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Fall 2000 Table of Contents
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Tips for New VI Teachers

By Nancy Toelle, Coordinator, Quality Programs for Students with Visual Impairments and Ann Rash, Teacher Trainer, TSBVI, VI Outreach

This article is the first in a series based on a session presented at the "Helen Called Her Teacher" conference sponsored by Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI). It is intended to help new teachers look at the components of service delivery to meet the unique needs of students with visual impairments. The concerns stated below are a representative sample of those expressed by new and not-so-new teachers.

This article addresses the issue of how a new teacher determines how his or her school day is to be spent. The fact that this is a pressing issue can be appreciated when hearing the comments of new teachers, who say they are working night and day to meet the needs of students, staff, and parents.

How much and what kind of VI service

Concern:

How much and what kind of VI service is indicated in your student's IEP?

Suggestions:

This is a good time to start compiling a "teacher file" on your students that will help you keep track of a lot of important information. You may find it helpful to start a notebook or fact sheet on each student. This will become your "travel" notebook or file. Your preference for a notebook or a portable file holder will determine your final product.

Find yourself a comfortable spot, take a few of your student's eligibility folders, and go through their most recent IEP paperwork, looking for the pages indicating the amount of service to be provided by everyone to the child. Also gather together all IEP forms, so you will have a good idea of what the child's total program will be. Please note: a best practice that we are encountering more and more is to find integrated IEPs that have been developed by a student's multidisciplinary team. When looking at IEP goals and objectives, look for those with a visual, tactual, or auditory component. Any of these could be the responsibility of the VI teacher (to provide direct instruction, materials, consultation, etc.). Look on the signature page for the name of the VI teacher involved in developing the IEP; he/she may be able to offer insights into how the IEP was developed. As you gather information on each student, devise a form on which you could keep needed information on all your students, such as date of birth, home address and phone number, campus and teacher name. Remember this is for your use and does not have to be elaborate or computer generated; a plain piece of paper divided into sections works just fine. This will be handy for contacting parents and teachers when you don't have the student's folder with you.

Making a Change

Concern:

If you were not a member of the IEP Committee that made the recommendation for this amount of time, and you feel a change is needed, do you know your options to make a change?

Suggestion:

The first and best option is to get to know the student and the program he/she is attending. One of the most practical approaches is to use a student-appropriate objective standard as you observe and work with the student. For example, use a pre-reading checklist for a young, academically able child or an observation checklist of critical features of effective programming for students with multiple impairments. (These instruments, and others, can be found in the TSBVI Assessment KIT and in the RSPI, Regional Student Performance Indicators.)

Be aware, this takes time. If you are scheduled to see a student only a small amount of time, such as a half-hour per month, you will not have enough time to really get to know the student. Since you can't be of much help to anyone if you don't know the student, it's important that you find a way to spend more time with him/her. Remember, taking this time is not prohibited by the IEP Committee. If, after getting to know the student, you feel more instructional or consultation time is needed, an IEP committee meeting will be necessary to make that change.

On the other hand, after spending some time with the student in his/her program you may feel too much time has been allowed for you to work with him/her. Before proposing changes to the IEP team, you should find some way to objectively measure student need that substantiates your thinking. It will then be a decision of the IEP committee to make a change in the amount of services.

Scheduling time

Concern:

How do I address scheduling time to better meet my student's needs in an IEP meeting?

Suggestion:

You may be flexible in the way you schedule time with the student. For example, a "best practice" goal for a student with visual and multiple impairments would be to observe the student in every environment and activity that he/she is engaged in throughout the school day. This would necessitate several visits at different times of the day to observe the student's program and determine VI specific needs. (Is the occupational therapist using a spoon the child can see, and presenting it at an appropriate distance and in his/her field of vision?) If the team is writing activity routines, you need to join the team with VI specific suggestions. If the team has never written an activity routine, it is your responsibility to initiate this important programming. If IEP specified time for this child is described in the IEP document as "twelve hours during the first twelve weeks of school and four hours per month thereafter" you could be flexible about your scheduling. You could spend longer chunks of time getting to know the student. If necessary, you could make multiple visits during the course of the week to his/her service providers to work as a team. Once things are running smoothly, the student and staff may need you can settle into a more regular schedule each week. The amount of time meets the IEP requirement, and the flexible scheduling allow you better to meet the needs of the child and the team. This approach may also be needed with your low vision or blind students who are academically able.

If this approach seems overwhelming, we suggest you try it with just one student. It won't be long before you , your student, and the team start to experience the benefits.

Print and/or Personnel Resources

Concern:

Do you have print and/or personnel resources readily available to you?

Suggestion:

The first step is to become familiar with what your district has to offer. Go looking for the VI materials stashed away in schools, or the nooks and crannies around the district. Next call your education service center VI Consultant and ask for help. In the meantime, some of our favorites are: The Perkins Activity Guide, Beginning with Braille by Anna Swenson, APH Bright Sights Kit and Work Play Trays, the Every Move Counts multi-sensory assessment, the Internet (including TSBVI's website www.tsbvi.edu) and materials available through the TSBVI curriculum department such as the Learning Media Assessment and the red Low Vision book (listed on the TSBVI website). You can probably access the Internet in your school library.

Time to plan lessons

Concern:

Do you make the time in your schedule to plan lessons with VI materials and resources?

Suggestion:

First, we acknowledge the fact that as itinerants we have little time, if any, set aside to plan. What time we have to spend in the office (if we have one) is often spent writing reports, record keeping, making or returning phone calls, or fighting fires. Without time to plan properly, lessons are never really meaningful, sequential, and building toward acquisition of the key skills needed. The teacher's anxiety level goes up and satisfaction with the job goes down. We suggest that as you develop your schedule, write in time to plan your instruction and to prepare for it as well. AND don't forget to eat lunch.

We hope that we've addressed at least some of the concerns that you, as new teacher, may have. We would love to hear from VI teachers who have their own suggestions. For a thought provoking article on a related topic, read "Observation: The Other Four-Fifths of the Day," from the Winter 1999 issue of SEE/HEAR. Find it in the SEE/HEAR Newsletter Index on the TSBVI website. Until the next time, we hope you can feel good about helping all your students, that you manage to make it to all your schools, and that there are no flats or other road mishaps in your future.

In our next article we will try to give suggestions that address the concern: Do you feel comfortable deciding what to do with your students? If you have specific concerns related to this topic that you would like us to address, please feel free to contact Ann Rash by phone at (512) 206-9224, or e-mail her at AnnRash@tsbvi.edu


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Last Revision: July 30, 2002