Modeling a Positive Philosophy on Blindness Today for the Teachers of Tomorrow

The Teachers of Tomorrow participants and mentors pose for a group photo.

Modeling a Positive Philosophy on Blindness Today for the Teachers of Tomorrow

by Karen Anderson

Mark Riccobono helps a participant use the chainsaw to cut a long log. They both wear sleepshades and masks.One of the projects I am responsible for as Education Programs Coordinator for the National Federation of the Blind is Teachers of Tomorrow. The goal of the program is to help teachers of blind students gain a real connection to the lived experiences of blind people through the NFB, and to help them recognize the incredible value that blind mentors have for their students. The program kicked off in January 2021; we met with the group of twenty-two teachers from fourteen states virtually each month. Sessions covered topics such as working with diverse populations, the best strategies for teaching Braille, and how to help blind students succeed in STEAM related subjects. The virtual sessions were great, but meeting these teachers in person was something special.

In early December, I got to meet up with fourteen of the Teachers of Tomorrow in Ruston, Louisiana, where they had the opportunity to spend time at the Louisiana Center for the Blind and the Professional Development Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech. A teacher from California had this to say about her experience.

“During the experience at the Louisiana Center for the Blind we had the opportunity to make brownies from scratch while being blind folded. The activity was called “Cooking without Looking”.

A student wearing sleepshades pours brownie mix into a baking pan.I took the recipe that we used during the experience and had my ninth grade student make the brownies. (We added a Christmas touch to them by adding crushed candy canes.) We made two pans for a total of forty-eight brownies to share with his classmates and to take home to his family. The brownies were gone in ten minutes. Comments from his family were that they could not believe that he had made such amazing brownies….” She went on to say “Mark Riccobono, President of the NFB, assisted the Teachers of Tomorrow 2021 cohort in using a chainsaw blind folded. As a souvenir, I brought home the piece of the tree that I cut off while blindfolded. I have never used a chainsaw, let alone blindfolded. This task helped me overcome my fear. On the piece of log I put “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE 2021” using black rhinestones to create braille dots.”

Another teacher, who lives in New Jersey said this after our Louisiana experience.

“As a sighted person, I was unsure of where I fit in. I knew that people at the NFB had something to offer me as a new teacher, and certainly something to offer my students that I couldn’t provide them with myself. But, my participation in Teachers of Tomorrow not only benefits me professionally, but it benefits my students. One day, my students will no longer be mine… They will graduate, and have the rest of their lives ahead of them. Now that I relate to the NFB, I can connect my students with this huge network of people who share lived experiences as blind individuals. Their families can meet blind adults who are “living the lives they want,” and have that same goal for their children.”

Finally, one of the Teachers of Tomorrow from Louisiana had this to say about her experience.

“From this visit I learned that you can achieve anything you want but you need to trust yourself and try. One example was making brownies. It was a simple recipe but required us to use our sense of touch and listening to follow the steps of the recipe. I have a blind daughter who loves to help me out in the kitchen. I always complain at her for making a mess and wanting to touch everything. This experience was such a great reminder and awareness that touching is the only way such a task, without sight, can be completed. 

Thank you again for allowing me to be a part of the NFB family and be one of the Teachers of Tomorrow. As I was always told from the wonderful NFB family in Ruston, it takes a village to build a village. I consider myself a part of this village and hope to help build the future.”

As someone who grew up as a blind student in a public school, I know that these teachers are changing the lives of their students in ways they can’t even imagine. Their belief in blind students, fueled by the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind, means that their students will have that belief in themselves. I look forward to working with these teachers in future Federation events, and I look forward to getting to know their students and families when they become part of our Federation family!