Editor's Note: Often the experiences we have as blind students shapes the philosophy we believe as teachers. Cheralyn serves as treasurer of the National Organization of Blind Educators, and many of the activities she incorporates into her Special Education classroom come from her own experiences as a blind student.
I remember sitting in classes, not being able to read the chalkboard, and saying to myself, "you are so stupid, you are so stupid, you are so stupid." I know the frustration of sitting in a classroom knowing that I could understand things if they were presented in another way. I remember feeling like no one understood me because I couldn't see the way they could. With the help of special education in my own life, I learned that every student could learn the same concepts as their peers if they are just presented in the proper way. Now teaching students with severe intellectual disabilities, I find myself presenting concepts in several different ways that allow learning and application to occur.
The environment of my classroom is relaxed and safe, and it includes a lot of humor. My students see that I do things a little differently than their other teachers because of my blindness. I ask them several questions as they work. This helps me assess their understanding or comprehension. I use adaptive technology that allows me to access a computer (district and school e-mail, the district grading and attendance system, the Internet, etc.). When we leave the classroom, I use a long white cane. I often use a reader when print material is my only option. Seeing me do things differently from their other teachers, helps my students understand why they might have to do things a little differently from their friends.
Peer support is a large part of my classroom and overall program within the school. My students are in my room 3 of 7 periods out of the day. However, they have a good deal of peer interaction because I realize that I, alone, cannot teach everything my students should know. They need the experience with their peers to learn "it's not cool " to say or do certain things. Several peers are assigned to me as Teacher Assistants. They function as role models and friends while in my room. Throughout the day, these peers, as well as several others walk my students to class, eat with them at lunch, help them with their locker combination, etc. I won't be with my students forever, but they will always have peers. Teaching my students to interact with them is a top priority in my classroom.
Computer and board games are often used in my classroom practice. I am very particular about which games are available at which times of the day. However, time is given throughout the day to play games. The games reinforce the subject matter students have just learned, but it also gives them the chance to learn to work together with their peers. Some of my students don't learn as well as others in traditional classroom instruction. These hands on opportunities provide them the instruction in an alternate format.
To me, school isn't about sitting in a desk, copying from the board. It's feeling safe and learning to work together. It's about learning concepts in several different ways and applying them in several different ways.
It's finding success for all students because no child should have to sit in shame saying to him or herself, "you are so stupid." This philosophy of education came to me with the aid of the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. I've come to understand that blind individuals can, and DO, compete on equal terms with their sighted peers in education as well as the work place.