Future Reflections                                                                                       Convention, 2002

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Missouri Teacher Receives
Distinguished Educator Award

Editorís Note: One of the highlights of the NFB convention is, for many parents, the keynote speech at the annual meeting of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). This address is always delivered by that yearís winner of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award. The accumulative influence of these award winners goes far beyond the power of their speeches to inspire (which they do) or the incredible amount of information they have to share. Without fail, our award winnersí greatest contribution lies within the kind of peopleóand the kind of teachersóthey are. They are people of integrity and energy. They care deeply about their students, and, therefore, make it their business to be the best teachers they can be. It goes without saying that they have high expectations for all their students. Our 2002 winner from Wentzville, Missouri, Debbi Head, is a credit to her predecessors. In addition to her impressive experience and expertise, her warm personality made it easy for parents to approach her throughout the convention to tap her extensive knowledge. Mrs. Head truly earned and deserved the recognition she received in the form of a beautiful plaque, an expense-paid trip to the 2002 NFB convention, and the $1,000 award. Printed below is the text of the plaque she received followed by the edited text of her keynote address to the NOPBC meeting:


The National Federation of the Blind honors
Debbi Head
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children
for your skill in teaching Braille
and other alternative techniques of blindness
for generously devoting extra time
to meet the needs of your students
and for inspiring your students to perform
beyond their expectations.
You champion our movement.
You strengthen our hopes.
You share our dreams.
July 2002


Keynote Address 2002 NOPBC
Annual Meeting

by Debbi Head

Thank you very much for selecting me as your Distinguished Educator of Blind Children. I greatly appreciate Shelia Wright for nominating me for this award and many thanks to the award committee, the National Federation of the Blind, and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children for selecting me and providing me the opportunity to speak today. Iíd also like to take a moment and recognize my husband, Glenn, and my daughter Glenna, and thank them for attending today. One of my former students, Chasity, is also here and is sitting up front with my family.

Debbie Head
Debbie Head

I started out getting my degree in Special Education a long time ago. I graduated from High School in 1976 and went to college at the University of Missouri-Columbia, home of the Missouri Tigers. I received my undergraduate degree in special education with an emphasis in physically impaired/orthopedic handicapped and educable mentally handicapped. My first teaching job was for the St. Louis Public Schools in a segregated building for students with health impairments. I was astonished to find out that some of my students were thereóin a completely segregated buildingóbecause they had asthma or were incontinent; after all, I have asthma. Before I left that district, seven years later, a lot of that (thankfully) had changed. It was wonderful to know that more students were being educated in inclusive classrooms.

From the St. Louis Public Schools, I went to the Wentzville School District; a rural district located approximately 40 miles west of St. Louis. Last year, Wentzville had approximately 6,000 students located in 8 buildings throughout the district. When the district hired me, it was for my expertise in working with children who were medically fragile, and for my knowledge about assistive technology. For the first year or two, I had one low vision student on my caseload who required some mild environmental accommodations. However, within a couple of years, I had my first Braille student. Thankfully, I was working with a wonderful mentor teacher in the neighboring district, Gayle Lyon. I just thank God that I had Gayle. But she kept talking about a dot 1, dot 2 and dot 3óand I didnít have a clue what she was talking about!

Being the good teacher that I am, I headed back to school. I made a deal with my district that they would pay for my classes as quickly as I could take them. Three years and thirteen classes later I received, from the University of Missouri St. Louis, my certification to work with students with the educational diagnosis of blind and visually impaired. About this time I was beginning to feel like I was a professional student, not a teacher. However, I have truly come to realize that teachers are always students because youíre always learning from your students and their parents.

By state law, my caseload begins at age 3 and goes through 21. This past year I worked with students from age 3 through 20. My district fully supports students attending their home schools; therefore, I travel to see them. This past year my job duties included teaching visually impaired/blind students, conducting assistive technology evaluations, and providing assistive technology services as determined through the IEP process. For the first time, I also had the experience of participating in an off-campus work program with one of my high school seniors. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him to identify necessary accommodations and assist with his on-the-job training at Home Depot, Schnucks (our local grocery store), and McDonalds. Through the off-campus work program, I was able to see my student successfully interact in his community, strengthen his advocacy skills, find employment, and become successful in a totally different environment outside of the classroom.

Throughout the year, I found myself working on a vast array of skills in the classroom setting as well. I taught feeding and dressing skills, pre-Braille activities, vision efficiency, Braille, and I even helped my students learn how to dissect sharks and pigs! Sometimes, I swore Iíd met myself on the road as I hustled from student to student. And yes, occasionally, Iíd end up in the wrong building on the wrong day to see the wrong student! I was really thrilled when, a couple of months ago, I saw an article in a professional magazine about traveling teachers ending up in the wrong place. I had instant empathy with the author, and by the head-shaking occurring in the audience, I can tell itís happened to others besides me! Over the years, as my caseload has grown and our high schools moved to odd and even days, Iíve found myself depending more and more on my lesson plan book. Iíve learned it doesnít matter what day the calendar says it is, what matters is what day the district says it is! In a nutshell, thatís the life of an itinerant teacher of the visually impaired. We know which road or path is the quickest, which parking lot is the closest, and most importantly, which door isnít locked during the day!

Working with my students year after year enables me to personally witness their growth and success. I find it beneficial to be able to give classroom teachers a perspective about where their student was a year or two ago, and to help teachers to really understand the difference they are making in the studentís life. I also believe it is very helpful for the parents to have a consistent person to contact regarding their childís progress. There is comfort in knowing that this person truly does know her or his child, and understands the childís personal needs and goals. This past year, two of my students, with whom Iíd worked since they were eight- or nine-years-old, graduated from high school. It has been a joy to see these boys grow up and become independent, young men.

In Missouri, we are working together to pool our resources and improve services for students with vision loss. In addition to working for the school district, Iím also involved in several statewide programs. Several years ago, Senator Harold Caskey, Representatives Bill Boucher, Joan Barry and Gracia Backer passed Missouri House Bill 401, which established the Missouri Task Force on Blind Students Academic and Vocational Performance. I have served on the Task Force for the past three years as one of two representatives of teachers of the visually impaired. Other committee members represent state agencies, consumer organizations (such as the National Federation of the Blind), institutes of higher education, school administrators, employers, parents, and students. The purpose of the task force is to develop goals and objectives to guide the improvement of special education for students with visual impairments in the areas of related services, vocational training, transition from school to work, rehabilitation services, independent living, and employment outcomes.

As a committee member, Iíve worked hard to improve the quality of programs and services that our students have access to. Through the work of the Task Force, the state hired two Blindness Skills Specialists to work within a specific region of our state. The specialists consult with the local districts regarding the needs of the blind/visually impaired population; and they provide in-services and training to parents, vision teachers, and regular education teachers. We have just completed our second Childrenís Summit Workshop to which we invited parents, classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, and others interested in understanding and improving educational services to our students. We are reviewing the National Agenda to ensure that the state of Missouri fully understands its relevance and importance as related to the educational outcomes of our students. We stay current on blindness issues, provide support for various legislative initiatives occurring throughout our state and nation, and pass information on to other educators and parents. We complete a yearly literacy study to document the progress our students are making in all areas of the expanded core curriculum, as well as within the regular education curriculum and state mandated tests.

In addition to this Task Force, I serve on our State Rehabilitation Council, which oversees the Rehabilitation Services for the Blind program. I also work with the Missouri Assistive Technology Project on their TAP-Internet program. The TAP-Internet is a relatively new program in our state that provides the assistive technology required for a qualifying person to access the Internet or send e-mail. I have been fortunate to have participated in several training sessions and have access to numerous pieces of technology for my personal use since I serve as a consumer support provider. Iíve experienced much professional growth as a teacher by participating on these state committees.

To wrap up, Iíd again like to thank the National Federation of the Blind, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, and the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award Committee for selecting me for this award. Itís a great honor and I deeply appreciate the recognition of my students and program. Thank you.

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