Future Reflections Winter/Spring 1997, Vol. 16 No. 1
by Dawn Neddo
Editor's Note: Dawn Neddo is the hard-working president of the Michigan NFB Parents of Blind Children Division. Readers may recognize her name. She and the Michigan Parents Division have been featured more than once in Future Reflections. Through knowledge gained from the NFB, Dawn began early, while Kyle was still receiving preschool services, to advocate for an appropriate education program. With the help of NFB volunteer advocates, she finally got a good IEP. Then she realized belatedly (as so many of us do) that even the best IEP doesn't mean much without a teacher who knows Braille thoroughly, knows how to teach (especially knows how to teach reading), and has a firm conviction that her most important job as a teacher of the blind is to work herself out of a job.
While waiting, hoping, and wrangling with the school district for such a teacher, Dawn supplemented her son's Braille education through a monthly volunteer tutoring program run by the NFB of Michigan and the Parents Division. Then, in the middle of Kyle's first grade year, a new Braille teacher came into Kyle's life.
Recently Dawn sent me some material describing this teacher. Dawn doesn't explain how it happened--through simple good fortune or as a consequence of her persistence--but the school finally found a Braille teacher who could do the job right. In fact, the teacher is doing her job so well that Dawn felt compelled to nominate her for local teacher of the year. Here is the note she wrote to me followed by a copy of her letter of nomination:
April 4, 1997
Barbara Cheadle, Editor,
I am writing to inform you of a special person in my son's life who has been an inspiration to me and changed my son's education dramatically. She is his Braille teacher (VI teacher consultant), Mrs. Julie Unatin. She is with Oakland Schools. My son is in the Walled Lake School District.
I am sending you a copy of the nomination letter I sent to nominate her for teacher of the year. I believe she deserves to be recognized as a terrific teacher that truly cares about her students and gives over 110 percent. She did not get teacher of the year for Walled Lake because she is not a full-time Walled Lake employee, but I hope you will acknowledge her dedication in some way.
Dawn L. Neddo
Commerce Township, Michigan
Letter of Nomination For: Julie Unatin For: 1997 Walled Lake Teacher Of The Year
I am nominating Julie Unatin for Walled Lake Teacher Of The Year. Julie Unatin is a teacher of the visually impaired who works with my son, Kyle Neddo, who is totally blind.
Kyle is an inclusion student in Mrs. G. Chapp's third grade class at Glengary Elementary in the Walled Lake School system. She has also taught several other blind students in Walled Lake and around Oakland County.
1. Julie Unatin is a special teacher. She has chosen to teach in the visually impaired field which in itself is a rewarding, unselfish, and compassionate career. But Julie goes beyond her teaching obligations. Her commitment to her students and their parents is genuine, with total devotion to giving her students whatever instruction is needed to compete with their sighted peers. Her goal for herself is to work herself out of her students educational lives. By this I mean she believes in her blind students becoming independent citizens which, in a fast-paced, self-centered society, is not the vision most people have for the blind.
She never pre-judges her students, and she encourages family involvement in a child's educational plan. If something isn't working she doesn't give up. She is determined that the student can reach his/her greatest potential, and keeps her high expectations through even the most difficult times. She not only has the task of teaching the student Braille and other blindness skills, she must educate the staff and the sighted students on blindness issues. Having a blind student in an inclusion school is difficult because of the many negative attitudes about inclusion itself, not to mention the negative stereotypes about blindness. But throughout many frustrating situations she has maintained her beliefs, optimistic attitude, patience, and understanding. The extra time she spends doing Braille lessons over holidays, weekends, and summer vacation adds up to many hours of work that she is not required to do but, because of her devotion and faith in her students, she does it without fanfare or extra monetary gain.
My children have had many wonderful teachers in the Walled Lake School system throughout the past twenty years (my two oldest daughters graduated from Walled Lake Central--one is now an attorney and the other an elementary teacher). But in all this time I have never observed the kind of dedication that Julie Unatin displays for her students.
2. Julie Unatin is an honest person and works very well with all the people she encounters. She has to work with not only Oakland Schools, but Walled Lake Schools as well. She must communicate with staff at all levels from administration to para-professionals. Her dealings with principals, general education teachers, specialty teachers (music, art, and physical education), as well as the family all filters down for the student's best interest.
One of the most challenging relationships for a teacher of the visually impaired can be working with parents. I have found Julie to be open-minded in her evaluations of situations and honest. If there is ever a disagreement or concern she is willing to discuss it and work together to decide what our options are. She is a pleasant, fun person to work with and my son Kyle respects and enjoys learning from her. She is eager to educate staff and students about blindness. I feel my son and the blind community are lucky to have her as an advocate.
3. Julie Unatin has been the determining factor in my son learning to read and write. Julie came to Glengary in January of Kyle's first grade year. My son was not reading or writing, nor did he know any numbers or how to write a math problem. His Braille instruction at that point had been negative and slow. Because the method and teaching of Braille was not adapted to his individual learning style or interest, he was frustrated and didn't want to learn to read.
Allen Harris, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan (he is totally blind himself) was familiar with my son's problem with learning to read. Mr. Harris made himself available to Julie Unatin for consultation and tutoring of Kyle. Mrs. Unatin's willingness to change the "normal" ideas about teaching Braille and devise a Braille reading curriculum with Mr. Harris was unprecedented in my experience.
The result was that Kyle went into second grade knowing his letters and numbers, thus giving him a solid start to reading. By January of second grade he had come up to a lower second grade reading level. He was also learning math and able to write math problems on his Braille writer and abacus. He was finally working along with his sighted peers. The team work of that group of teachers (Lori Burke, Linda Harrold, and Julie Unatin) allowed Kyle to work his way up to grade level and go on to third grade.
4. Julie is a member of many groups for teachers of the visually impaired and participates in conferences for education of the blind and visually impaired. She is married and has a preschool age son and a baby on the way. Even though she is a very active person, she still found time along with some other teachers of the visually impaired in this area to organize a goal ball children's program that meets once a month. (Goal ball is a competitive sport for blind and low vision children that utilizes an audio soccer-like ball).
I feel Julie Unatin deserves this honor because her presence and expertise at Glengary and in Walled Lake is truly an asset to our school district. Without her qualities and knowledge I do not believe my son would have been successful as an inclusion student nor would he have been able to keep up with his sighted peers.
My son has a lot of work and learning ahead of him. It is not an easy road for him, his parents, or his teacher, but with Julie Unatin's dedication, ideas, patience, and determination I feel my son has the chance he deserves. Thank you Walled Lake Schools for giving inclusion a chance, and thank you, Mrs. Unatin, for all that you do for blind children.
RECOGNITION FOR TEACHERS OF THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED
Has your son or daughter had an exceptional Braille teacher, orientation and mobility instructor, or other teacher of the visually impaired? Would you like for him or her to receive public recognition for the difference he or she is making in your child's education? Future Reflections will publish, in any or every issue, Teacher Recognition Letters from parents of blind children.
The letters should be one to three typewritten pages in length and include sufficient detail about the teacher and the circumstances to be of interest and inspiration to our readers. The Teacher Recognition Letter should be accompanied by a cover letter with the name and address of the sender, the teacher's name, the student's name, the name of the school district, and any other pertinent details. Photographs, color or black and white (no slides), would be helpful. If you want the photograph returned, please include a self-addressed envelope and be prepared to wait up to a year for its return. Also, if you want multiple copies of the print issue should your letter be published, please indicate how many you want in your cover letter. We will send them to you free of charge.
Send cover letter and your Teacher Recognition Letter to:
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Baltimore, Maryland 21230