The Central Role of the Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments
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The teacher of students with visual impairments is the central figure on the educational team for your child with a visual impairment. This is the professional who has expertise in how visual impairment affect your child's development and learning, as well as the strategies and tools that can help your child learn about the world, perform everyday activities, and participate in the general curriculum and other activities in school. Therefore, your child is likely to be working with the teacher of students with visual impairments on a day-to-day basis. He or she will probably serve as the coordinator of the educational team and as a resource for the other team members, including you. You may sometimes hear this teacher referred to as a "vision teacher" or by the abbreviation "TVI."
The specific responsibilities of the teacher of students with visual impairments with your child may vary, depending on your child's age and needs, the goals his educational team sets for him, the type of educational program your child participates in, and the policies of your particular school district. The role of the teacher of students with visual impairment may include some or all the following:
- teaching the specific skills that your child needs to learn because of his visual impairment. Generally these are adapted ways of doing everyday activities and methods of participating in the school curriculum, such as reading and writing in braille, using a low vision device, or independent living skills. These skills are often known as the expanded core curriculum.
- conducting various assessments of your child to determine his abilities and needs
- working with you and other family members in various ways, such as helping you to learn skills you need to teach your child or suggesting ways to arrange your home or do household chores that will make it easier for your child to participate in family life
- making referrals for additional services your child may need, such as for orientation and mobility (O&M) instruction or a clinical low vision evaluation from a low vision specialist
- meeting with family members, your child's regular education teacher, and other members of the educational team to discuss his progress and make suggestions for strategies to make his school work accessible and to include him to the greatest extent possible in all school, classroom, and extracurricular activities
- preparing or obtaining learning materials, textbooks, and examinations in the appropriate accessible format for your child (such as braille, large print, audio, or electronic format)
- analyzing the classroom and other environments for access and safety related to a student's visual impairment or blindness, and advising other members of the team about how best to organize the classroom and materials
- providing consultation and training for teachers, paraeducators, and other school personnel on effective strategies for teaching students with visual impairments
- directing the paraeducator, if one has been assigned to your child or his class, in providing support to your child
Teachers of students with visual impairments often work as "itinerant" teachers, which means that they travel from school to school within a particular area or school district to work with the students to whom they've been assigned. At the school, there are different ways in which the teacher of students with visual impairments might work with your child. For example, they may work together in your child's regular classroom to help with the ongoing lesson, in an empty classroom, or in a designated resource room, alone or with a group of students. The teacher of students with visual impairments might also meet with your child before or after school. Or, he or she might only observe your child occasionally in order to consult with the regular education teacher about your child's progress. How often they meet depends on the services designated by your child's Individualized Education Program (IEP) (or Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) if he is younger than 3 years old).
Working with the Classroom Teacher
Because the teacher of students with visual impairments has an ongoing role with your child in teaching the expanded core curriculum, it's important to understand that he or she is not responsible for teaching the general education curriculum that all students learn in school. That role belongs to the classroom teacher. The responsibilities of the classroom teacher with regard to your child might be summarized as follows:
- teaching academic and social curricula, assigning grades, and maintaining discipline for all students in the class, including your child who is visually impaired
- providing textbooks and instructional materials to the teacher of visually impaired students in a timely manner so that the material can be prepared in alternate formats your child needs
- communicating and meeting regularly with the teacher of visually impaired students to discuss your child's progress and plans for meeting his future educational and social needs
- creating a classroom climate that is comfortable for all students
The teacher of students with visual impairments' contribution to the general education classroom is to
- consult with the classroom teacher on ways of making the general curriculum accessible to your child
- be responsible for preparing classroom materials in formats that are accessible to your child
The teacher of students with visual impairments may also teach some of the concepts that your child needs to learn in preparation for a particular lesson. For example, to prepare your child for a science lesson about eclipses, the teacher of students with visual impairments may use hands-on materials to teach concepts about the sun, moon, and earth and the rotation and revolution of the planets that might be taught to the rest of the class using pictures.
Since both the teacher of students with visual impairments and the regular classroom teacher play such a central role in your child's education, it's important for these two professionals to remain in close contact about the best ways of meeting your child's needs.