Tricks of the Trade for Itinerant Teachers
Teachers of students with visual impairments are often isolated from their peers. This isolation may lead us to think others have developed strategies for effectiveness that we have not yet discovered. The truth is that each of us has found some solutions as well as having some concerns for which we haven't found solutions. It's important for us to share our tricks so we can all benefit. Each of us will find validation for the ones we've already begun using; each of us will find some ideas that we hadn't yet thought of.
After the publication of the first edition of Itinerant Teaching, workshops on itinerant teaching were held throughout the United States and Canada. Teachers at these workshops submitted their own ideas and suggestions for making the lives of itinerant teachers of visually impaired students easier and their work more effective. Many of the same suggestions were submitted by a number of writers in slightly different forms; some were one-of-a-kind gems. Here are just a few "tricks of the trade." For a complete list of the topics covered in this comprehensive, through-the-year guide for itinerant professionals, see the table of contents.
Attitude, Attitude, Attitude
"Build self-esteem in students. Listen to them carefully. Be polite."
"Act the part of a guest in any classroom."
Classroom Teachers, Colleagues, and Staff
"Carry braille alphabet cards or bookmarks and poster board signature guides to hand out as prizes to teachers who ask good questions at in-service training sessions. The first questioner always gets one, so it tends to break the ice and helps the questions flow."
"After I provide an in-service session, I give each teacher a one-page summary. It gives the name of the student's eye condition and a short explanation, a sample of type size needed, distance he or she can see, and low vision support needed."
Students and Classmates
"Conduct a braille workshop for classmates of the visually impaired student so they understand what braille is." (Consider using the Braille Bug® site's games and activities, like "See Your Name in Braille".)
"Have students act as advocates for themselves by helping to arrange the time of an informational program and choose the topics and other activities, calling on you when needed."
"Don't include only teachers and parents in in-service sessions. Include peers and other students (not necessarily the whole school, but the same grade level at least)."
Working with Families and the Community
"Have a meeting to introduce parents to one another, whether or not their children have the same special needs or diagnosis. Then they can begin to create their own support group."
"Invite capable blind or visually impaired adults to spend time with your students at least once a year." (Contact the AFB CareerConnect® program for help finding visually impaired mentors in your area.)
"I do four half-day mini-workshops throughout the year on different subjects. I bring the students together and teach social skills, computer skills, use of low vision aids, and other topics."
"Chart behaviors and keep anecdotal records to document effectiveness."
"On Fridays get work from classroom teachers to be transcribed into braille or large print for the next week."
"Some classroom teachers are willing to write on a pad of easel paper with a felt-tip pen, rather than use the chalkboard. The visually impaired student can then have the page of notes or information."
Planning and IEPs
"Begin as early as possible on vocational, self-help, and O&M skills."
"Explain the IEP process and have the students create their own goals. Allow them to present them at the meeting. If the students invest in the IEP, they will probably succeed in accomplishing beyond their goals."
Activities of Daily Living
"When teaching shoelace tying, attach one-half of a flat shoelace to one-half of a round shoelace. Put the lace in the shoe. You can then refer to the 'flat' lace and the 'round' lace during the teaching process."
"When cooking from a recipe, get out all the ingredients before beginning. Put each one away after it's been used. If anything is left over at the end, it's been omitted."
"Have a large bag for assessment materials for all ages and impairments. Include a 4×4 foot piece of black felt and one of white for assessing contrast, or paint a black cookie sheet white on one side."
"I generally refuse to conduct an assessment until the eye specialist's report is in to ensure that the student has the best possible correction.
"Conduct assessments for near vision in the home with the parents or guardians present to foster understanding of the student's visual functioning."
"With a nonverbal student, look for slight changes in the face or body that might indicate a visual response."
Orientation and Mobility
"Use a cardboard core from wrapping paper as a first cane for some smaller students."
"When students turn 16, they need written identification. This process can be used to create many O&M lessons for a student, involving calling the Department of Motor Vehicles to make an appointment, filling out the form, seeking assistance to get in the proper line for the picture, and other necessary activities."
Computers and Assistive Technology
"Use a larger cursor. This is an option in many screen-enlarging software programs, or you can download them for free."
"For students who are having trouble understanding the directions given by the speech synthesizer on the computer, I tape-record the directions. We can proceed through these at a slower pace, stopping and starting if necessary, so the students can understand one line before we proceed to the next."
Organization of Time and Materials
"Try to schedule the students closest to your home as your first and last students of the day, because you don't get paid for the time you travel before and after school."
"Carry a set of index cards in a coupon holder with information on each child needed frequently (parent and school, addresses and phone numbers, eye condition, medication, acuity, etc.)."
"For each student, I keep a daily log sheet denoting what work was done, what teachers I spoke to, all parent contact, and any other notes. This helps with accountability and makes writing IEPs and progress reports easier."
"Dictate notes, correspondence, and reports into a small tape recorder in the car when not singing along with the radio."
"Always have paperwork to do in case a student is absent."
Equipment and Supplies
"A hot glue gun makes fast tactile outlines, coloring and cutting projects, and smiley faces."
"Small portable white dry-erase boards can be useful."
"Use cookie sheets with magnets to hold materials up in front of students."
"Use buff-colored paper for students with photophobia."
"Clamping switches to reading stands is helpful for some students with multiple impairments."
At the School
"Remember students' birthdays and those of certain teachers."
"Have every item at each site that you could possibly need. Most teachers are willing to give you a spot for your stuff in the classroom. If you're lucky, you may even get a room."
"At a new school, always get a map of the school for yourself and enlarge it or put it in braille for the students."
"Make sure to get a calendar for the year at each school you work in, since holidays, staff development days, and parent-teacher conferences in each school don't always coincide."
"Be sure to stop by the office of each school as you arrive and leave. Lots of last-minute messages find you that way."
"Eat lunch with staff as often as possible."
"Wear your name tag."
In the Car
Organization and Supplies
"Plan once a week to clean out, organize, and inventory what's in your car. Decide what to throw away or store elsewhere for the next week."
"Buy a car with a large trunk, automatic transmission, coffee cup holder, and power door locks."
"A cabinet-drawer-sized file box kept in your car can work wonders."
"Write your mileage down on the actual sheets you turn in for reimbursement. It saves tons of time."
"Keep an organizer on the passenger seat for food and other items."
"With a cell phone and hands-free connection in the car, you can make calls that used to have to wait."
"If you can't afford a cellular phone, get one that only dials 911. It could save your neck."
"A citizen's band radio can be useful for long-distance traveling."
"Don't keep a loose clipboard on your car's dashboard. It can be a real safety hazard."
"Be careful of your back when getting things out of your trunk."
"Carry a car kit and know the basics for when your car breaks down. Keep a survival kit in your trunk with a blanket, food, flashlight and other items you'll need if you're stranded."
"No matter what you do, do not speed while driving between schools. You may be late, but at least you'll arrive."
"Don't forget to plan bathroom stops."
"Find out where the public libraries are. You can use the restroom without having to buy anything, and if you have some extra time, you can do paperwork there."
Managing Stress and Isolation
"New itinerant teachers will not believe how much different their second year will feel, once people know them!"
"Acquaint yourself with other itinerant teachers in areas surrounding yours to contact, share, and support each other. Perhaps you can meet for lunch once in a while. This reduces the isolation we often feel."
"Remember that you are not alone. There are a number of us with a multitude of experiences. We are all just a phone call away. Let's share our expertise."
Tips From Parents
"As a teacher, please remember that as parents we cannot separate ourselves from the emotional ties we have with our children, for example, at IEP conferences. They are ours 24 hours a day. We don't go home."
"I would like to see itinerant teachers work with visually impaired students to present to the class what the teacher and child work on outside the classroom and maybe suggest to the class and teacher ways they can help in the learning and teaching process. Help sighted classmates who are not visually impaired to understand."
"Remember to advocate for the students and yourself. If you are a good advocate and good with kids, you will be listened to."