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Summer 2006 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Mentor, Teacher, or Student?

By Michelle Weth, Career & Technology Educator, Sugar Land Middle School, Sugar Land, TX

Abstract: A general education teacher describes her experiences in with a deafblind student in class, working together with an intervener.

Key Words: Programming, blind, visually impaired, deafblind, interveners, sign language, communication skills, general education

In the fall of 2004, I noticed two new faces on the Sugar Land Middle School campus. One was a beautiful blue-eyed woman, and the other was a small handicapped student. At that time, I would not know the impact they would have on my life and on my teaching career.

As they passed my room on a daily basis, I would issue a friendly greeting to Ann Bielert, an intervener. She would smile and return the greeting, but was hurrying behind Trinity, who is deafblind, giving directions in sign language. Each day passed and our conversations grew a little.

The previous year I had developed a relationship with one of the paraprofessionals in the Life Skills classroom. We would often laugh, giggle and discuss life about the campus. It was Becky Luetkemeyer who encouraged the relationship between Ann and me. I am so glad she did; for her I am very grateful.

Ann stopped by my room one day to see if I would entertain the thought of Trinity attending my class.  She explained that Trinity needed the skills I taught. Fear ran through me. Several thoughts raced through my mind. How am I going to communicate? How is she going to see? What can I teach her? What are her capabilities? She is only a 6thgrader. I don’t teach sixth grade students never have—never will! (I ate those words the next week.) IS Ann coming with her, or is she coming alone? Help! Am I crazy? As the words rolled out of my mouth…. “Sure, bring her in at 4th period. That is my smallest class, and I know she will enjoy the other students.” Oh-no, what will the other students do or say to her? What have I done! PANIC!!!!

Ann showed up with Trinity the next day and that was the beginning of my relationship with two people who would have a TREMENDOUS impact on my life. First, we needed a “sign” for me and I needed to know Trinity’s name sign. I really liked my sign, a “W” signed over my hand for sewing teacher. The students were just beginning to make a pair of boxer shorts on the sewing machine.  Another wave of panic: how was a deafblind child going to sew on the sewing machine and not sew her fingers or mine, or who knows what!!!!!?????

I learned so much that next 6 weeks…. We made up signs for equipment in the room. I could not remember from one day to the next what they were. I watched Ann for help. She would stand behind Trinity and give me the sign. Trinity & I could talk! I was amazed. I was so impressed with her abilities; Trinity was and is so motivated and eager. She taught me additional patience and understanding during that first week. She chose lizard fabric for boxer shorts and set into the project. I was not sure if Ann knew what to do either at that point, but we persevered.         

Out came the pattern and a pair of scissors. We traced the cutting line with a bright green marker. I learned that this was best for my other students too, as this was generally their first cutting experience.  She carefully cut the pattern. WOW, it was really good, and she was very careful. I learned the sign for“careful.” My sign vocabulary was increasing rapidly. I showed her how to pin and marked the spaces with a marker and then turned to help other students in the class. When I returned she had completed the pinning and had carefully folded the project and was returning it to her “green box.”

Over the next weeks Trinity learned new signs for sewing at a rate much faster than I did. She practiced on the sewing machine, just like the other students on paper first. She was accurate and careful. I noticed she had a hard time learning where to start and stop, so we put a “green dot” for start and “red” for stop. Great O & M skills! And, I learned the sign for STOP!  With her shoe off, she began her sewing project. She could feel the sewing machine better through the pedal with the shoe off. We converted the start and stop dots from the paper to green and red pins on the fabric. Sewing is all a sequence and a set of skills. The adaptations that I have made for Trinity have moved to regular educational class teachings.  The beginner sewing students can use these adaptive skills to make their skills better. Over the next weeks Trinity finished her first pair of shorts and was so proud of her work, and so were Ann and I.

Winter break was upon us, and when we returned in the spring we would do a unit on child care and then begin cooking. I had no clue what was in store for me next.  A whirlwind of activities! Child care was great. Trinity created a room for her dolls and learned to care for them.  Make believe time was a great educational experience for her. But the cooking was going to be more FUN than I could imagine! 

Ann had been working with her on skills in the kitchen. She showed me her recipe collection and explained how she read. “Read… I can’t believe it,” was my thought! I sent down some practice ingredients for the recipe that we were making each week.  Ann and I worked at converting my recipes into easy to read large print picture recipes. Sometimes we finished up minutes before the class. Well, now I am a large print picture recipe addict! Trinity practiced, I learned, and soon we were in sync making great things. I watched a delightful face enter my room. She smiled, made friends, and learned skills in 45 minutes, 3-4 days a week. 

We have a great time. She likes to wear my watch when she is in my class. We exchange the watch for a bracelet. We have fun in class learning names for the students and practicing names. She likes to visit with the other students and sometimes doesn’t want to sit down and get busy. On demo days, she has become my “guest chef” and assists with the weekly demo while the other students watch in amazement. They get great satisfaction from knowing, understanding, and communicating with Trinity. They visit with her in the hallway and many have their own name signs. The class is learning sign language and more skills than I would have ever expected.

I have learned what an intervener is.  WOW, I have decided that I am not just a teacher, but I am an intervener in the lives of all children. Ann Bielert has been a great teacher, friend and mentor. She has taught me so many valuable speaking (sign language) lessons. I learned I need to be careful where I place the signs! I have used the small amount of intervener training to help underachieving students make strides in their education. The organization, calendaring and unique educational process of the deafblind student can and will make an impact on the regular education processes of my classroom.

Thanks for bringing Trinity and Ann into my life. Now one and half years later, the relationship has gone full circle. I am no longer timid about my expectations of Trinity’s abilities… I now think, “let’s try!” Each day I know she is going to teach me something that I can use to educate other students. I have changed my style of teaching because of my time with her.  Trinity is now my mentor and my teacher and I am her student!

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Last Revision: September 1, 2010