times in my past when I saw an itinerant teacher slack off, sneak off, or abuse the freedom of her position. Try to live above the law. Be a model so you don’t have to answer embarrassing questions about your where-abouts.
  9. If possible, deliver textbooks and special materials before classes start. This might mean you will “donate” a day of work since there are rarely days to deliver materials built into the calendar. Getting these materials to teachers before classes start will make the beginning of school so much easier on your students and on you. If you box and label materials when you pick them up at the end of the school year, it makes it easier in the fall. Also, maintain a written list, SOMEWHERE, of all the materials you loan out to a classroom or student. A page in your lesson plan book is a good place for this because you always have that with you. Be sure to label your lesson plan book in big contrasting letters so if it gets lost, the one who finds it will know how to contact you. A great lesson plan book is made by Elan, edition @ 101, forty weeks. It is 81/2 by 11, has the days across the top, and the periods of the day can be scheduled any way you like. There is an extra blank field on the right to keep personal notes or memos.
  10. Enjoy in-services because learning new information will help you maintain a perspective. It is critical to stay fresh and aware. Even during the most boring sessions (and we have all been in some) try to learn at least one thing. In-service programs designed for the regular classroom teacher may seem boring to you, but these sessions give you important information about what other teachers and students are learning, how they are grading, the curriculum for the grade/subject, etc. (This article from the newspaper says a lot about maintaining perspective.)
  11. Make it a point to meet and know the parking lot attendants, janitors, security guards, and secretaries. You will always have tons of stuff to tote, need a space to work, and a place to store materials during the year and summers. These people will be your best friends. They will have suggestions for you and are usually willing to help you.
  12. Schedule a time to meet with the classroom teachers of your students who receive direct services. Try to make this a weekly, scheduled event because there is so much you need to know and so much that the regular teacher needs to hear from you. When you meet, find out about your student’s social and academic skills. Ask what special events are coming up so you can adjust or modify schedules or materials. This meeting helps to promote teamwork. Ask what you can do to help the teacher. There have been times in my past when I would take a slow reader, at the teacher’s request, to read with my Braille student. This was a great way for my student to learn about others in the class and it helped the sighted student learn about the special student, as well as having a chance to read in a non-threating situation. I know there are some teachers that you would rather never meet because they are not meeting the needs of your student and you honestly can’t stand them. Go anyway, and praise them for something they have done right. If you are seen in a positive light, it is possible you can evoke some changes. You student needs and deserves that.
  13. Don’t judge the regular teacher. Try to fit into their schedule and adjust to their standards if at all possible. You are a guest in their room. Remember there is something to be learned from everyone!
  14. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to ask questions. It will save you time and keep you from making work harder on yourself. Remember, it is not how hard we work; it is how smart we work. This job is challenging so look for ways to make it easier on you.
  15. There is a form called VI Registration Worksheet. Fill it out and keep it in your lesson plan book in a plastic sleeve. This gives you all the information needed to know to complete the VI registration in January. It is also a great way to keep pertinent information handy to answer questions about what books and tests to order, dates for re-evals., etc.
  16. There is an example of a blank weekly schedule. When completed, give copies to your director, the teachers you work with, and your co-workers. It is a good idea to write your phone numbers on this sheet.
  17. The page containing the Braille code and Nemeth info. is one to laminate and keep in your lesson plan book. You never know when you may need a braille refresher!
  18. Teaching social skills is so important for your student. Spend extra time developing a list of goals for each student. Your student will never be successful in life without good people skills.