Blindness, STOY Family, and Creating a Common Ground

My training class at Guiding Eyes ranges from ages seventeen to above seventy. We are from the United States and Canada. There is national representation from the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, and Northwest. The socialite, the introvert, the intellectual, and the flirt are all present. Most of all, though, we are all blind. That commonality means that blindness, for the first time in years and years, is for me not an isolating reality. We are all using adaptive technology, reading braille or raised numbers to locate rooms, exploring the table with gently probing fingers to find the bottle of orange juice, and laughing over the ridiculous things sighted people have said to us throughout our lives. Our shared experience of vision loss cancels out that vision loss. "Blind" is normal, and the sighted folks are the outsiders.

When I first met the other State Teachers of the Year (STOYs) in February, We were united through the commonality of the state honor we shared, and somehow, that canceled the differences. It did not matter what subject area we taught, whether we were serious or silly, or whether we were at ease in the spotlight or happier in the shadows. Honestly, my blindness did not matter to them either. I was not the "inspirational hero" for having survived vision loss, nor was I the "needy dependent" or the one to ignore because she was different. For the first time in a long, long time, I was in a room with like-minded individuals whose shared outlooks and opportunities served as both blinders and glue.

This symmetry, in two completely different contexts, causes my thoughts to spin. When my students enter my classroom, I want them to be individuals. I don't want them to put on the guise of conformity, pretending to be something they are not. Yet, I want to find a common ground that unites them and gives that same sense of comfortable acceptance that I am finding in training with Nacho and that I have found with my fellow STOYs. It is blindness and performance recognition that serve as neutralizers respectively in those circumstances, but what is it in my classroom? What should it be?

- RESPECT: It must be fundamental to every classroom that respect, in all directions, is cultivated, nurtured, and protected.
- EXPECTATION: We must expect our students to succeed, and students must be free to expect that we are investing our whole selves into making that classroom the best place possible for learning and growth.
- BELIEF: We must have the confidence to inspire belief in our students that what we are doing is exactly right for them, but even more importantly, we must help our students believe in themselves, seeing an outcome that is beyond what their normal vision perceives.

Respect, expectation, and belief. There is more, of course, but I see those three factors here at guide dog training, and I see them each time I gather with my STOY family. When I step into my classroom, if I make those factors the triple commonality for my students, maybe they too will experience the delight of pursuing a united endeavor.
Enjoy another photo of me and Nacho.