Future Reflections                                                                                         Winter/Spring 2005

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Interview With a Sophomore

by Judi Ross

Reprinted from the D.V.I. Quarterly, Spring 2003, Volume 48, Number 3.

Editor's Note: This is, for reasons that will soon be obvious, a companion article to the preceding one about Kerri Regan's debut on Jeopardy. In this interview conducted two years ago, Judi Ross, a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) from Long Island, New York, sheds more light on the background that helped Kerri develop the skills and confidence to make a successful bid to get on the Jeopardy! show. Here is what Ms. Ross says:

The following interview took place between Kerri R and me. I have been Kerri's itinerant teacher for several years. Kerri is a young lady who is totally blind. She has been integrated in mainstream classes since preschool and is now a sophomore in high school enrolled in college preparatory classes. I would like to share Kerri's thoughts with other teacher's of the visually impaired (TVIs) or with those preparing to be TVIs, in the hope that knowing her views will help us all to better serve our students:

TVI: What is the toughest part of school for you?

Kerri: It's hard to get to know many people in a big school. Trying to keep up with all the work and different subjects is hard. Content is difficult if it involves graphing or diagrams to read or create. It's also hard to remember so much.

TVI: What is the easiest part of school for you?

Kerri: Lunch, because there is no work to do!

TVI: What is your most difficult subject?

Kerri: Math, because there is so much to memorize. Teachers have so many different approaches. It's hard to figure out what they mean. There are so many diagrams and things are arranged in different ways. They do so much work on the board and they don't explain how things are supposed to be written and lined up.

TVI: What is your easiest subject?

Kerri: Anything that has just reading, like English or history. It is much easier to follow along.

TVI: How has the role of the itinerant teacher changed since you started school?

Kerri: When I started school my TVI had to teach me how to read and write and learn practically everything. Now she does more transcribing so I can have my materials ready for me when my classroom teachers use them.

TVI: What problems do you identify that teachers may overlook?

Kerri: Some TVIs focus too much on adaptive skills and not enough on academic skills. As a student, I am trying to keep up with my classmates and getting my work done. In high school, I get homework in every subject and I really want to understand what my teachers are going to test me on. Classroom teachers don't realize how important it is to get work [teacher prepared materials] in on time [to the TVI] so it can be Brailled. When teachers give notes or oral quizzes they move very fast. Sometimes it takes longer to Braille answers and I have trouble keeping pace. They often fail to describe what they are writing on the board. It could help if they gave a copy of their notes to my TVI so she could have diagrams ready for me and then I could refer to them in class. Classroom teachers should explain their routines, like how they inform students of homework assignments.

TVI: How does the TVI help you?

Kerri: When I was younger my TVI taught me how to read and write Braille, keyboarding and computer skills, and how to use a calculator. Now she helps me understand difficult subjects and solve problems in school. She is a liaison between me and the staff in my high school including teachers and administrators.

TVI: How does the TVI hinder you?

Kerri: A student can become too dependent on the support. It is easy to get lazy. It is important for me to learn to advocate for myself.

TVI: Do you prefer having the same TVI or would you prefer frequent changes?

Kerri: It is hard for a kid to get bounced around from teacher to teacher. They have different styles and methods. Lots of time is wasted getting to know what each other knows. When your TVI knows what you can do, she can help you explain it to the classroom teachers. Otherwise it takes a while to get them to understand that a blind kid can do the work they assign.

TVI: In your opinion, what are the three most important qualities of a good TVI?

Kerri: First they should be very creative. They need to come up with solutions to solving problems, making manipulatives, and describing unusual material. Second, they should be flexible. They need to be open to different styles of learning and different styles of teaching. Third, they need to be patient. It can take awhile for students to pick things up. Sometimes they must do things over and over.

TVI: What kind of work environment do you prefer?

Kerri: Both push-in and pull-out have advantages and disadvantages. Pull-out is hard because you are always concerned about what you are missing. Push-in may help teachers and other students learn about alternative methods. However, it may be hard to concentrate on work when two teachers are teaching. The ideal is to pull students out during minor subjects or free time, but it isn't good to extend the school day because then students miss out on extra-curricular or social opportunities.

TVI: List the three most important skills you learned.

Kerri: Reading, writing, and computer skills. I'm glad I had the basics of reading and writing Braille as early as kindergarten, when my classmates were also learning the same things. You must know how to read. It opens so many doors. I started keyboarding as early as my little fingers would reach on the keyboard. That was in first grade. Knowing all these things early helped me focus on subjects and content.

TVI: What specific skills does your TVI need?

Kerri: She needs proficient Braille skills. I now read literary, math, music, foreign language, and chemistry Braille. She also has to be up-to-date in technology. This makes it possible for her to teach her student as well as transcribe Braille more quickly and accurately. It also is important for her to have knowledge of the subjects. She should at least know the basics of the subjects I am studying to be able to explain things. She needs to be resourceful so she will know where to get information.

TVI: What are some qualities of your present TVI that you like?

Kerri: I like that we have been together for a long time. We know each other well and she makes me do things for myself. She is very patient and persistent. We go over things again and again until I learn them. She tries to get everything for me in Braille so I can participate in class just like everyone else. She is very well prepared.

TVI: What are some qualities of your present TVI that you dislike?

Kerri: It gets boring when we do things over and over. She gives me so much individual attention that she won't let me goof off or give up. Sometimes I just don't feel like doing my best but she keeps at me.

TVI: How important is it for your TVI to have knowledge of the subjects you are studying?

Kerri: Very! Teachers don't always know how to explain things to a blind person. It can be especially helpful in my weakest or special areas including math, science, music, and foreign language.

TVI: What are some of the biggest problems you encounter?

Kerri: Teachers getting their work [hand-out materials] in on time so it can be Brailled for me, and teachers who have no idea how to work with a blind student. They can't just write on the board.

TVI: What frustrates you the most?

Kerri: Not having my books and therefore not being able to follow along. People think it's okay to just read things to me but then I don't get to see the spelling or grammar and I have to remember so much.

TVI: What do you want TVIs to know about working with a blind child in a mainstream classroom?

Kerri: They should try to be as invisible as possible to the other kids. It is hard to be labeled as one who needs special help. Don't pull students out of class or especially lunch. Kids must socialize and we need time to relax during the day. Make sure to tell teachers to plan ahead so they can get the work [their hand-out materials] in on time so I can get it in Braille when the other kids get their copies in print. PLEASE!

TVI: What gives you the greatest satisfaction?

Kerri: Doing the same things everyone else does. I have achieved honor roll and plan to go to college to pursue a career that involves writing.

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