Most of us are exposed to teachers at a very early age. Teachers are the ushers to the hallways of learning. They show us the corridors and we have to go explore them.
By the time one has reached seventh grade, we’ve had at least seven different teachers (more if there was serious pre-school).
So, when I entered seventh grade at a new school, it was going to be a huge adventure. Instead of having one teacher teach six different subjects, I was going to have six different teachers in just as many different classrooms. I worried about the logistics of changing books at my locker and making the cross-campus journey on time.
My very first classroom, with my very first teacher held quite a surprise. She was blind. And even at the tender age of eleven, I was impressed with her sheer bravery. She explained to us that she was “legally” blind and that she carried a cane in the hallways, but was relatively comfortable in her classroom. Her roll sheets were prepared in Braille. Her lecture notes were prepared in Braille. She could not make eye contact with us during her lecture, so she walked up and down the aisles, so if not eye contact, there was at least proximity. She half-kiddingly requested that we not stick our legs out and trip her.
And she was teaching World Geography. My fellow seventh-graders weren’t quite sure what to make of this, but very shortly figured out that it was easy to pass notes in class. But they were foiled because she could hear the writing/folding/handling/giggling. She confiscated the notes and read them out loud. She could read with one eye if she held the paper up very close to her face and squinted very hard. The students then figured yet another way to “pass” notes. It required a little extra effort on their parts, but they calculated that it was worth it. They learned the manual alphabet (or used little diagramed cards displaying all the hand formations the stood for various letters).
They could communicate using this method (not privately), but she couldn’t see it or hear it. The laughing clued the blind teacher in and she eventually figured it out. The disappointment on her face was devastating, but then she shrugged it off because it was so enterprising.
This teacher made a huge impression on me, obviously, and her courage, fortitude and sheer determination has stuck with me all these decades later. Single when she arrived, she befriended the English teacher in the next classroom, their relationship grew and this caused some unexpected problems.
Years later, I had written a play that was a comedy that was pretty successful and I wanted to write something very different; something serious. So, I decided to try and write about this teacher. And we had our first reading and I was pleasantly surprised that while there was genuine drama, there was also humor. I submitted the play to Lonny Chapman at the Group Rep and he liked it very much. He invited me to join the theater and develop this play; which we did.
When the Group Rep was re-located to its current location on Burbank Boulevard, this was the first full-length play to be done in the new theatre as part of their 1984-85 season. It was warmly received, was produced at other theaters and eventually published worldwide by Samuel French.
Fourteen years later, I became a teacher. And as I stood there looking out at the sea of blank faces, I flashed back to my 7th grade blind teacher and thought, “How did she do it?” Teaching is already hard enough. This is especially true when it’s a general studies course that it not particularly germane to the bulk of the students.
I cannot imagine trying to teach students as a blind person. My admiration for her strength and determination has grown immensely. They say teaching is a noble profession. But teaching with all the odds stacked against you, makes it more than noble. As we celebrate the courage, wisdom and ingenuity of women in all walks of life, I am humbled that I knew this blind teacher and I marvel at her accomplishments.