10 Oct Reaching Your Potential
One of the biggest issues in the blind field (and there are many) is how much should a para educator be with a child?
What I have seen:
When a district does not have a teacher of the blind, a para is glued to the child's side and does most of the work for the child because the para lacks the blind skills to help the child do it for themselves. The child appears to be succeeding (though only because of what the para is doing, NOT the child) and all are happy. BUT the parents do not realize how much their child is NOT doing and many times, the district is unaware of this also. Or, parents fight for a para next to their child all day, without realizing this para will be a big brick wall between their child making friends and achieving their own goals and potential.
I went to a school district and watched a blind child rocking back and forth while the para did the work. Sitting side by side, the child was miles away, in her own little world. When I talked with the child, the most intelligent words came from her mouth, so I knew there was a brain there. We spent the next couple of years teaching her all the technology, braille, and other blind skills, and she was completely independent by the third year. The para just adapted the work for her and made sure she had it in class when all the other students did. This is more of what SHOULD be happening with all paras and students.
I have had the first scenario over and over and depending on the "pain" level of weaning the child from the para, it is really up to the child and parents. Most are on board with the heavy duty technology, braille lessons and other blind skills and within that 2-3 year window you can have an independent child.
However, there are the people who are not thinking ahead to graduation, college, a job. They really think that somehow, miraculously their child will be completely independent when they graduate, when in fact, they have been completely dependent on a para throughout their school career and this dependence and lack of ability follows the child. The child ends up living with the parents and the parents continue to do everything for this child who has the potential to climb Mt. Everest inside, but instead the child sits like a rock going no where.
Parents and children bring the fear to each other. The child brings that fear to the parents and the parents have the same fear, or the parents put the fear on the child and they tell the child they cannot live without the para (the second scenario is the most common). They truly believe they cannot live without that para being right next to the child all day long. It kills the confidence of the child. The child lacks friends because the para has become the end all to be all of their life. They fail to gain enough skills to go onto college, and worse, be gainfully employed to their IQ level.
So, back to reaching your potential. We can't do it without "pain". It will be painful, not physically, though I have seen a lot of sweating, but emotionally. The fear. The dread of not being able to do your work because you forgot something. The fear of getting lost in the school or on a bus ride because you got on the wrong bus.
I use the phrase: We learn more from our failures than our successes. I give everyone permission to fail because we are going to fail at something no matter what it is. Don't feel bad about it, feel happy that you are progressing toward something. We can learn from our mistakes, but if we never try, we do not know our own potential.
When the children are getting ready to take their first solo bus ride, they are very fearful of getting lost. I tell them, cheerfully, "Don't worry…you will!! And they laugh. That is why God gave you a mouth. Speak up and ask someone directions. Same thing goes for class. Speak up and ask." I see relief come over my students. Yep, it is better to fail at trying something than to never try anything. You can only reach your potential with work and pain….but the pain goes and confidence and success stay.