Op-Ed: Why It's ‘Critically Important’ to Support Teachers of the Blind
Why does a preschooler with a visual impairment always close his eyes and look away when reaching for his crackers at snack time? What are some solutions for a low vision student who cannot see the board in his classrooms?
These were some of the questions I had as a novice Teacher of the Blind and Visually Impaired (TVI) 14 years ago. While the profession as a TVI is rewarding and challenging, it can also be isolating. As the only TVI in the district, there is usually no one else with the same training to collaborate and problem-solve with.
For this reason, I am currently mentoring a group of new TVIs online via New Teacher Center's e-Mentoring for Student Success (eMSS) program, with the goal of building an online community of support.
These new teachers are truly motivated to make a difference in the lives and futures of the students they teach. But the scope of what they are responsible for is oftentimes overwhelming. To assist these new teachers with the difficult challenges they face, they need opportunities to collaborate with others in the field, and to receive guidance and support.
In addition to the demands all new teachers face, certified teachers of students with visual impairments must also learn to work closely with the students’ classroom teachers to provide adaptations that make their assignments accessible. These students may require brailled materials, tactile graphics, large print, computer adaptations or magnification devices. They must also give classroom teachers guidance on how to modify their instruction, such as providing more hands-on activities as well as using more verbal description.
In addition to providing access to the general curriculum, these new TVIs must also support students with visual impairments with specialized instruction for their “Expanded Core Curriculum.” Over the course of a week, the TVI may:
- Provide instruction in braille reading and writing
- Work with students to improve their listening skills
- Teach concepts that their sighted peers learn incidentally from the environment
- Conduct lessons on cooking, organization, grooming, and other daily living skills
- Teach adaptive techniques for recreation and leisure
- Collaborate with teachers and therapists on positioning and vision use for students with multiple disabilities
- Work with students on advocating for their needs in the classroom
Due to a nationwide shortage of Teachers of the Blind and Visually Impaired, providing support to these teachers is critically important.
As a mentor, I lend ideas to help meet these teachers’ immediate questions regarding best practice in braille instruction, adapting materials, consultation and technology. I also facilitate weekly reflection and discussion on meaningful topics in our field. The program’s goal is to increase the effectiveness of the new teachers’ instruction as well as to improve their retention rate.
Due to a nationwide shortage of Teachers of the Blind and Visually Impaired, providing support to these teachers is critically important. An online community can provide these new teachers the support they need to increase their effectiveness in order to ensure their students’ success.