Ruth Ann Marsh, Mentor Coordinator TSBVI Outreach

Chuck Holcomb
(COMS) Alief, Texas
Claudia Ramirez (TVI, COMS) Garland Texas
Cherie Wilhite (TVI) Deer Park, Texas
Sheila Thompson (TVI) Paris, Texas

Ruth Ann:  Hello.  We are pleased to have a panel here of just a few of the outstanding mentors that we have in the State of Texas.  I’d like to introduce our Panelists.  First, we have Chuck Holcomb, who is an Orientation and Mobility Specialist in Alief ISD, which is a suburb of Houston; he has been an O&M specialist for eight years.  Next to him is Claudia Ramirez from Garland ISD, which is a suburb of Dallas.  Claudia was an O&M specialist, has been for seven years, and she also is a teacher of the visually impaired for eleven years.  Cherie Wilhite, on my left, is from Deer Park ISD, which is a suburb of Houston, and Cherie has been a vision teacher for sixteen years.  Next to her is Sheila Thompson from Paris ISD, which is in northeast Texas, and it’s a small district.  Sheila has been a vision teacher for eight years, and is currently working on becoming O&M certified. 

Can you tell us about some of your successes and how do you feel about being a mentor?

Chuck: This is my eighth year now working with visually impaired students and now I’m at a point where I was honored to become a mentor and now I get to share my field experience and my expertise with others who are just coming up into the field, so that’s a great success for me.

Claudia: Well, I think I’ve had some success in encouraging my protégés; they always need some encouragement.  Sometimes the protégés are coming from regular education fields and they’ve been very successful in working in that area.  They’re a little bit nervous coming into their new field, and they’re not used to feeling, you know, a little nervous about the responsibilities, the new responsibilities, and I just think encouraging them and making them feel good and raising their level of self-confidence is importance.

Cherie: Well, I’ve had four protégés, and I’ve had a good time working with them. Two of my vision impaired protégés have a master’s degree, which they completed, and they have been very successful after they finished their certification, and then I have another one that’s worked – planning to work on their master’s in the deaf-blind field, so they’ve also, I’ve had two that presented at TAER, and I hope that I’ve contributed and impacted their expertise in the field.

Ruth Ann: What were some of the problems you encountered. There’s always problems, in anything in education, it seems.  How did you solve the problems that you had as you were working with your protégé?  Claudia, would you start out with answering that question?

Claudia: Okay, well, fortunately there are few problems, but I think one that is pretty common is scheduling. We try and meet with our protégés on a regular basis to discuss how things are going, any problems they’re having, and when the protégé is working in the district, it’s pretty easy to meet with them. But if they’re in another town, if distance is a problem, the phone calls become real important, e-mails, and things like that, communication that way. 

Sheila: One of the problems that we had, because we do both work in different districts, thirty miles apart, was the scheduling, and during the first semester we tried to meet in person once a month.  And then one of the other problems that we had was just frequent changing of the VI forms or the words on the forms, and our solution to that was staying updated through our VI consultant and our regional service center.

Chuck: Well, I was lucky to have my protégé actually work in my district, so as the O&M in our district, she is the VI teacher going through the program to receive her Orientation & Mobility Certification.  We had very few problems. The problems that we did encounter was that since she is the VI teacher in a district, how was she going to keep her certification, how was she going to get the hours to complete, you know, all the training that she needs, so the problems that I had was going out and finding contract time after school for her to do the hours, keeping her informed on the conferences, just trying to sort out, you know, what her role is as a VI teacher over an O&M teacher, O&M mentor.

 Claudia: Sometimes, when I really wanted the protégé to experience an IEP meeting, when they were first going to those, and they weren’t exactly sure of the procedures, I would like to have been with them on those first couple of meetings to encourage them and to go over exactly what to say in the forms necessary to fill out, and sometimes my co-workers, my experienced co-workers, I could draw them into helping the protégé also, because it is important for the protégé to see the experience and the teaching styles of other people too.

Ruth Ann: One of the central functions of being a mentor is to provide support and opportunities for growth, and I would like you each to think of what type of support your protégé needed, and what type of a support you personally were able to give, and were there situations where your protégé needed some support that you weren’t able to provide.

Cherie: My protégé actually needed a lot of positive reinforcement; she was doing a good job, but she needed someone telling her that she was doing a good job and on the right track. She also needed someone that would listen to her.  I had to be a really good listener for that, and I had to be a source of information for her.  If she was having difficulties finding an answer, pointing her in the right direction, and where she could the answer that she needed, and being kind of like a non-biased third party in some situations when she had a problem with maybe programming with a student or whatever, and not really judging her, kind of pointing her in the right direction but not saying, “Oh, you did that wrong!” or whatever, being nonjudgmental and also providing ancillary material to her.  She had her sources, and of course, the internet we all have for a research base, but if she was working on something, maybe some low vision with a student, providing materials that I have accumulated over the years to go along with what she already had.

Sheila: My protégé needed help filling out the various VI forms, such as supplements, Parts A and B of the Comprehensive Individual Assessment; and Texas Education Agency consent forms.  In addition to that, in the state of Texas every year we do our annual VI January 1 count and this is how we get our quota funds, and every year in the state of Texas we do a data collection called RSPI, which stands for Regional Student Performance Indicators, and that is rather comprehensive for a first year VI teacher to entail by himself or herself.

Claudia: Well, I agree with Cherie and Sheila that a protégé has lots of needs.  There’s a lot to learn out there. They come out of the university training with a book knowledge, but now they’re in the real world and they have to apply that knowledge, and if they haven’t had the experience, you know, they do need the leadership of a mentor.

Chuck: The evaluation, going from the infants, to go evaluate them, to a high school student, you know, which is totally different, then to a middle school or elementary, you know, the difference in between all the evaluations, she wasn’t ready for that.  She was just like “Oh, let’s go out there and to an evaluation.”  And you know, you have to have so much patience doing an evaluation with an elementary child or an infant, so I think the support that we were there to help them get through those first few evaluations was critical. 

Ruth Ann: Did your mentoring role change over time as your protégé became more experienced?  Many of you have worked with your protégé for at least two years, sometimes longer.  Would you start us off with this question?

Claudia: Okay.  At first, my protégé was like a shadow. She sort of followed me around, observing what I was doing, asking a lot of questions, and as time went on and she gained more experience, that relationship changed, she became more independent, more self-confident, really realizing the role of her profession.  So she became more of a, I guess, a co-worker to me, because as a mentor I can learn from her also.

Chuck: You know, at first a lot of the questions may have been book questions, you know, how do you do this skill, how do you do this skill, what does this mean, to in the end, to just, hey, can you come over and see, this student is veering to the left, what can I do to keep them from veering?  So it went towards more of an on-hands experience, you know, can you come watch this student.

Cherie: As she grew, it’s like I started getting e-mail, “Oh, this is a neat site, you need this site,” so she began to give me a lot of resources and so it became that in the beginning I was giving, and then she was giving, and then we became peers.

Sheila: As the other panel members have stated, my protégé needed less help as time went on, and we became a working team together toward the end of the mentorship, often going to work shops and things together.

Ruth Ann: This tape is going to be used during the training of new mentors.  For many of them, it will be a brand new role of working with someone who is new in our field.  And I’d like to ask what advice you would give to new mentors.  Sheila, would you begin?

Sheila: I would advise the new mentor to work toward a compatible relationship with your protégé.  I do not feel like that if it is an uncomfortable relationship that they’re going to come to you and feel comfortable getting that assistance.  And you will need to give them a lot of encouragement.  I know from my personal experience some of the classroom teachers, or some people within the district, they actually do not know the role of a VI teacher.  And I think it’s very important that the VI teacher develop a good rapport with that classroom teacher.  And then keep an open line of communication with your protégé.  Check with them frequently by e-mail or telephone just to see how they’re doing, and give that encouragement.

Claudia: If they are taking classes at the same time that they’re on the job, you know that can be pretty stressful for them, and so they may need some extra encouragement to get over that stressful time.  You need to take into consideration the difference in personalities also.  You know, not everyone is the same, so sometimes that’s a factor also, and you just need to be accepting and respect their professional position also.

Cherie: Responding as quickly as you can and coming up with a real workable system between the two of you that works for both of you to communicate.  Communicating and getting the information to them.

Chuck: Have fun. Go out and do other things besides mobility or VI with your protégé.  You know, just remember when we came into the field, we were nervous as heck.  You want to take that nervousness off of them.  Go out and have fun, make the lessons fun with the kids, like on community-based instructions. When you’re taking the visually impaired children out in the community, that’s a good time to take your protégé, because that’s a good fun time that you’re allowing the students and the protégés to interact and have a good time, and it’s not so much the on-hand book material, you’re out having fun, you’re eating lunch, and you get to share things and talk to the children, so my advise to the mentor is just, have fun, and let the protégé have fun, because if it’s all work, it burns you out a lot faster.  So if we’re having fun, it makes us stay in the field longer and enjoy our job.

Claudia: I think going out to lunch is an excellent idea, because you can talk about things in a real casual atmosphere there too.

Ruth Ann: The final question, we’re going to talk about the mentor training.  Each of you went through a mentor training before you were assigned a protégé.  What information in that training was particularly useful for you?

Cherie: The training was excellent.   It taught me how to be cognizant of how I give information to someone, if they’re asking a question, having a problem, to be positive, and there’s a better way to say it, instead of saying “Oh, you’re wrong!”  We’ve got a lot check lists, and so I found that really helpful, knowing up front what was expected of me.

Sheila: The one thing that I really remember, that I took home with me, was I was talking so much about the relationship and making sure that you and your protégé were compatible to each other, and to offer them your expertise and share ideas with them.  But also give your protégé the freedom and latitude to develop his own strategies and personality.

Chuck: The thing that I remember most about the mentor training was the role-playing.  How you all got us in groups and actually made us play roles.  Some of us played the protégé part, and some of us played the mentor part, and I think that really helped out a lot, because a lot of those experiences that we did experience, they actually happened when we were out in the field.  And with that, we could carry on that to the field and we were ready for that when it did happen, and nine chances out of ten it did happen every time.

The other thing, like the rest of the panel said, it’s just the wealth of the networking and being able to call each other and talk to each other and say, “I have this situation, what would you do?”  During this training, it’s made me go back and reinforce what I learned when I first started, because we get into, like, I‘ve been working in the field for eight years, I’ve gotten into a pattern, you know, I’m doing the same things over and over, and as the new protégés come in they’re learning new things in the colleges, and it’s like, wow, I’m learning more and more things, even though I am the mentor and I’m supposed to have all the knowledge, I’m still learning with my protégé, and I think that’s beneficial to all of us.

Cherie: Having a protégé has kept me really on my toes with some of the things I never got to use and I’ve taught a long time, I’ve actually taught thirty-one years, so it’s kept me, as Chuck said, continuing to learn.  We’re never too old to stop learning. So in that respect, being a mentor has given me more information.  And then the networking, that’s the greatest thing.  Not only with the professionals that have been in the field for a long time, but the new ones, and the new faces.

Ruth Ann: Okay, I really appreciate your coming and sharing.  This is going to be used with new mentors, and I think that you’ve given them a lot of information.  Thank you.