When I decided to go to graduate school to become a rehabilitation teacher for the blind, I didn’t have too much doubt that I’d be able to do the job. After all, I was blind, and I’d lived alone and taken care of myself. Did I ever have a lot to learn.
Just being a reasonably successful blind person was not enough. Everybody who was blind wasn’t like me. They had different interests, different desires, and different skill levels—both directions.
Believe it or not, there were many other kinds of adaptive equipment besides the ones I used, which I needed to learn about to be able to show people. I needed to learn many new methods and techniques than the ones I successfully used.
For example, the way I cut food—holding a potato in my hand while I cut it—was probably not the way I should teach clients when showing them kitchen safety.
I was so proud of the fact that I could crochet, and that I taught another blind student in my class how to do it. But, I learned, people who had crocheted with sight for many years, might have to be shown how to continue their favorite hobby with a different technique than the tactile one I used.
However, in my internship toward the end of my program, my professor said something which has always remained with me: “You have an easy way of relating with the clients, which is a skill that cannot be taught.”
After graduate school, I was a stay-at-home mom for nine years. When I started my first, and only, teaching job, I was much humbled about my ability to do the job.
The first student I had needed to work on stovetop cooking skills. I remember going to my boss’s office, where she was in a meeting, to ask her if it was okay for me to have him make hotdogs for lunch.
With time, I settled into a more comfortable way of handling my students.
One man repeatedly refused to listen to how I told him to type and continued to make unnecessary mistakes. Not wanting to lose my temper, I said, “Okay, I’m going to stand up, turn in a circle three times, and then sit down again before I speak.” I did.
My favorite areas of teaching were Braille and typing.
I made up my own braille teaching book, which I called “Kathy’s Braille.” The reading lessons had sentences like, “Kathy enjoys many foods.” “I will work after I have coffee.” “Actually, I just want more sleep.”
We had a computer program that we used for touch typing lessons. Once we’d finished with that, and we were working on speed and accuracy, I again came up with my own curriculum. Goofy jokes from the internet.
“Why it’s great to be a dog: You can lie around all day without worrying about being fired. There's no such thing as bad food. A rawhide bone can entertain you for hours.”
“Test for chocolate lovers: 1. Suppose you start out to make chocolate-chip cookies by opening a bag of Nestlé’s Semi-Sweet Morsels, but instead you end up eating them, one by one.
When the bag is empty, how many will you have eaten? a. 350; b. 675; c. 900; Answer: Count them carefully as you eat to find out. 2. True or false: Never trust anyone who doesn't eat chocolate.”
I loved being a teacher, and I believe it became a natural fit for me.
Once I was showing my son Caleb how to write braille with a slate and stylus. I walked around the dining room table, and I must have taken on a lecturing tone.
My daughter Rebecca said, “Now I can see how Mom acts as a teacher.”
Even when the name on the professional certificate I held changed to “Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist,” I never stopped calling myself a teacher.
Several years ago, I had to stop working due to health reasons. I have found other constructive and enjoyable things to do, but I miss teaching. Will I ever teach again? I have found that God still brings surprises into my life, so who knows?
Once in a while, I still throw out a rehab teaching kind of suggestion to my children who are visually impaired. Sometimes the things I learned from school and years of working, sometimes my old faithful personal techniques.
“When you’re pouring a glass of milk from a full jug, to make sure it doesn’t spill, feel free to pour over the sink.”
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