KC Dignan, Ph.D., Professional Preparation Coordinator,
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Abstract: There is a significant need for new teachers of students with visual impairments and orientation and mobility specialists to work with students in public schools. This article encourages current professionals working in the field of visual impairment to consider the need and recruit others, especially current teachers, into the field.
Keywords: Visual impairment, blindness, personnel preparation, teacher training.
Who Are VI Professionals in Texas?
TSBVI has conducted a statewide annual needs assessment since 1996. This assessment surveys each education service center (ESC) about the VI professionals in the region and anticipated need. This descriptive data is used for numerous purposes when data about VI professionals is needed. These include grant applications, planning for the future, and responding to inquiries from various sources.
In October 2007, Texas had 857 full- and part-time VI professionals to serve the 7,967 students identified in the 2007 Annual Registration of Students with Visual Impairments
Texas employs 72 people who function as dually certified VI professionals, providing both O&M and VI teacher services. Many more people hold both certificates, but only those who provide both services are counted in this survey. Dually certified professionals can provide a district with greater flexibility, although additional administrative and service delivery challenges also exist.
Direct Service Providers
*FTE = Full-Time Equivalent. FTE totals represent part-time x .5 + full-time.
(Numbers include 72 dually certified VI professionals)
New Positions, Attrition, And Projected Attrition
Each year the number of students with visual impairments increases by 3% (on average). Sometimes a student may be added to an existing caseload without much of a change in services for the rest of the students. However there comes a point when any additional students affect the quality of services for all students. As a result, we are in constant need for new VI professionals.
In 2007, Texas added 43 new positions, a significant increase from 2005 when only 25 new positions were added. The chart above shows the trend for new VI professionals since the data has been collected. During that same time, the number of students with visual impairments jumped from 6,002 to 7,967, or about 33%. The number of VI professionals increased by 4.8% during that same time period.
A possible factor for the lack of advocacy for and filling of new positions is the administrators’ confidence that the position can be filled. In 3 separate surveys over a 9 year period, administrators have told us that their willingness to advocate for a new or additional VI position is directly related to their confidence they can fill the position.
You can help administrators, and your students by being an active recruiter. Each year VI professionals leave this field, either for other jobs or retirement. Much has been written about the increasing trend for educators to retire. The annual needs assessment collects data about attrition within the last year and projected attrition over the next 3 years. In 2007 the data showed a marked increase in both areas: attrition and projected attrition.
Actual and projected attrition
Of concern is reflecting on the actual versus the projected 3-year attrition. This data has been gathered since 2000. A review of the actual versus the projected shows that, on average, the VI consultants at the ESC under-project by 21%. So in fact we may need closer to 137 VI professionals.
In addition, we will also need 80 full-time-equivalent (FTE) VI professionals to serve the anticipated annual increase of 3%. If allowing for part-time professionals, we will need even more. Combined, we will need 193 VI professionals just to maintain current services.
In the meantime, we are consistently hearing anecdotal reports of increased caseloads and significant difficulties in meeting students’ needs. We also hear services for many caseloads are far from ideal, and that administrators have difficulty hiring new or additional VI professionals.
By becoming a more effective and active recruiter, you can make a difference for students beyond your caseload—beyond your child.
Identified need for VI professionals
The VI consultants also identify a need for VI professionals in the shorter (12-24 months) and longer range (24-36 months). When asked about projected need, they consider factors such as growth within the region and projected attrition.
Need for VI professionals within:
How can I use this information?
Each of us who are concerned about students with visual impairments are recruiters. However, knowing who to talk to and what to say can be a challenge.
Research done in 2003 has given us hints on likely targets and effective messages to share with them.
Likely VI professionals
According to the research, the most likely future VI professionals include the following individuals who have had contact with a child or adult with a visual impairment:
- Special education teachers
- General education teachers
- People involved in disability-related work, such as O.T.s, social workers and others
- Parents and other caretakers, including paraprofessionals.
Think about those people who have asked you questions, who have challenged you to provide better services. This may include the science teacher who asks about teaching the circulatory system or wonders how to translate images seen under a microscope. Or the paraprofessional who provides exemplary services, acting as a bridge to independence, not a barrier or personal servant. It may also include the P.E. teacher who is concerned about teaching and using spatial or environmental concepts effectively. These people may be future VI teachers or O&M specialists.
What to say to my candidates
Knowing what to say is just as important as knowing to whom to say it. Research shows us that there are 4 areas that current VI professionals identify as important. Each of these areas is followed by sample ways to incorporate the concept into everyday conversation.
Working in a non-traditional job and/or with non-traditional students
- “When I was a reading teacher, I had to focus on the curriculum; now the needs of each of students are my focus.”
- “Because I work with my students one at a time, during our O&M lessons I get to function as a life-coach for my students.”
Making a difference
- “When I was teaching 135 students at the middle school, I began to feel like I was ‘renting’ the students for 50 minutes; now I get to focus on each of my 14 students, and really get to know them.”
- “I know that I will be working with a child for years, and that what I do will really shape that child’s life.”
- “When I was a science teacher, I knew exactly what I would be teaching during the 2nd week of each November. It was getting monotonous. Now each week and each year is different. I love it.”
- “A change of even two students can change my whole caseload. It’s great! I never get tired of what I do.”
- “When I was in the classroom I felt like I was one of many, that there was nothing special about me as a professional. Now parents and administrators look to me for advice and leadership.”
- “I wanted more. I was considering getting my mid-management certification, but didn’t really want the headaches of managing a building. Now, I get to model my leadership skills to my students, and help them become the leaders of their own lives.”
These sample phrases can help you think about what to say when you next meet a future VI professional.
The next step…
Making a mid-career change is a big deal. Don’t worry if it takes your candidate a year to make the change. That is typical. You can shorten the time, and make sure they don’t lose interest by volunteering to be an “application buddy.” An “application buddy” helps the candidate to find his or her way through the application process, which can be complicated. In education in general, 50 – 75% of interested applicants drop out at this stage. Don’t let it happen to your candidate. Just volunteer to meet with them at the coffee shop for a coffee and cookie while you complete the applications together.
More information and help is available
Contact KC Dignan, PhD. for more information about:
- effective recruiting techniques;
- tools to assist you as a recruiter;
- training programs for VI professionals, including costs and timelines;
- general information about being a VI professional; and
- being recognized as a recruiter in Texas through our Texas Fellows program