SUBSTITUTING FOR SUCCESS

by David Ticchi

David Ticchi, who is totally blind, has had a varied career. He has taught seventh-grade English, has produced films, has worked for major corporations, and has been a member of the National Federation of the Blind for many years. In this story he describes his most recent employment venture. Here is what he has to say:

One day recently, as I was contemplating the next step in my career, the phone rang. A good friend, who is now a high school principal, was calling to ask if I would consider working in a new program called the Instructional Support Services (ISS). I would be a substitute teacher. Laughingly I reminded him that he was supposed to be a friend. Substituting is hard work! He assured me that the assignment would be a permanent faculty position, stationed at one high school for the entire school year and creating continuity in classroom instruction in the event of another faculty member's absence. It was not to be a babysitting chore.

After much hemming and hawing I decided this might be a good way to return to teaching at the high school level, and I accepted the offer. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for me.

Once I signed the contract, I visited the school to acquaint myself with the surroundings. The school of about 2,000 students includes four levels and a technical/vocational institute. This is one of the newly designed schools with no straight hallways.

Since public transportation was not an option for the twenty-five minute ride to school, I car-pooled with three other teachers from the area where I live.

On a usual day, I reported to the office at 8:00 A.M. and was given a daily assignment at that time. I taught everything from ancient Greek history to zoology. Classes began at 8:15 A.M., and I went to the first-period class, where attendance was taken and where I could find the lesson plans, if the regular teacher had written them.

In this school teachers are not stationed in one classroom permanently but might go to several different rooms during the day. Therefore, as a substitute I might well teach a different subject each period in a different place, with or without a lesson plan available.

I can tell you from experience that students do not treat a blind teacher and a sighted instructor any differently. Their antics have not changed much over the years. Misbehaving, cheating, and tardiness are all still alive and well in America. I walked into the classroom that first day, introduced myself, explained how blind teachers achieve the same results as sighted teachers, and announced that I was an ISS substitute teacher. When asked what ISS meant, I told them it means, "I SAID SO!"

From then on the students and I got along just fine. Together we made it through the class with each student making a contribution to its smooth operation, accomplishing tasks and assignments, and gaining a feeling of responsibility. The students felt a very important part of that class.

This entire teaching experience was wonderful because, as the year went on, I had the opportunity to meet and interact with most of the students in the school. At first I was a stranger, but that feeling was soon gone. The more classes I taught (including auto mechanics, biology, sewing, and all kinds of history, mathematics, and technical/vocational courses), the more students I became acquainted with. But more important, the more I taught, the more the students got to know me.

One sewing class was particularly memorable. Not knowing much about sewing or sewing machines, I reversed the roles of student and teacher. As it happened, I had two loose buttons on my shirt, and I asked a couple of the students if they would use me as an example and teach me how to sew these but-tons back on securely.

I stripped off my coat, tie, and shirt, and we fixed those buttons together. We all learned from this experience, and they had the opportunity to see me as just a regular per-son.

In this one school year of substitute teaching I discovered that I really do want to go back into the education profession. I have applied for a permanent teaching assign-ment for the next school year, but if none is available, I will substitute again in the same program.