Today in the Inspirational Teacher Series we profile Amanda Thompson. Amanda has been teaching for 3 years and specializes in working with children who are blind or vision impaired. I hope you enjoy her profile.
1. What is your name?
2. What is your education level and credentials?
I have my Master’s of Education in Special Education, focusing on visual impairments and students who access the general education curriculum.
3. What would you like a one-sentence description of yourself to say?
I’m a closet geek who enjoys spending time with her toddler son and playing video games when he sleeps.
4. Do you have a website?
5. How long have you been a Teacher?
I have been teaching 3 years PK-12 and 1 year of Early Intervention, but have working with individuals who have varying abilities since I was a teenager.
6. What type of classroom do you teach (i.e. General Education, Special Day Class, etc)?
I am an itinerant teacher for people who are blind and vision impaired. I travel to different public schools within one county.
7. What Research based instruction methods do you use in your classroom for your students with a disability?
That is such a huge question considering I teach everything from independent living skills, to braille, to compensatory skills and pre-teaching, etc. I always teach using a variety of modalities (universal design for learning — http://www.udlcenter.org/) and by creating relevant connections so students aren’t just repeating facts from rote, but are incorporating and generalizing skills.
8. What other educational methods have you used that have been successful for your students with a disability?
A wonderful place to find strategies for literacy for students with vision impairments is Paths to Literacy, run in partnership with the Texas School for the Blind and Vision Impaired (www.tsbvi.edu), which can be found at: http://www.pathstoliteracy.org
9. How do you create inclusion opportunities for your students with a disability?
Some of my services need to be taught individually, but whenever possible, I push-in and provide my services through a co-teaching model. Sometimes I teach skills in small workshop groups or the class as a whole. One thing I encourage all the general education teachers to allow me to do in their classroom is to teach a mini-unit on visual impairments, braille, low vision, or whatever is relevant to the student with VI in the classroom. I also encourage other students in the class to learn who to use the assistive technology my student is using. A lot of times, I find knowing about my students’ visual impairments helps create a more fostering and caring relationship with their peers.
10. What behavior strategies and methods have worked for you in the classroom for students with a disability?
I prefer to use positive behavior strategies that improve student abilities to self-monitor and create independence. Of course, in order to create any sort of behavior plan, I need to do a functional behavior analysis (finding the antecedent to the behavior and the consequence–what happens after the behavior) to target specific strategies. Unfortunately, I find many teachers, in my experience, do not take a lot of time to do FBAs and behaviors tend to escalate.
11. How do you involve parents in educating their children in and out of the classroom?
Parents are the second most important member of a child’s educational team (special education or no), second to the child. I encourage open lines of communication with parents and invite them into the teaching experience. I also send home ideas for expanding on our lessons or providing relevant background knowledge to pre-teach things at home. When teaching things like braille, I offer braille classes for parents and seek to provide them with as much knowledge as possible.
12. How do you communicate with the parents?
I communicate however is appropriate and best for the parent, including any combination of the following: face-to-face meetings, weekly letters, monthly/daily communication logs, phone calls, emails, texts, teacher website, etc
13. How do you collect data to determine if a child has met their IEP Goals?
First and foremost, I write clear and measurable goals and objectives. Then I create easy to use data sheets for each goal to use when working on the skills targeted in the goal. For some goals, my data sheet may be a graph, others a tally chart. The key to measuring goals is to have something that I can hand to a teacher (who may also be responsible for measuring the goal) and expect that teacher to keep data while still being efficient. I collect the data sheets periodically and then type all the data into an excel spreadsheet so everything is in the same place and easy to read. That way I can print out the sheets and bring them to meetings to discuss progress.
14. What is a typical day like in your classroom?
I don’t have my own classroom, or even school for that matter. I usually start my day at an elementary school (they start earlier here than the middle and high schools). I have some students that I work with individually and others that I pull into small groups for braille instruction. On a typical day, I travel to at least three or four schools and work with anywhere from 3 to seven students, all of whom are in different grades!
15. What is the most inspirational thing you have ever seen in the classroom?
I had been working with one particular student on the braille alphabet (he has multiple disabilities and not-yet print/braille literate) for over a year and I could tell he wanted to learn, but nothing I was doing and none of the best practices were clicking for him. As a Hail Mary, last possible idea, I decided to use a functional print sight word program to teach him and all of the sudden, things clicked and within a month he was reading 20/26 letters and WORDS in braille! It was phenomenal and really taught me to never, ever give up and that all teachers have to do is find the one way to make something relevant and interesting to students and they can learn! Most of the rest of the team had given up on literacy for this student and all we needed to do was continue trying until we found a match.
16. What advice would you give other Teachers about teaching students with a disability?
Teachers jobs are to prepare students to lead meaningful and productive lives. Therefore, all teachers should teach content AND life skills necessary for independence as adults. Too many times teachers balk at the expanded core curriculum (http://www.tsbvi.edu/seehear/winter01/core.htm) when all teachers should really teach the relevant categories for all students. How many kids in our classrooms without disabilities struggle to make connections some teachers take for granted?
17. What else would you like Parents and other Teachers to know that we haven’t already asked?
While I teach PK-12 in the public schools, I also provide early intervention services for children birth-three with visual impairments. I would be happy to answer questions or point parents in the right direction to help find resources!