Building Bridges: Changing Blindness Education through Mentorship
By Karen Anderson
Herbert Kohl said, “One of the beauties of teaching is that there is no limit to one’s growth as a teacher, just as there is no knowing beforehand how much your students can learn.” When we reinstated the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Teachers of Tomorrow program in 2021, we hoped participants would grow as educators and raise expectations for their blind students. We hoped they would gain an understanding of the lived experiences of blind people and come to recognize the power in being connected to a community of blind mentors.
The 2022-2023 cohort is made up of eighteen early career teachers of blind students from fifteen states. They have connected monthly via Zoom to talk about topics related to teaching blind students including best practices for teaching Braille, working with students from diverse backgrounds, and strategies for helping students succeed in STEAM-related subjects. These educators have also participated in in-person gatherings at our headquarters in Baltimore, at our annual legislative gathering in Washington, and at the Louisiana Center for the Blind and the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness, both in Ruston. They will join us in Houston for our 2023 National Convention.
During each in-person experience, they have learned about nonvisual skills that can help their students succeed. They have connected with members of the NFB, both in their local affiliates and from across the country.
I could easily talk about the impact I have observed in these teachers, but I think they say it better than I could.
Justyn Keller, a blind 2022-2023 participant, had this to say about his experience:
As a visually impaired person, I desire to belong to a community of like-minded, similarly experienced individuals for the primary purposes of networking and resource retrieval. Growing up, I cannot think of a time when I heard anything positive of the National Federation of the Blind… Well, the NFB 's "Teachers of Tomorrow" program has shed much-needed light on the wealth of knowledge and love and support the organization has to offer… My opinion has been completely altered. The National Federation of the Blind is a beacon in this rather dark world. As a member of the 2022-2023 cohort, I have had the ability to see firsthand the impact the Federation is making and aims to continue. Overall, the experience was phenomenal, and I only hope I can continue working with the NFB and this program to see others come to realize that which I did.
The Teachers of Tomorrow program connects teachers of blind students with each other, with successful blind people well-established in their fields, and with the resources that the NFB offers. Mentorship comes in many forms, and it’s important for participants to understand how impactful that can be for blind students.
As Kriszta Gruebele, a participant in the 2022-2023 cohort, said:
I love all the networking and the relationships that I've built while participating in this program. Being a TVI can be isolating as you're not really part of any faculty. The camaraderie, support, sharing both frustrations and resources has been a priceless gift. Also, knowing how districts operate in other states has been very informative.
This program has also afforded plenty of opportunities to hang out with blind people. It's been so good to see how they navigate a world that is clearly designed for sighted people. Seeing them negotiate everyday situations as we participated in different events has given me many practical ideas on how to prepare my students for 'real life'. Getting to know blind professionals with great ambitions, hearing their honest stories about their struggles and victories, has inspired me to provide blind role models for my students. I love their perspective to be passionate and fight fiercely, yet humbly, for the life they want and refuse to be limited by blindness. This program has challenged and stretched me to raise my expectations and help my students to soar to heights I haven't thought possible.
I also got to experience firsthand how caring and supporting the NFB community is. Reaching out and mentoring the next generation of teachers is such a critical piece. Both our students and their families desperately need all the support they can get, and NFB has so many valuable programs and resources in place… I love to spread the word and make families feel like they belong and they have a place to go to with their issues.
This quote from Gabrielle Popp, another member of our 2022-2023 cohort, sums up our program pretty nicely.
I have been fortunate to participate in the Teachers of Tomorrow program throughout this past year. The professional development has had an incredible and immediate impact on my teaching. I have developed new pedagogies for teaching braille, discovered new and free resources that I could share with students and colleagues, developed a deeper understanding of issues with blindness from the perspective of blind individuals, gained a robust professional network, and learned about many new programs that my students can take advantage of. It's been an absolute joy to learn from the NFB and fellow TVBIs from across the country.
Our program has touched so many lives. Teachers gain resources and connections and they, in turn, provide their students with more opportunities for success. We are excited to welcome the 2023-2024 cohort this fall. There are still a few days left to apply, so please share with anyone who might be interested!