At the beginning of our college adventures, my friends and I referred to student teaching as the “Final Frontier” because it is the last class an education major must take to graduate and become a fully licensed teacher. Honestly, I was surprised how fast time flew by; it was finally time to switch positions, from being a student to being a teacher. Let me tell you about it!
A little about me
My name is Noye. I double majored in Elementary Education Pre K-4 and Visual Impairments at the fabulous Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. I also just so happen to be blind/visually impaired. I have a condition known as albinism, which causes a lack or an absence of pigment in the eyes, skin, and hair. Albinism is also the condition that causes my specific type of blindness.
I had two student-teaching placements because I had two majors. One was in a classroom with students, whom I called my little lovelies, at a school for the blind. The other was in a second-grade general education classroom. I called the second graders my little lovelies as well.
I spent the first half of the semester in one classroom and the second half in the other. Each classroom was unique, from the students to how everyone learned and I taught.
Student teaching at a school for the blind
My first placement was at the school for the blind in a middle school classroom. At this school, the maximum number of students allowed in a classroom is six. I started student teaching in the fall, so I started teaching when the students first arrived instead of starting in the middle of the year.
I had a wonderful mentor teacher. She explained everything I needed to know about the school and the students. I even had the opportunity to observe an IEP meeting. Attending the meeting was interesting because the only IEP meetings I’ve been to were my own.
Teaching in this classroom was really cool. It was small, so I got to see how each of the students learned best, given their specific eye conditions and interests. Knowing their interests allowed me to teach each student more efficiently. For example, one student with CVI loved anything related to clay, slime, playdough, etc. The student’s preferred colors were red and green. We worked on CVC words together; the student was more engaged working with the playdough to make their words and could read the words more efficiently when the playdough was red or green than blue or pink.
This particular group of students loved science. So, every week, I let them choose a hands-on science experiment. All the experiments were from two books from the National Braille Press–“Out-of-Sight Science Experiments” and “Hands On Science Activities”. All too often, students who are blind or low vision are either excluded from participating in science experiments or given less exciting or nonmeaningful tasks to complete. Science can be accessible, and everyone deserves to feel like a mad scientist.
One of my favorite things to teach is braille. I absolutely love it. I am a braille reader myself. I had a few students who were also learning braille. They were working on different skills, so I built in separate times that I met with each of them. We played several games to build braille recognition.
For example, one student was working on contracted braille and spelling. We matched the contracted braille word to the uncontracted braille word. With this lesson, I figured out which contractions the student needed more familiarization with, which ones they were proficient in identifying, and if they needed the exact spelling of that work. They knew that “K” stands for knowledge, and they knew how to spell knowledge as well.
Benefits of student teaching at a school for the blind
One of the amazing benefits of student-teaching at a school for the blind as a blind teacher, besides my fabulous students, is the accessibility of the school in terms of documents in a specific format, technology, experiences, etc.
If I needed to emboss a document into braille from my BrailleNote, there was an embosser on nearly every floor of the building that I could use to do so. All the computers in the building were equipped with JAWS, ZoomText, and for the Apple users like myself, VoiceOver. It was like I was living in a dream. Accessibility concerns are always at the front of my mind. At this school, accessibility was one thing that I didn’t have to worry about.
Student teaching in a general education classroom
My second placement was in a second-grade classroom in a general education classroom. Kutztown requires all Elementary Education Prek-4 majors to complete a set of courses called a Professional Semester (Pro Sem) prior to student teaching. We spend half of the semester learning different techniques for teaching specific academic subjects. The second half of the semester, we go into the classroom to teach and work under a mentor teacher.
I absolutely loved the second-grade classroom I taught in and my mentor teacher. She treated me like an actual person and a soon-to-be student teacher. I have been in a number of general education classrooms for observations and to teach different lessons. Some teachers tried to teach the lesson for me, and some seemed afraid whenever I got out of the chair to walk around. And you would be surprised what people will say about you to others when they think you are not listening. Eventually, I stopped telling the placement teacher that I was blind until I got there.
I didn’t want them to form an opinion about me before they met me because they were focused on the word “BLIND”. For safety reasons, like in case of fire drills and other emergencies, I did inform the front office and the principal ahead of time. I asked if they would refrain from informing the classroom teacher I would be with because I wanted to tell them myself. For the most part, it worked. When I met with teachers, talked with them, and explained what I needed and how I operated technology, my experience in the classrooms was okay.
The experience I had with my Pro Sem mentor teacher, who would eventually become my student teaching mentor teacher, was very different than previous ones. I took Pro Sem during the height of COVID in Spring of 2021. Everything was online, which meant that I would teach fully sighted students online.
I spoke with the teacher over video chat. I told her about my disability. Based on her voice, she seemed more curious than fearful. I showed her how I accessed Google Classroom and Google Meet using VoiceOver and Braillenote. We were to use the programs to communicate with the kids for the school day. She and I worked together, and I was eventually able to take over and teach all the subjects by myself. I taught all 30 kids. I also did this when we unexpectedly went back in person later that same semester. I was so proud of myself.
Based on my experience with this mentor teacher, I refused to have anyone else as my mentor teacher for student teaching. It almost didn’t happen because transportation was an issue, but with the help of some wonderful people, it worked out. Student teaching was equally as awesome.
To be a blind student teacher in a general education classroom with 30 kids was something I had never done before. I didn’t have someone who was also blind to ask how they did certain things. But what I did have was a mentor teacher who would do her best to help me succeed and build my skills. She treated me like a person and not like a bother. Different challenges arose, but we always found a way through it.
For example, the students have a one-minute math facts quiz every week. Once the minute ended, the students were supposed to stop, even if they didn’t finish, and hand in their quiz. The problem was when the time would end, some students would keep working, and I didn’t know. My mentor teacher would usually scan the room and make sure the students did what they were supposed to, but I needed a way to monitor the students that was not quite so visual. I had a “brain blast”, like Jimmy Neutron, when he gets a big idea. I had the students physically stand up after a minute, and one member of each group would come and hand me the quizzes. I believe my mentor teacher kept this technique in place even after I finished in her classroom.
Meeting my students was the absolute best part of student teaching. Whether my lesson went well or totally flopped, they kept my spirits high. Not many days went by when I wasn’t told, “I’m happy you are in my classroom,” “You are part of our familia,” and “I love you.” One student’s parent shared with me, during a parent teacher conference, some thoughts that their child shared with them about our class. Here are some of the things they shared,
- “I have a teacher in my classroom, and she is blind. She reads with her hands. She makes math, reading, and science fun.
- “She listens to all of my stories and she doesn’t get mad at me for not speaking English well. She is very nice.”
- “Her eyes are always dancing because she likes to dance.”
- “I wish she could be my teacher forever.”
I wish student teaching lasted the entire academic year instead of just one semester between the two placements. While I was in each classroom, it was time to leave by the time I got settled, knew the routine, and what worked for each student/what didn’t work. It was still a great experience.
Despite the amount of support from my supervising teacher, mentor teacher, and the university, there were still quite a few challenges. However, if I hadn’t had their help, it would have been much more difficult than it was to complete student teaching. Some people are not as fortunate. Companies, school districts, cities, and states all have a way to go to make sure that everyone can access the necessary resources and personnel to succeed as an up-and-coming teacher, especially if they happen to be disabled.