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article imageOp-Ed: Remembering a teacher of the blind — Amanda Labbe Perry Special

By Robert Kingett     Dec 26, 2013 in World
Saint Augustine - Everyone remembers the teacher that has changed their lives. At The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind I had many influential teachers but one stood out for me.
Amanda Labbe Perry was one of the most influential teachers of the visually impaired I had in school. I sat down with her to learn what it was like having me in her first elementary class.
Kingett: Describe why you wanted to go into teaching disabled students.
Perry: I actually fell into the field of teaching the Visually Impaired. I had graduated in December of 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. I took a job as an Instructional Assistant in a middle school ESE class at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind and I was hooked! Just four months later I was offered a classroom teaching position for 4th and 5th grade (visually impaired) for the upcoming school year. Robert Kingett was in my first class!
I had Robert for 4th grade in 2000-01 and 5th grade 2001-02.
Kingett: Where did you get your degree from?
Perry: I have a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Flagler College; I took 9 semester hours of Vision Studies from Florida State University to obtain Florida certification in teaching the Visually Impaired. I am currently working on a Master’s Degree in Vision Studies from the University of Massachusetts: Boston.
Kingett: Activities that you have done in class have helped shape talents. In your mind did you see your activities as learning more so than studying for the state standardized tests?
Perry: Back in the time period of 2000-2002, standardized testing was beginning to be pushed upon teachers at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, but not the extent that it is today. I was very fortunate with Robert’s class in that I had the freedom to work on the Expanded Core Curriculum (cooking, daily living skills, money skills, retail). I was also able to have creative freedom, like when we had a trial for the wolf villain from The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. Robert was the lawyer representing the victimized pigs and he was fabulous arguing his case!
Kingett: How did you organize your lesson plans to couple engaging activities that played to students’ strengths or improve upon their weaknesses?
Perry: In all honesty, I never followed my lesson plans (designed the previous week) to the letter because there are so many teachable moments that happen during the course of a school day. I was very fortunate to have a decent class size (averaging 11 students) which allowed me to address the goals indicated in theory IEP’s. By doing creative activities and role-playing, I was able to get reluctant students to read and write while letting gifted writers like Robert shine.
Kingett: When making lesson plans, why did you often have us do activities such as reading games and math games that would strength our talents rather than have us work out of a textbook?
Perry: Every student shines in a different way. Drill and kills do nothing to help a student (except maybe for memorizing multiplication facts)! Robert used to fill pages in his journal during free-writing time. After reading Jack Prelutsky’s funny poems about food, Robert and his classmates dove into a “Gross Desserts” activity that had us all laughing!
Kingett: You often had us doing a lot of reading activities. How has reading played a big influence in your lesson plans?
Perry: Mrs. Zuaro, our Blind Reading Specialist, really showed me the importance of promoting books and having book talks. I started doing that every week after my class went to the library, introducing a variety of books and Robert was always eager to try something new.
Kingett: Your activities helped our class blossom gifts. How should other teachers, in your opinion, craft that balanced lesson plan?
Perry: You have to find a balance in addressing state or common core standards and engaging the student. A creative lesson I used to call “Lame Sentence Disease” went much farther in developing the use of adjectives than two pages in a grammar drill book. You have to see the skill as important in order for students to buy-in as well.
Kingett: When did it become apparent to you that I had a niche for writing?
Perry: Robert, I would say it was apparent from the beginning of 4th grade. In some ways you were like an old soul in a kid’s body. The stories that you would come up with had sharp wit and rather advanced vocabulary for someone your age.
Kingett: What were your career outlooks for me? Did you see me becoming a reporter?
Perry: I thought you would become an author, either of fiction or humor, like my favorite (now retired) columnist Dave Barry from the Miami Herald!
Kingett: Is there a memorable assignment that you can remember that I handed in?
Perry: I would say your “Gross Dessert” program and your arguments as a lawyer in the “True Story of the Three Little Pigs Trial.”
Kingett: In what way did our class exceed your expectations years later?
Perry: I was lucky to see you all grow and mature into high school students; and many of you went on to college. I am so thrilled to see you pursuing journalism Robert! My biggest fear for any of my former students is that they will give up and not pursue an education or career after high school, just sitting around all day. That is such a waste of a valuable life. Robert, you have a lot of drive and ambition, despite all of the awful curveballs thrown at you over the years!
Kingett: Based on this, what advice do you have for schools and teachers alike?
Perry: I would advise them to take the time to talk to their students and really get to know them. You can address educational standards while using creative activities to get all students to shine. I would advise them to hold high but realistic expectations for their students; such as college, career, or post-graduate training. It’s never too early to talk about the future with your students, even those in elementary school!
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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