Ellen shares a big surprise with teacher Mayra Castillo

Mayra2Every once in awhile you see a segment on national television that honors some deserving teacher somewhere. When you see it, you’re energized about your work with kids, and you feel honored to be a member of the profession. I had that experience the other day when I stumbled upon a re-run episode of Ellen Degeneres that featured teacher Mayra Castillo. Mayra has two jobs: she teaches special needs students, and then when her regular work day is done, she runs an afternoon program for low-income kids.

Disguised as an impromptu need for a translator, Ellen invited Mayra to come out of the audience and up onstage to assist her in communicating with Spanish-speaking actor Danilo Carrera, who had recently been named “Most Beautiful” by People Magazine. Once Mayra was onstage, Ellen concluded her interview with Danilo, and then got down to the real business she had planned: a big surprise for Mayra.

Want to see the clip? Click on the link  Mayra on Ellen. You’re in for a treat.

Strategies Annie Sullivan Used to Teach Helen Keller

imagesAlmost everyone has heard of Anne Sullivan Macy, the remarkable teacher who worked with Helen Keller, an extremely intelligent blind and deaf child from Tuscumbia, Alabama. The relationship between the teacher and the student is explored in the play The Miracle Worker by William Gibson, an iconic piece of American literature that is frequently taught in public schools. This award-winning play depicts the exact moment at which, due to Anne’s expert instructional efforts, Helen was able to grasp the concept of language. This knowledge unlocked a world of isolation for the little girl, allowing her to connect with her fellow human beings, and making it possible for her to earn a university degree at a time when educating women was rare. The scene is sweet. But what strategies, exactly, did the miracle-working teacher use in order to achieve this breakthrough? After extensive reading on the subject, I think I may be able to identify a few of them.

First of all, Anne read every bit of published material available in her day about the education of handicapped students. Knowledge of pedagogy is the first step to effective practice. In addition to this, Anne had the “advantage” of personal experience, as she herself had wrestled with severe vision impairment as a result of trachoma. I’m sure at one time or another, we’ve all met an educator who is particularly effective at working with students who are facing the same challenges the teacher himself faced as a youngster.

Second, Anne was a keen observer, and she made it a point to watch the normal processes of language acquisition. She then replicated those processes as best she could to fit the particular circumstances and needs of her student. Today, we would probably call this strategy recognizing brain-based learning, and coordinating teaching strategies to fit the way the brain naturally learns.

Also, experts generally agree that much of Anne’s success in teaching Helen language was attributed to the fact that the teacher always communicated to her student with complete sentences. Concrete nouns such as water or spoon, verbs such was pump or run, or adjectives such as hot or smooth,  may be easy to convey. But abstract ideas such as beauty or truth, or certain parts of speech such as pronouns and some prepositions are much more difficult to impart to an individual unable to see or hear.

Fourth, Anne was especially adept at incorporating experiential learning into her lesson plans. The effectiveness of “learning by doing” has been well documented, but in a day and age when most instruction consisted of rote memorization without necessarily comprehending, Anne’s insistence on teaching through constructed experience was truly innovative. Wading through the creek water, climbing the tree, holding the chick as it hatched from the egg—experiences like these were the staples of Anne’s instructional program.

To learn more about Anne Sullivan Macy, I have included an abbreviated but concise biography of this amazing teacher in my book, Chalkboard Champions: Twelve Teachers who Educated America’s Disenfranchised Students, which can also be found at amazon.com at the following link: Chalkboard Champions.

Chalkboard Champion William A. Hadley: The Blind Teaching the Blind

hadley1Many talented and dedicated educators have devoted their careers to working with handicapped students. Such is the case with William Allen Hadley, a hardworking educator who established a correspondence school for blind adults.

William Hadley was born in Moorsville, Indiana, in 1860. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Earlham College in 1881, and his master’s degree from the University of Minnesota.

After his college graduation, William taught school in Minnesota, and also served as the Superintendent of Schools in the small town of Wilmar, Minnesota. During the next year, the veteran teacher traveled to Germany to study at the University of Berlin. When he returned to the United States, he accepted a position at Marietta College in Ohio. Later he taught in public schools in Peoria, Illinois, and at a Chicago’s Lakeview High School for another fifteen years.

William was a family man. He married Jessie Henderson, a schoolteacher from Fox Lake, Illinois, and the couple had two daughters, Margaret and Emily. William’s favorite hobby was reading books in English, German, Latin, and Greek. He was described as a devout Quaker, a strong, quiet man with a capacity for courage, able to stand up to problems and adversities and enjoying intellectual adventures, and possessing a deep concern for human beings.

In 1915, at the age of 55, William was afflicted with a bad bout of influenza, and then he suffered a detached retina which resulted in his blindness. In order to pursue his academic life, William taught himself Braille. The hardworking educator soon discovered that there were few educational opportunities for blind adults, and he felt compelled to assist others to acquire communication skills. In 1920, the intrepid teacher established The Hadley School for the Blind, a correspondence school where blind students could be educated. His first student was a farmer’s wife from Kansas who, like William, had suddenly lost her vision and sought to regain her ability to read and write. Teaching most of the early courses himself, William began by converting each individual volume of textbooks to Braille by hand and personally answering lessons with letters of correction and encouragement. Within a year he was teaching about ninety students in the United States, Canada, and China. Among the courses offered were reading and writing in Braille, English grammar, business correspondence, and the Bible as literature. These courses were offered free of charge. William served as the Hadley School’s president for more than fifteen years and remained active on the Board of Trustees until his death.

William received an honorary Doctor of Laws in 1931 and a Doctor of Humanities in 1933 from Beloit College. The Bosma Industries for the Blind honored him as the 2004 recipient of the Hasbrook Award, given to a true pioneer in the blindness field.

In 1941, at the age of 101, this chalkboard champion passed away. He is buried in Moorsville, Indiana.

Special Education Teacher and Native American Politician Sharon Clahchischilliage

HCLAHMany talented educators distinguish themselves in the political arena. This is certainly true of Native American Sharon E. Clahchischilliage, a Navajo elected to the New Mexico House of Representatives.

Sharon was born in Farmington, New Mexico, in 1949. She was raised in Gad’iiahi, just west of Shiprock, New Mexico. Her parents, Eleanor and Herbert Clah, worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs at the Shiprock Boarding School. She is the granddaughter of two former Navajo Nation Chairmen, Deshna Clahchischilliage (1928-1932) and Sam Ahkeah (1946-1954).

As a teenager, Sharon attended high school at Navajo Methodist Mission in Farmington, where she graduated in 1968. After her high school graduation, she enrolled at Bacone Junior College at Muskogee, Oklahoma, and then transferred to Eastern New Mexico University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in education in 1976. She earned her master’s degree in social work from the University of Pennsylvania in 1991. Since then, Sharon has acquired additional training in special education, guidance counseling, and administrative education from the University of New Mexico.

Sharon has extensive experience in the public schools. She worked for more than ten years as a special education teacher at Albuquerque Public Schools, Bernalillo Schools, the Farmington School District, and as a guidance counselor at the Southwestern Polytechnic Institute.

In addition to her career in education, Sharon has devoted many years to public service. She was a Lieutenant Commissioned Corps Officer for the US Public Health Service for the Points of Light program of President George H. W. Bush. She also worked for the Family Center Program located at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, a program that helped patients with substance abuse recovery. While there, Sharon also worked at the Strecker Substance Abuse Unit at the Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital.

As a Native American, Sharon has devoted much of her energy to tribal issues. She has devoted her energy to the Indian Health Service, Albuquerque Service Unit, and has also worked as a liaison between the Department of Children, Youth, and Families and New Mexico tribes under former State Cabinet Secretary Heather Wilson during the administration of New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. In 1999, this dedicated teacher served as the Executive Director of the National Council on Urban Indian Health in Washington, DC. Additionally, she has nine years of experience as the Executive Director of the Navajo Nation Washington Office (NNWO). The NNWO serves as the official link between the Navajo Nation and the United States government. The organization monitors and analyzes congressional legislation, disseminates Congressional and federal agency information, and develops strategies and decisions concerning national policies and budgets that affect the Navajo Nation.

When Sharon won her seat in the New Mexico House of Representatives in November, 2012, she became the first Republican Navajo woman to be elected to the New Mexico State Legislature for District 4.

Sharon Clahchischilliage: a true chalkboard champion.


Blind and Teacher of the Blind, Chalkboard Champion Genevieve Caulfield

Our nation’s special education students are truly fortunate to have talented and dedicated teachers working tirelessly on their behalf. One such teacher was Genevieve Caulfield, a teacher for the blind who was, herself, visually challenged.

Genevieve was born on May 8, 1888, in Suffolk, Virginia. When she was only two months of age, she lost her sight when a doctor accidentally spilled a bottle of corrosive medicine over her eyes. A later operation restored some sight to her right eye, but for the rest of her life she saw only shades of gray. Despite her handicap, she taught herself to live like a sighted person, and to be independent and useful.

Genevieve was seventeen years old when an incident involving prejudice and a lack of cultural understanding prompted her to choose a career in teaching. She determined to learn about Japanese culture while helping the blind in their country. It took the persevering  young lady fifteen years to achieve her goal. By then she qualified as a teacher of English, practiced teaching to the blind, and proved she could survive on her own and earn a living.

In 1923, Genevieve traveled to Japan, where she taught English and Braille to blind students. In 1938, after learning that in Thailand, blind children were considered throw-away children, she mastered the difficult Thai language, traveled to that country, and founded the Bangkok School for the Blind, an institution partially financed by her own savings. When World War II ended, the hardworking educator opted to remain in Bangkok and continue her work with her school. From 1956 to 1960, at the invitation of the government of VietNam, Genevieve organized a school for the blind in Saigon. This institution also served as a rehabilitation center for boys.

This chalkboard champion received several honors for her many dedicated years of service. In 1961, Genevieve was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding. On December 6, 1963, seventy-three-year-old Genevieve received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her work for the blind in Asia. The award was authorized by President John F. Kennedy, but due to the young president’s assassination, the honor was bestowed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1960, Genevieve published an autobiography about her achievements entitled The Kingdom Within.

This remarkable educator passed away on December 12, 1972.