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Summer 2002 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Tips for Classroom Teachers With a Visually Impaired Student

By Emily Biggers, Teacher, Birdville Independent School District

Dear Teacher,

You are going to have a visually impaired child in your regular classroom?  Have you cried or screamed yet? Have you found yourself thinking I don’t know if I can do this? I was there, too, just two years ago.  I had little training in any type of special education, knew nothing about the blind, and truly had never considered learning anything about the blind.  What a blessing I would have missed had I not been given the opportunity to teach a visually impaired student named Laurel.  I was stretched professionally and personally.  I learned and grew in ways I did not know were possible. I messed up a lot.  I got frustrated a lot at first but then it began to feel natural, and easier. Be patient with yourself. Realize that this is a new challenge, but such an exciting one!  Here are a few of the things I learned that I would like to share with you... when you find the time to read this lengthy letter!

Remember that this child is just a child.  A child with some special needs which will take time for you to understand and to meet. A child who will help you to learn about his or her special needs.  A child who might laugh louder and sillier than the best class clown you can imagine.  A child who might be especially reserved.  A child who will have a personality, fears, and strengths. Just like every other child you have ever taught.  A child who may get in trouble just as often as the others.  Perhaps even more at times... because of frustration or lack of visual stimulation or even for a reason you can’t put your finger on. A child who might be exceptionally  well‑behaved, so much so that you almost rejoice when he begins to come out of his shell and talk with peers more. In either case, or somewhere in between, this child is still just that. A child. Blind? Yes. But still, just a little kid who wants his teacher to like him and wants to please you. Be gentle. Be understanding. Be firm. Be real.

Your visually impaired child will not see the way you see, but let me assure you that he or she will see. You will be amazed at the way this child views the world.  You will learn to slip things into his hands so that he might “see” the rock or the coin or even the caterpillar with his fingers. Those will be hands you’ll never forget, hands that reach out to know life as the sighted world says it is. Hands that appreciate soft and smooth, rough and prickly as only the blind can. Hands that one day shyly sneak to touch the bracelet on your arm or the plastic clip in your hair. Hands that will produce, in time, a magical language all their own. A language of raised dots which will open doors for this child. Doors like reading and writing, and perhaps college or even graduate school one day. Braille will become a regular part of your classroom. Embrace it. All of your students will enjoy learning a little bit about it. Teach them to value learning differences rather than fear them. Treat the braille writer and the other VI equipment with no more special attention than you treat pencils or computers. They are tools.

This child who will enter your room with a cane, and whose eyes may not look just like your eyes, and whose materials will have to be different, needs you. She does not need you to baby her, or to do everything for her. She especially does not need you to point out her differences to the class on a regular basis by offering her a special invitation to do things or an extra chance before you sign her behavior sheet...because she’s blind. She does need you to train your class to be helpers  when she asks for help, or  when help is appropriate. She needs you to model for her peers the ways in which she should be treated. She needs it to be O. K. to be blind in a classroom full of sighted students, because this child will live in a world full of sighted people for a lifetime... and that lifetime cannot wait to start until after she leaves your class.

Having a visually impaired student will challenge you to a new level as a teacher. You will “tell” pictures, or get your sighted students to help you. You will say more as you point to objects. You will verbalize more. When you hold up a picture or make a gesture or write words on the board, your VI child will sit waiting until you take the time to say it. Say everything! It only takes a little more effort, and soon it will be second nature.

Don’t be afraid of using sighted words with the unsighted. For example: 

Your blind child will use these words, too. Remember that these types of phrases are just our cultural “lingo.” Your VI student will not take you literally when you ask if he saw the special about polar bears on the Discovery channel. You both know he didn’t “see” it, but be ready for an earful if his TV was on during the show about polar bears.

I am certain that just as all regular ed students are different from one another, all VI students are not the same. Your student will be different in many ways from my VI student. I hope, however, that some of the ideas I have included here will put your mind and your heart at ease. You will probably feel stressed at times. That is a great sign! That means that you are an effective teacher who cares about children, who seeks to be the best teacher you can be, and who truly desires that this special needs student be successful in your regular ed classroom.

Lean on the VI team. They are highly trained. They are supportive and understanding. They know that this assignment is not your every‑day assignment. They know also that blind children learn best alongside their peers. They are excited that the VI child is able to be in your classroom. Ask the VI specialists questions. Jot them down during the day and stick them in their mailbox. Make them your teammates. They will be so much help for you! Never worry that they are there to analyze your teaching or your handwriting or your organization. They are there to make learning possible for that child in your class who needs an extra pair of eyes watching out for them, teaching them things we do not know as regular educators. Along the way, they will teach you many things. Don’t even try to learn everything at once. And if they start to overwhelm you, just tell them that you are getting overwhelmed. They will do everything they can to decrease your stress! Be courteous with them. Realize that their caseloads are high and that they are not able to be in all places at one time.

May you take a deep breath. May you whisper a prayer. May you look forward to meeting and teaching a very special child with some very special needs. The rewards will be like none other you have known. May you have a wonderful year!

Sincerely, 

Emily Biggers


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