Model: Harriet Go
Growing up, becoming a teacher had always been what I wanted. I played ‘school’ all the time, whether it was with my brothers and sister, or with all of my stuffed animals pretending to be my students. I even played school during the summer. So when I got to college, the choice for my major was obvious: Education. The first three and a half years of my undergraduate program went by like a breeze compared to what was to come during my last semester. In the few weeks that lead to the student teaching portion of my degree program, I remember the rising excitement I felt as I realized my dream of becoming a teacher was soon coming true. I remember the anticipation and healthy nerves I felt as I eagerly awaited my first day of student teaching in a real classroom. I was going to be teaching in a 4th-grade class in a nearby Philadelphia public school. I couldn’t wait to meet the students, to put what I had learned in all my classes into practice, and to begin fulfilling my passion for inspiring the next generation of young learners. I was ready! But, little did I know that there were those who were not.
Before the first day had even begun, there were already talks among my Education department directors at the university and the principal of the elementary school to force me to opt out of the student teaching component of the course because I am blind. They questioned how I would handle specific classroom activities and situations because I couldn’t see. They were skeptical of how I would be able to do paperwork, grade tests, and most importantly, manage student behaviors. They did not believe a blind person could be a competent teacher.
Student teaching in itself is already a tough time for any teacher candidate, but this made my experience even more challenging. I had to work harder and stronger than any other teacher candidate just to prove that I could be a good teacher and that I could make it work. With my newfound knowledge of educational pedagogy and solid skills in effective teaching strategies, backed by strategies I use to cope with the challenges blindness offers, the support of family and friends, and above all, a fiercely determined attitude, I was able to show them that I could indeed do the job successfully.
I am now a thirteen-year veteran teacher of the School District of Philadelphia. I teach elementary special education students from kindergarten through 3rd grade in literacy and math, and I love it! I got through that discouraging and challenging time in my life as I have countless others. But if I had let others’ low expectations of me prevail during my student teaching experience, I know I would not be where I am today.
“Life is not what happens to you, but it is what you decide to do about what happens.”
Photographed by Barbara Warren