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Guest Post: Thoughts From A TVI

Posted Jun 03 2013 9:54am
Today I have a guest post from Jessica at the new blog, Out Of Sight Teaching . Jessica is a TVI, or Teacher of the Visually Impaired, in New Jersey who is currently finishing up her masters degree in Orientation & Mobility. She recently began blogging at Out Of Sight Teaching to help her students and their families.
Tommy exploring his first cane.
Jessica has so much great information and a terrific attitude. The blind/VI kids in her district are lucky to have her and lucky to be in a district that sounds so supportive of Braille. Read Jessica's post below and be sure to visit her blog. She is working on a post for her site with ideas for pre-Braille games. I can't wait for that one!

Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you decided to become a TVI/O&M.
People love to ask me this question and I wish I had an exciting answer. Unfortunately, I do not. Since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher. At first I wanted to be an art teacher because at the age of 3, who would not want to paint all day?  As I grew older, I decided I wanted to be a special education teacher. 

As a child, it took me longer than my peers to learn to read. Luckily, I had a fantastic mom who worked with me every night until I learned. She refused to give up on me and I dreamed of being that person for someone someday. When I went to look at colleges, my mom insisted I look at Kutztown University in PA. I was sure that I did not want to go there, but went on a tour to please my her. Little did I know that tour would change my life. 

Tommy trailing with his first TVI. He has always been great at trailing.
When we toured the education department, I met Dr. David Ross and listened to his presentation on Special Education for the Blind and VI. I was immediately intrigued. I had no idea there was such a specialty and wanted to know more. After speaking with Dr. Ross, I decided to try out the major. Throughout college, I spent my summers working at The Helen Diller Vacation Home for the Blind in Avalon, NJ. After my first month there, I knew I had made to correct decision. 
One of my favorite stories to tell is about a camper who was completely blind and in high school. He had been attending camp for years and was quite comfortable there. On the beach the first day, he asked me to pass him his towel. Being new to the field and not thinking, I answered "The blue one?" The camper went on to tell me that he had no idea what blue looked like and asked me to please explain it. Feeling horrible, I went on to explain about blue. He then says "Some people say blue looks like white. What is the difference?" At this point, I began talking about primary colors, pigments and mixing colors to create others. The questions kept coming on the other end when another counselor told him to leave me alone. At the point the camper goes "What?! She is a new counselor, I have to wear her in somehow!" 
After college, I went on to teach at a school district in NJ where I still teach today. It was quite the challenge because there was no TVI in district before me, so I was starting from scratch. When I look back and see the progress my students have made,  all the hard work is worth it.

Tommy working on basic cane use at the mall with his TVI from Early Intervention. Summer 2012
Where did you go to school?  Undergraduate:(Dual major in Elementary Education and Special Education for the Blind) Kutztown University  Masters: (Orientation and Mobility for Children) Western Michigan University (I graduate this year!)
What was the schooling like? Did you do lots of work with blind people or was it more theoretical? Undergraduate: We had to do 50 observation hours, 2 practicum placements and 2 student teaching placements. Masters: observation hours, 60 practicum hours, 400 internship hours.
During my undergrad, I worked at camp each summer. I found that this really enhanced my education and would suggest it to others studying to be TVIs. It gave me the opportunity to see a wide range of students who all came from different educational settings and programs, which really allowed me to better understand all that I was learning in school. It also helped me to understand different eye conditions. Each Sunday night, I would take the files of the new campers and my Anatomy book and learn as much as possible about each camper's condition. 
I also did extra observation hours at many different schools so that I could see multiple programs and how they were ran. School was a lot of work, but I did not find it difficult or tedious. When you love what you do, it is easy and exciting to learn about! : ) Tom's shirt says, "I'm full of bright ideas!"

Did you find a positive view of Braille was common among your teachers or other TVI students? How is Braille viewed by your school district?  I wish I could say my students look at Braille positively, but unfortunately this is something I struggle with everyday. They love coming to Braille class and love reading Braille when no one is looking, but hate reading it in front of others. I find my student's classmates are fascinated by Braille. They love getting lessons during recess and go home and talk about it. 
I recently ran into one of my student's peer's mother and heard all about how she loves learning Braille and talks about it all the time at home. I consistently have students asking if the can take Braille class as well. Still, my students are embarrassed. We are working on this by having Braille reading groups in the classroom and rewards for positive attitude.
My district loves that students read Braille. Recently, I had a student win 1st prize in NFB's writing contest. The district submitted his story to the local news paper, the district's news paper, put him on the front page of the website and honored him at the board meeting. As well, the Superintendent invited him into read the story to him. : ) They love to see all students thrive and love seeing students succeed.
Can you tell us about some students who have taught you something? How have your views or techniques evolved? My student are all so different that I am always learning something new from each of them. A method they may work with one may not work with another. This is great because it is always keeping me on my toes and making me think of new ideas.
Recently, my HS students taught me that the grass is always greener on the other side.  We have a club for VI student at our HS and the recently got into a conversation about self advicacy. My completely blind student could not understand why my LV (low vision) students do not like to stand right in front of the board so they can see. He said if he had that vision, he wouldn't care what others thought, he would use it. I commented that it was very interesting to hear that from the boy who does not want to use his cane. He insisted that was different. One off my LV students also stated that if he could read Braille, he would take full advantage of it because his eyes often get tired when he reads. My Braille readers said they would much rather have tired eyes and read print.
I try to get my students to understand that everyone has something that makes life a little more difficult for them and it is all what they make of it. Yes others situations may seem better, but it is how you look at it. Yes you are blind, but you may have a classmate who has parents that abuse them. Would you rather have that situation? You can't think that your glass is half empty, but instead that it is half full.
When do you think a child should start working with a cane? Do you like the idea of an adult/O&M using a teaching cane alongside the child to help them learn? I believe a student should begin working with a cane or modified cane as soon as he or she begins walking. When learning to walk, you should give him or her a push toy or AMD to assist and protect them. Once he or she begins walking get them used to holding that cane. That does not mean you skip teaching sighted guide and trailing skills. But there is no reason why you cannot teach them more then one thing at once.
This toy was great for getting Tom to stand up and explore the house.
This picture was taken only hours after a glaucoma surgery. 
Exploring the environment from his riding toy. He loved this train!
I once spoke with a TVI who worked in early intervention and gave her babies a large wooden spoon to use to explore. I though this was a fabulous idea.
When I went though my blindfold training in Grad School, my instructor used a cane right next to me. I thought it was a great idea. During this time, I also met an instructor that was trained to teach O&M under blindfold. I had the chance to observe her and ask her some questions. She said her younger students love when she teaches under blindfold. 
What are some things that parents can do to help their young children learn about their environment. I always suggest that my parents take their children to different stores and explore different sections with them. For example,  go to Home Depot and explore the parts of a bathroom, a kitchen, ext. 
Kids love this and it gives them the opportunity to experience that there are many different types of plungers, toilets, sinks etc. This will help them generalize the concepts. Another good store to explore is Bed, Bath and Beyond.
I also suggest that parents verbalize everything from a young age. For example, "This is the spoon, the spoon is picking up chicken and now the chicken is going into your mouth." (Of course you can make the commentary more interesting than that!)
Pretend play is also another great way to learn about the environment.
APH has a book I just purchased through federal quota and am hoping to start using next year. Everyday Activities Calendar Catalog Number: 1-08121-00
Talk about sounds in the environment. ( I use the Sound Touch App on the iPad)
Last and my favorite is weekly themes. Each week choose an environmental theme and concentrate on it all week. Some examples:
  1. Nature: explore outside, go to a nursery, read books about nature, create nature touch and feel bags to go with the books. Talk about different smells in nature. 
  2. Birthday Parties: Explore balloons, cake, candles, party hats, party games, party dances
  3. Pet Shop: meet different pets, visit a farm, visit a pet store, practice taking care of a pet, practice making and guessing animal sounds(They can usually be downloaded on iTunes)
  4. Food: Explore different foods in the food store, do food tasting, blind fold your family and take turns guessing foods through smell and taste, cooking activities, explore foods before and after they are cooked.
How important is attitude when teaching blindness skills?
I feel attitude is the most important part and not only the kids attitude but the family's and teaching staffs'. I have worked with many families and the families with  more positive attitudes that look at their child's blindness in a positive way raise more independent children. If you teach you child they can do anything, they will. : )
What's your favorite pre-Braille game? This is actually what my next blog is going to be about! : ) Coming soon at Out Of Sight Teaching.
Anything else you want to say? Fluency: Working on fluency at a young age is extremely important for a blind child's future success.
As a TVI, I believe that with hard work my students can achieve whatever they put their heart into.  The key is to not use their disability as a crutch and to learn self advocacy skills at a young age. By the time my students are 1/2 way through high school(if not earlier) they are running their own IEP meetings and learning how to modify their own materials. 
I often get told that I am tough for such a young teacher. By pushing my students, I see them do amazing things. When I first started I was nervous that they would dislike me for being tough. Instead, I feel they respect me more. They know if they work hard, they get big rewards. They know that I expect nothing but hard work from them. They know we don't say can't in my room. They know that we look at their disability positively in my room. They know that I expect them to advocate for themselves. Most importantly, they know that I believe in them. : )

Thank you Jessica! I learned so much from your guest post and I look forward to following your blog ( Out Of Sight Teaching ) for more great information.

Readers- Please share your TVI and O&M experiences in a comment below. Are you getting the services your child needs? Do you have any tips to share?

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