Mr. Scott Smith
Orientation and Mobility Instructor, California
September 10, 1997
To: Future Reflections
From: Mary Beth Phillips
Re: Teacher Recognition
In reading through the Future Reflections issue from Winter/Spring, 1997, I saw that there is a way to acknowledge the work of excellent teachers. I would like to submit this letter I sent to the Contra Costa County Office of Education regarding Scott Smith, my daughter's mobility instructor last year.
Scott taught my daughter, Elizabeth Phillips, age 14, last
year in Orientation and Mobility. Elizabeth was accepted to a new
high school for this fall. Scott worked with her at the end of last
year and also right before school started this year, to orient her
to the new campus. He worked with Elizabeth under the Moraga School
District and the Acalanes Unified School District during her eighth grade year and summer in-between respectively.
Scott has taught mobility in Africa and has worked for the County Office of Education. I hope our letter speaks for itself and that you will think about including it in your magazine. He is a fine teacher!
Mary Beth Phillips
September 10, 1997
Mr. Mike Hancock
Contra Costa County Office of Education
Santa Barbara Road
Pleasant Hill, California
Dear Mr. Hancock,
Thank you for your efforts to make the transition for Elizabeth from junior high to high school as smooth as possible. The school year has started out well, and Elizabeth seems to have adjusted to her new school already.
One of the main reasons why this seems to be the case is the preparation she had on-site at the new school by Scott Smith. Scott's tireless work with Elizabeth to orient her to the new campus and to provide the support necessary for her adjustment, made all the difference.
I am sure that you know what a fine mobility instructor you have in Scott. He is able to communicate technical orientation and mobility skills well to his students. But the art of what he does (which is less tangible and harder to define) is more impressive. It is the little things that make a difference. In the past for Elizabeth "little things" have added up in negative ways. Left unaddressed, they created undue and excessive stressors which made the difference between success and failure. I would like to highlight some of the things Scott did for Elizabeth that made things so much better for her this year.
1. Scott included Elizabeth in planning goals and objectives.
Elizabeth was able to help define priorities which ensured buy-in and focus for their lessons. Scott Brailled up the proposed goals and objectives so that Elizabeth could follow along with the discussion and be an active part of her own IEP goal development. This "little detail" spoke deeply about Scott's inclusive philosophy and respect for Elizabeth as a person, which did not go unnoticed by Elizabeth. It enriched her trust and respect for him.
2. Scott communicated clearly about when and where he was going to work with Elizabeth. Rain or shine, her time with Scott was predictable. He believed that she needed to work in rainy conditions or cold, foggy conditions, too, because all of us must get around in less than ideal weather, and the sound of things changes under certain climate conditions. This "detail" was important learning for Elizabeth, and we were grateful he did not use the weather as an excuse to cancel a lesson. The predictability also created a greater sense of trust between student and teacher.
3. Scott saw Orientation and Mobility as related to
Elizabeth's whole school experience, not a separate exercise to be done after school. Orientation and Mobility was inclusive of details like securing an accessible locker with an appropriate lock through the school that would take into consideration how much (or little) time Elizabeth had between classes, how easy the locker was to find using cues such as edges of locker rows, and the problems with combination locks for visually impaired people. He took it upon himself to facilitate the communication about this with Elizabeth and the school administrator. The locker was then put into the "route," and this made Elizabeth a more efficient student on the first day of school. But it also helped the school to see that "reasonable accommodation" is often a very do-able "little thing" that makes life much better. Scott's calm, matter of fact, undemanding approach puts everyone at ease. If the school had apprehensions about having a totally blind child included, they quickly learned from Scott that Elizabeth doesn't need big alterations, just thoughtful appreciation of how her visual impairment changes or impacts her experience of student life (which is sometimes different from a sighted student's).
4. Right before school started Scott was working with
Elizabeth on learning her new class schedule. They had basically covered all the routes when construction activities made a main staircase, key to many routes, unavailable. Scott's calm and even-handed communication about this change and subsequent work with Elizabeth to reorient her, helped Elizabeth take the change in stride. This was key to Elizabeth's confidence that she had the foundation necessary to make the shift, and that she would be fine when school started. And she was.
5. Scott provided casual "in-service" to teachers as he worked with Elizabeth on campus. He projected respect and confidence in Elizabeth that has helped to ensure others' respect and confidence. He was willing to speak with students and teachers and answer their questions. This approachability helped to break down barriers of anxiety others may have had; this was of great benefit to Elizabeth.
6. Scott has been able to assess Elizabeth's strengths and weaknesses and adjust his teaching style to fit her unique personality and needs. Some of Elizabeth's weaknesses are subtle; injuries she sustained as an infant have affected her in other ways than her "just being blind." These have rarely been addressed in all the years she has been in special education programs. Her weaknesses were never excuses on Scott's part for why she could not or would not learn. Her weaknesses were seen as just aspects of Elizabeth that needed to be accommodated, problem-solved, and addressed through skill-building in other areas, usually through an emphasis on her strengths. How lucky Elizabeth has been to have had this kind of teaching leadership!
Scott has a kind of integrity that he brings to his work which informs all that he does. Orientation and Mobility instructors spend a great deal of one-on-one time with a student, and the nature of the work requires trust between teacher and student. There is really no way to get this except for mutual respect. Of all Scott's gifts as a teacher, this inherent one is, in our opinion, his greatest strength. He is simply a fine person, and it shows in all he does.
Thank you for allowing Scott to work with Elizabeth this summer to get her ready for her new school. We have greatly appreciated the spirit and skill he brings to his students. For most of us, there are teachers we have had that influenced our lives, coming at key times, or reaching us in special ways that helped shape us. We are sure that Elizabeth will look back on the learning she has had with Scott in this way.
Mary Beth and Bob Phillips
Recognition for Teachers of the Blind and 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 Teacher Recognition Letters from parents, or other caretakers, 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, please), would be helpful. If you want the photograph(s) 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:
Future Reflections, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.