4 Lessons I Learned from My Blind Students

Gail at lectern speaking at the SMORE 2012 conference

Gail’s message delivered at SMORE’s third annual conference for single mother with the theme: “Your Annual ‘I’ Exam”

Do you have a vision for your life?

You can have perfect eyesight and no vision?

Helen Keller  said, “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but no vision.”

And in Proverbs 29:18 we are told: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

My vision is that you have a vision for your life.

* * *

Did you know that Teaching is the best way to learn?

Life requires that you learn – or suffer consequences. When you experience difficulties – sometimes NOT always, sometimes – a spiritual lesson is underway. And if you don’t get it the first time around, you will probably have another chance.

I learned four important lessons during the ten years I worked as a teacher and coordinator for children with visual impairments.

The first lesson I learned from them was . . .

Optimism

Optimism is not one of my natural tendencies.

My blind students had an attitude of optimism.

Let me tell you about one of them.

When I became Kimberly’s teacher she was in the third grade. Kimberly was born with a birth defect. She had tiny eyes that caused her to have extremely limited eyesight. Numerous surgeries were mostly unsuccessful. She wore a glass eye in one of her eyes. The year after I began working with her she had another retina detachment and she had her sixth surgery. All her remaining eyesight was lost. She was fitted for her second glass eye.

My job was to see that she received all the necessary modifications in the classroom and teach the braille. Up until then we had managed her math with enlarged sheets and magnifiers.

Braille math is complicated. If you have noticed the braille in elevators, that is simple compared to what has to be done with dots for math. Now we had to use braille.

When Kimberly returned to school after her last surgery her optimism amazed me.

During one of our math lessons I noticed she wasn’t as sure of herself as she usually was. I didn’t want her to become discouraged after all she had been through. I began to say things like, “Don’t worry too much about catching on the first time through.” and “There is plenty of time.” And “No rush.” Maybe I was too obvious.

She picked up on my concern right away and replied, “Don’t worry. I can learn this. I’m young.” She approached most of life with this same optimism.

Leah with FianceeAnother former student, Leah, who now lives in North Carolina, had some useful vision until about two years ago. Her optimism would stun most people. When she told me of losing her remaining eyesight she said, “It’s not so bad.” She has a guide dog and is earning a B.S. degree in Emergency Management with a minor in public safety telecommunications (9-1-1 dispatching). She already holds several FEMA and Red Cross certificates. Leah is an optimist.

What keeps you from being optimistic?

Oscar Wilde said, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

What are you looking at?

Faith is a form of optimism. It is an expectation of good.

I guarantee you that your children will “Catch” your virus of attitude.

Winston Churchill said “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

I urge you to show your children how to see the opportunities in every difficulty.

Another lesson I learned was the significance of . . .

INDEPENDENCE

Most people want to do for themselves.

Remember when your two-year-old child said, “Me do it.”

There is a sense of self-respect that comes from a healthy level of independence.

When Kimberly was in middle school we met in a small room each day where we had Brailling equipment. One such day she pleaded with me dramatically to talk to her parents saying, “My parents are going to ruin my life.” Then she told me about her parents sending her to a camp in Ruston, Louisiana where the National Federation of the Blind has facilities.

She went that summer and it was most challenging. One of the things they do to encourage independent mobility is to drop the student on one side of town and tell them to walk back. When I learned this, it terrified me. Granted the people in Ruston are accustomed to seeing students with white canes, but our little Kimberly walking across town alone-it seemed like too much. It wasn’t. She did fine. Later she would navigate the campus of Texas A&M University.

In school we had aides worked with the students. The constant issue was explaining to aides how to assist students without doing too much.

If you do too much for a child they develop something called, “learned helplessness.” They actually believe they aren’t capable of doing for themselves and so they stop trying.

Have you developed learned helplessness?

Do you no longer believe you can make it as a single mom?

Believe Again

Do you no longer think you can get your GED?

Think Again.

Do you no longer believe you could go back to college?

Believe Again

Do you no longer think you can get off food stamps and make it on your own?

Think Again

Open your eyes.

See what God has for you and BELIEVE

Self-respect brings relief from dependency on others’ opinions of you.

Kimberly as NISD Duchess

Kimberly as Duchess of Her Class

When it came time for the Junior Senior Prom Kimberly was feeling left out. I knew she wanted to visit her friends in Ruston and so without mentioning that it was prom weekend I offered to take her for a weekend trip to Ruston. We went and had a great time there. Back home as we were taking her things from the car she casually mentioned that it had been the prom weekend. Of course she was disappointed and would’ve much preferred going to the prom, but she made another choice and we made a fun memory.

  • Are you able to make alternative plans when others fall through?
  • If your marriage didn’t work out are you able to take a different, but still promising path?
  • When life interrupts your plans, what do you do?

SENSE OF HUMOR

Paper weight on my desk:  “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly.”

Being able to laugh can take away the heaviness of life.

I’ve read, “A well developed sense of humor helps you detach from personal struggles. You can avoid taking yourself too seriously-starting today.”

My husband, Sam, and I have developed our style of humor that works for us. We learned a great deal from the personality studies. We can tease each other about our personal quirks. It has saved us from many an argument.

When Kimberly was in high school we often met in the mornings in the braille room. One particular morning I noticed she looked especially attractive. I didn’t realize it was the day for school pictures. She was wearing a little make-up even. Wanting to encourage her I said, “You look great today. Your eyes are bright.” To which she quickly retorted, “Yes, I know, we scrubbed them this morning.”

Learning to laugh, even at ourselves, is important.

Henry Ward Beecher said, “A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It’s jolted by every pebble on the road.” And you are traveling on a road. Life is a journey.

Does every pebble jolt you on your path?

Alter your vision for the path ahead by seeing some humor along the way.

COURAGE

Martin Luther King said, “Courage faces fear and thereby masters it.”

Our greatest weaknesses provide us with opportunities for growth that we might never have had otherwise.

2 Cor. 12:9 scripture say, “God’s power is made perfect in our weakness?

We often think of courage as bravery on a battlefield. And that certainly is one type of courage. However, you-single mothers-exhibit courage on a daily basis. Some of you demonstrated courage by coming here today.

The students I taught who were blind demonstrated a courage that inspired me-still inspires me to this day. They had an attitude of acceptance and faith.

Yes, they missed many things all around them, but the important things of life – they were acutely aware of.

Helen Keller said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.”

Amanda at about 5 years oldWhen I was teaching Amanda to read, Braille of course, we had small booklets similar to readers we used as kids. One day I shall never forget we read the story of Stevie Wonder. He spoke of poverty and prejudice. Young Amanda asked, “What is prejudice?” She had never seen light; color meant nothing to her. I answered simply, trying to be as honest as possible. “Prejudice is when a group of people thinks they are better than another group of people. They make judgments without even knowing the person. Some people have light colored skin and others have dark skin. Racial prejudice happens when the light skinned people mistreat the dark skinned people. I watched her as my words sunk in. She was thinking about it. Finally this little white, blond-haired girl who had never seen anything asked, “What color is my skin?”

* * *

As you leave today remember these words. There is a verse in 1 Samuel 16: 7 that says,

God told Samuel. “God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.”

Look into your heart today.

Discover the vision for your life.

2 comments

  1. optimisticgladness · · Reply

    This is a beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing. I linked your post to mine. thanks again.

    1. That’s a great compliment coming from Optimistic Gladness. Thanks.

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