Today’s post comes from an email I received this week from Heath in Maine (used with permission):
Thank you so much for your awesome website and YouTube videos! After working as a mental health counselor for the past 20 years, I’ve decided it’s time for a career change. I go back to college this fall to become certified to teach secondary education. I know I love to teach as I’ve taught intro. psych classes as an adjunct teacher at the college level. I also really enjoy working with teens although it has mostly been one on one. Anyway, I’m excited to be starting this new chapter in my life and I wanted to let you know that I find your online material not only very informative but inspirational as well!
There is one area I would appreciate your advice on. I am visually impaired and I’m wondering how that might affect classroom management. I do have some usable sight as I can still see color and movement pretty well. Other than that, I can make out “the big picture” but not details. I also use a guide dog to get around and will have her in class with me. I’m not worried too much about assignments as I use high-powered magnifiers and other adaptive technology to see small material. I’d greatly appreciate any thoughts you might have on the matter as well as any advice.
Congratulations, Heath, on your decision to launch this new adventure! As you know from your current work, change (even if it’s for the good) can be stressful and I can only imagine all of the scenarios that are racing through your mind. I haven’t ever taught with a colleague whose vision was so limited as to require a guide dog and I can’t possibly know the challenges you face, but I do have a few ideas that might help. I’ve placed these below in no particular order of importance:
• Community matters. The personality of schools vary widely and you’ll need to find the right fit. Big campus or little? Public or private? Sports-minded culture or engineering academy? Now, I don’t know much about you or your teaching style, but my first thought is that your collegiate teaching experience probably means an assignment with older students, like 11th and 12th grade, in an academically rigorous environment is a better match than a class of squirrely below-level 9th graders. While I love all of my classes, my older kids are always an oasis of calm compared to my freshmen.
• Your dog will be a celebrity on campus. Have a plan to turn that attention into an advantage that gets students excited about being in your class. A few years back, I taught a girl whose family trained service animals. For a semester, Maddie brought Monte, a yellow lab, to class every day and the rule was that we couldn’t touch him if he was wearing his vest and we were asked to pretty much ignore him. Still, Monte was so charming that we all fell in love with him and he became our class mascot. Is there a way to incorporate your dog into your teaching? I have no idea what that would look like, but I have a feeling she could be the ticket to having the most popular class on campus. The things that make us different are the things that make us awesome, yes?
• Seek every type of experience available during your student teaching. This is a time for you to figure out how to make this work and discover what level of kids/types of courses feel the most comfortable. In my own student teaching assignment two decades ago, I taught a sixth grade class in the morning and then an 11th grade class at the high school across the street in the afternoon. I knew within the first few weeks that I belonged at the high school. Those sixth graders were adorable, but they pretty much expected me to do everything for them – they were so little, I half-expected them to ask me to help them tie their shoes – and I couldn’t imagine reading Rikki-Tikki-Tavi for the next 30 years. My juniors were fun and edgy and laughed at my jokes. High school was a no brainer.
• Consider adding a social studies/social science credential to your English credential. That way, you could teach psychology (there’s an AP Psychology class for upperclassmen that might be a great fit for you) and expand the pool of possible jobs. When I was student teaching, a professor told me that English teachers are a dime a dozen, so I also earned social science and health science credentials to differentiate myself. That’s ended up being a huge advantage whenever I’ve needed a job because principals know they can toss an extra oddball class or two onto my schedule. I’ve decided I’m the Beyoncé of teaching – a triple threat. I can’t sing, dance, or act, but I can teach English, history, and health. You’d hire me, right?
• During job interviews, be ready with an answer for every concern. Better yet, introduce the concerns yourself and then show the solution. Look, it’s going to be awkward. You’ll walk into that interview room with a guide dog and the administrators will be on edge because they don’t want to accidentally say something that’ll get them sued. Ease those fears. Have a sense of humor about your situation and make them see they don’t have to be overly cautious when they talk to you. Be real. Have a plan. How are you going to deal with kids who try to sneak their cell phones? What’ll you do if your dog needs to go the bathroom right in the middle of final exams? You’ve been dealing with your limited vision for a long time and you must have plenty of stories to show the hiring panel how you manage difficult moments with grace and humor. Those stories will hopefully win them over; if not, you wouldn’t want to work for those stuffed shirts anyway. Believe it.
Well, Heath, it seems I had more to say about your situation than I first realized. It’s exciting to watch someone take on a challenge and your future students and colleagues will certainly benefit from your trailblazing ways; you’ll teach everyone a lot of lessons – and not all of them will come from a textbook.
Okay, teacher friends, I’m out of my depth here and Heath needs our help. With his permission, I’m sharing this part of our conversation and providing a bit more background. There aren’t any schools for the blind near his home in Maine and he’d prefer to teach at a mainstream school anyway. He became visually impaired 11 years ago due to an accident and knows what the visual world is like. His guide dog, Mari, is awesome and he’s already trying to think of ways to include her in lessons. Some of you must have more ideas and/or helpful experiences you can share. Heath’s going to check back on the blog in a week or so and I’d love to have the comments section filled with ideas and encouragement.
What advice would you give to a visually impaired student teacher? How can Heath make this work? Add your comment below in the “Leave a Reply” box.
Teach on, everyone.
(Note: The above image is not a picture of Mari or Monte. It’s just a super-cute public domain image from Pixabay.)