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Teacher’s Perspective on the
2002 NFB Convention
A letter to the Editor by Debbie Hartz
Editor’s Note: Debbie Hartz is a high school English teacher who works for the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind. Although she is not a Braille teacher, she is proficient in Braille and is a long-time supporter and promoter of the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. Debbie is also the parent of a young woman who happens to be blind. Many years ago, Debbie wrote a delightful article about her daughter which was first published in Future Reflections and then later reprinted in the NFB Kernel Books series. Although Debbie has had a long association with the NFB, she has had very little experience in attending NFB national conventions. Last year, when I heard that Debbie was interested in attending the NFB convention, I eagerly helped her find a way to finance the trip, and, in exchange, Debbie volunteered to help with NOPBC sponsored activities throughout the week. It was a profitable exchange for both. Here, in the form of a letter to me, is Debbie’s account of her NFB convention experience:
I had a great time at the convention in Louisville, Barbara!
I think the fact that I was working with you for the Pre-convention Activities for the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children helped! It introduced me to a number of wonderful folks and established a pattern of working together. As a result, the entire week was spent networking—getting together with individuals from around the country who have the expertise and knowledge to shed light on some of the issues that I wanted to explore and providing suggestions that I plan to implement during this coming school year.
I went to Louisville with several topics to investigate. For example, I plan to field a Mock Trial Team at the Arizona School for the Blind in Tucson, Arizona, this year. Therefore, I wanted to meet and talk to blind lawyers who could give me some ideas for how to use this opportunity to really improve the literacy and oral presentation skills of the high school students involved. A major component of preparing for the regional tournament in March that is put on by the Arizona Bar Foundation is to get students working together with attorneys to learn how to make preparations for the trial. Having such a clearly defined and practical goal for students to work towards (and connecting students up with adults working in this field) will refocus much of my work this year as an English teacher.
At the convention, I attended the annual meeting of the National Association of Blind Lawyers. I got to speak with many lawyers at the terrific reception that followed the meeting. AND I got to attend a very enjoyable Mock Trial in which Federation lawyers re-enacted the Norwegian Cruise Lines case. I came away from all of these activities with my notebooks filled with ideas and my bag stuffed with cards with phone numbers and e-mail addresses of contacts.
A real passion of mine is literacy! I love reading and writing and believe these skills vital to the success of students. As I was sitting in one of the division meetings that I attended, I looked through my class assignments for this year and realized that six of my students have been using Braille as their primary literacy medium for a number of years. Seventeen of my students are print readers who are in the process of learning Braille. Many of these students have deteriorating eye conditions that will impact their ability to continue to rely on print in the years to come. Within this group, some of the students have negative attitudes about Braille. These students usually appear at our school at about eighth or ninth grade and still have usable vision that allows them to read books using standard print. These students often equate Braille with blindness. They don’t want to become blind, so they don’t want to learn Braille.
As I stared at the lists of students—a few proficient in Braille, several familiar with the code but needing to dramatically improve in fluency, and the great majority needing a complete paradigm shift (a new way of seeing)—I realized that the philosophy and attitudes of these students needed to be turned around. I began to seek out numerous individuals who provided me with invaluable suggestions for motivating my students and helping them to develop better attitudes.
Other highlights from the week included activities sponsored by the NOPBC on the campus of the Kentucky School for the Blind. Barbara Pierce led a cooking demonstration there and had a number of blind teen-agers participating in baking brownies and making a delicious Southwestern cheese dip. I spoke briefly to Dr. Ralph Bartley, in-between various scheduled activities. (Dr. Bartley was the superintendent at our school in Tucson before moving to Kentucky.) I stopped by the American Printing House for the Blind, located next door to the school, and returned later in the week for a tour of the plant and museum.
My daughter Andrea attended the convention with me. The NOPBC assignments you gave me and my own interests kept me so busy during the week that Andrea was on her own for most of the time. Andrea made her way—on her own— through registration and to the meetings and functions that she wanted to attend. Up and down elevators and through throngs of people, she arrived at the proper conference rooms in time for specific meetings. Her favorite sessions were the technology seminars and the various displays in the exhibit hall. She connected up with several other young people (Brandy Wojcik and Rosary Talavera). They explored the skywalk between the East and West Towers and the corridors of the Galt House Hotel after midnight, or hung out in my room talking and writing notes back and forth with a slate and stylus.
Although I came with questions to be addressed and activities to attend, I got a lot of information attending general sessions and listening to the scheduled speakers or in various division meetings. When I returned home, I sat down and typed up the notes I had taken during the week. I had fifteen single-spaced pages of notes filled with information I had gleaned and contacts that I had made. I copied the notes and delivered them to my principal and to several other individuals who expressed an interest in what I had learned.
I think the lasting benefits of attending the Convention are taking place in the classroom. The week of teacher preparation prior to beginning school resulted in intense collaboration with several teachers interested in the integration of Braille into classes for those individuals still in the process of learning Braille. This activity seemed natural after all of the networking and brainstorming that I had experienced at the convention.
We have now been back at school with students for three days. This first week involves orientation sessions and my group of students has been reading and discussing expectations (parental, teacher, society, and self) while we have been reviewing skills such as using a planner and completing homework assignments. At the end of last year, Bob Kresmer of the Tucson chapter of the Federation brought me a full set of the Kernel Books in Braille. Students have been reading articles from these books that touch upon the topics we are discussing. It is fun to realize that I now know many of the individuals who wrote the Kernel Book articles.
So Barbara, thanks again for including me in the convention. I benefited immensely from the experience and I’ll see you in Louisville next year.