Ruth Ann Marsh
, Mentor Coordinator TSBVI Outreach

Kelly Latson (TVI) Dallas, Texas
Susan Martin (TVI) Paris, Texas
Kathleen Cruz-Moyette (O&M Intern) Dallas, Texas
Lani Gant (COMS) Tyler, Texas

Ruth Ann: Hello! We are pleased to present a panel of just a few of the outstanding protégés we have here in Texas.  I would like to introduce each one of them.  On my far right is Kelly Latson from Garland ISD, which is a suburb of Dallas.  Previously she was a middle school reading teacher and now she’s a teacher of the visually impaired.  Next to her is Susan Martin from Red River County Co-Op which is a rural cooperative in northeast Texas.  She previously worked as a junior high science and reading teacher, and is now also a teacher of the visually impaired.  On the other side is Kathleen Cruz-Moyette, who is employed as a special ed teacher in the Dallas school district, in a self-contained classroom, and she is an O&M intern and is also taking course work to be a teacher of the visually impaired.  And then, last but not least, is Lani Gant from Tyler ISD which is a small city district in northeast Texas.  She is brand new to the education field, and is both an Orientation & Mobility Specialist and teacher of the visually impaired.

Today I will be asking some questions about your experiences as a protégé in the field of visual impairment.  To begin with, I would like for you to think back to your training and how it has matched your expectations of being a new VI professional.  Probably there were some surprises, and I’d like you to talk about that.  So, Kelly, would you tell us about any surprises that you had when you first entered the field.

Kelly: Well, I remember maybe a month or two in; thinking about the differences between being in the class room and then going into this division, and I remember thinking that I would have more hands-on contact with the students, because I came out of the regular classroom and I taught every day, and I didn’t realize just how much goes into being a teacher of visually impaired.  Yes, you’re working with students, but there are a lot of other things that you have to do on a daily basis for those students, and it’s not necessarily direct teaching.

Susan: Well, the most surprising thing for me was changing my focus.  With my vision students I had to develop a rapport with them, learn and become acquainted with their vision conditions, and then create plans and goals for serving their needs, whereas when I was in the classroom, I focused more on the subject, I was teaching, planning lessons, and evaluating students.  So being a vision teacher, you’re much more personally involved with your students.  And you get much closer to them.

Lani: Taking what I learned in college the O&M out on the streets, or the typical O&M and changing it into the specific needs of the children – you know, maybe I had a student that wasn’t going to talk to me, or was never going to walk on the streets, just getting them to walk down the hallway and figuring out that that was all they needed for awhile.

Kelly: We learned a lot in our training that a lot of learning goes on when you get into your first job, because you can’t possibly cover all of it in class, and you know, every day you’re going to work, and you don’t what you’re going to encounter, and you learn something every single day, and it never stops, no matter how long you’ve been doing it.

Susan: I felt like I made a real change because I could focus on each student individually.

Ruth Ann: What was the hardest part of your new role, and how are you overcoming those challenges? Susan, what was hard for you?

Susan: Well, I think the hardest thing for me was doing the functional vision evaluation and learning media assessment, even though, like you said, we were trained, when you go out by yourself to do a needs assessment, and you’re on your own, it just seems so hard, and I had very little confidence.  Now I did try to take up ready-made checklists and my vision kit was all set, and I talked to other vision teachers and my mentor, and so after about two years I finally feel pretty confident.

Kathleen: I found that being patient with the student and having them listen to you, the instructions you give them, I have to be very patient with my students that I work with.

Lani: Two things I can think of is knowing what tools to use for particular students, as far as O&M, you know, the different assessments, and then the different instruments, canes, that might help a certain student making an adaptive cane was a big challenge.  And we’ve heard about them and we’ve seen them, but to actually make one and use one was something that I struggled with, and being in a district you had to get permission to get the student off campus to go do neighborhood travel, and I wasn’t sure how to go about that at first, and my mentor helped me get that straightened out.

Kelly: Coming out of the regular ed classroom, I knew about special ed, but I didn’t know a lot of specific things about it.  And I think that one of the first things that I had to learn was, what is special ed, what is the process that goes along with it, there’s a certain framework in place that you have to work within, and I had to find out, as a vision teacher, where I fit into that.

Ruth Ann: What about itinerant?  None of you have talked about being itinerant. 

Susan: Well, I’m an itinerant teacher, and each campus is different, it’s like every school has its own personality, and that kind of leads into another, my second hardest thing was sometimes making people understand what the role of the vision teacher was and what the duties were.  And there’s a lot of travel, and it takes more time than you think.

Lani: You have to get to know the staff at so many different schools and you see so many people and you forget who goes where, and it’s helpful to know people, because you might need something, and they can help you, but it’s hard to get to know so many people in so little time.

Kathleen: Being in the Dallas school district has been from one school to the other on time.  This is hard.

Susan: And in the country you come up against farm trucks and things like that, so it seems as though you’re always running behind a little bit.

Ruth Ann: I think a few of you were emergency certified as VI teachers.

Kelly: Well, it’s a little scary.

Susan: A lot scary! 

Kelly: But I went into an office that had several teachers in it that had lots of experience.  My mentor was in that office, and they were very, very supportive, and they let me follow them around for the first two months.  I went to everything that I could go to, I went to all the trainings I could get into.  I got to see a lot before I was actually responsible for it.  So I had a good situation, and the longer I was in the office, and the longer I was out in the field with them, the more comfortable I became with the knowledge I needed to know, and learning.

Susan: I went to all the training and so forth, too, but I was the only vision teacher and so I really relied on my mentor teacher.  I asked other vision teachers, and I got information anywhere I could get it, because, like you said, it was two classes, and you’re in, and I really had the feeling at times of being overwhelmed and “What have I done!” 

Kelly: I had to learn how to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out for you.”  And I came out of a job where I knew what I was doing, and all of a sudden you don’t know what you’re doing anymore, you have to learn everything all over again.  And as along as you can be comfortable with saying those words, and then following up with them and finding out the information, everybody is okay with you.  So, it’s just a new world to be in.

Ruth Ann: A central function of a mentor is to provide support and opportunities for growth.  How was having a mentor useful for you?  You’ve talked a little bit about that, but see if you can think of some other answers.  Kathy, how did your mentor help you?

Kathleen: With situations and questions that I had and just information that I needed to be successful in my field.

Lani: One thing Kelly pointed out earlier was being able to say, “I don’t know, but let me find out.”  And your mentor is great to go, “I didn’t know this today, so I needed to find out, can you help me?”  And if she couldn’t, she could always point me in the direction to the School for the Blind, or to a resource book that was very helpful. She could read my reports and make sure I had them written correctly or had the right words that would open doors later.  It was helpful to have somebody to bounce ideas off of, too.

Kelly: She introduced me to the position. That was my first exposure as a vision teacher. And as we continued on with our relationship, I became more independent, but I still was able to come back to her with things that I had problems with, you know, I ran into this today, what do you think about this?  What would you do? So for me she was like a safety net.  I knew if I didn’t know it, she probably would, or she’d know where to find the answer for me.  And I’m very grateful to her, because I know what I’m doing today, and a large part of that is because of her.  And I appreciate that.

Susan: Well, I found that first year in particular, that being the vision teacher is also very lonely, because in the smaller school districts and co-ops there is only one vision teacher, so you’re out there on a limb by yourself and the only close resource you have is your mentor-teacher.

Ruth Ann: I want you to think back about your mentor-protégé relationship and let me know what kind of challenges there were to that relationship.  Let’s start with Lani.

Lani: One of the biggest challenges I had was my mentor came to my district one day a week to see some of our students, but she was so busy seeing her students and I was seeing mine that we really didn’t get a chance to meet during the day, and then the other days she was in other districts far away from where we live, so it was hard to find time to ask the questions I had to ask or sit down and bounce ideas off her.  So we would make arrangements, say hey, I’m going to call you tonight and I need fifteen minutes. Okay, so we’d call her, and make special plans to meet at a meeting that we would be at or a conference, we would go have lunch together. We e-mailed a lot.  But the biggest challenge is finding the time to sit down and talk, face to face.

Kelly: Coming in and being scared about your job and you really don’t want – it’s hard to admit you don’t know what you’re doing, in the beginning, and you don’t want people to think, well, she doesn’t know.  It’s developing a relationship with a person that you don’t know initially and you end up being pretty close sometimes.

Susan: We really took time to schedule sometime during the week just to meet, either at her office or mine, and then we used time, if we had to go to a vision meeting or an in-service, we would use our lunch hour there or we’d stay over an hour, since we were there, or we’d go a bit early.  So it’s really important to make that time.

Lani: My mentor had been taught O&M many, many years before I was, so there were times we would be talking about a technique and we’d realize how different they were just through ten or twenty years, and so we would look up the new way to do it, so I think she learned something, too.  But we had to figure out how it was taught, and maybe I didn’t understand it, or was it a time different.

Kathleen: Also, being in Dallas, getting to know the new mentor that I have, scheduling time and calling him, because he’s got such a heavy case load that it’s really hard for him to get with me.

Ruth Ann: This tape is going to be used when training new mentors, so this is your chance to say to the new mentors what you would like them to do when they get assigned to a protégé.  Okay, so what advice would you give to new mentors? 

Kelly: I would say, make time, try to make time to sit down – I know time and distance is really a big issue, especially in Texas, but if you can ever get together, even if its on the phone or with e-mail, make it a regular thing, because we need the contact, we need the support, and it helps us a lot when we can do that.

Susan: I would tell a new mentor that hopefully that they would be patient or prepared to be very patient; that what might be old hat to them, everything’s new to a protégé and we also are going to ask lots of questions, so allow time to answer lots and lots of questions. 

Kathleen: Just like she was saying, being patient with us, because we’re new to the field and we need to find out information.  If I have a question I need to see if they can direct me in the right direction to find out the information to help my student, and that way I can feel more comfortable working with the student and being out in that field.  And I also think that if I call my mentor, that he needs to call me back and let me know that he got my message, and just be there when I need him.

Lani: As a mentor, if your protégé hasn’t called you in awhile, they might have questions they don’t know or they’ve forgotten. Call them every now and again and initiate the conversation because they might need something.  And let your protégé know that most of the questions they have to ask might seem silly, but they’re not, that they’re really important.

Kelly: Ask questions of your protégés.  Because you don’t know what you don’t know sometimes, and occasionally my mentor would ask me something and I thought I’d done it correctly and we’d look at it and it would be, oh, no, we need to do it this way instead.  And if she hadn’t asked the question, I would have made a mistake.  So, ask questions.  If we’re not contacting you, then contact us.  See how it’s going.

Susan: Give your protégé the freedom to develop their own style, because the only way you learn is to go out and do it by yourself.

Ruth Ann: Great.  Thank you.  I really appreciate your participating in this, and I wish you all the very, very best.  We’re proud of you!