Roles of Mainstream and Specialist Teachers

Good working relationships can best be fostered when everyone has a clear idea of her or his role and the roles of others with whom they are cooperating.

It is the role of the specialist teacher and teaching assistant to make sure that the student with a vision impairment is prepared to participate in and benefits from participating in your class by helping the child learn all of the necessary compensatory skills, including communication. It is the specialist teacher's role to assist both you and the child's family members to understand what specific special accommodations are needed. In this way, the specialist teacher supports both you in teaching academics and the children's families.  Working closely and cooperatively with the specialist teacher and teaching assistant can also help you to develop a fruitful ongoing cooperative relationship with the children's families.

Your role as a classroom teacher is to create a learning environment that is as inclusive as possible and that facilitates the student's academic learning. You do not need to become an expert in helping the student with a vision impairment learn how to perform activities of daily living or to improve compensatory skills.

As a mainstream teacher, it is not your responsibility to diagnose or treat vision impairment.  It is your responsibility to develop a basic understanding of the potential needs of students with vision impairments, enabling selection of modifications and accommodations for the optimal provision of the best educational services. It is also the role of the mainstream teacher to take responsibility for working at adapting the environment to meet the expressed needs of students with visual or hearing impairments as much as possible. To accomplish this goal, the mainstream teacher must know the needs and characteristics of the specific students that impact their learning.

It is also the responsibility of the mainstream teacher to become familiar with the tools and methods used by each student, in order to be able to accommodate and meet the needs of students with vision impairment.

Although some students with vision impairment may find it initially challenging to learn to read and write because of various problems, literacy is a fundamental skill that they must learn. It is just as essential for their long-term educational and life success as it is for other children. As the classroom teacher, your role is to make children with vision impairments feel comfortable in your class while they are developing their ability to read and write using adaptive tools and methods with the help of the specialist instructional staff.

In order to most effectively include the child with a vision impairment in your class, you need to know some specifics about his or her individual capacities and needs. You should not be shy about asking either general or specific questions of both the student's family members and the specialized teacher. It is also useful to ask the student some questions, but always be sure to do so after having consulted the adult family members, and privately, rather than in front of other children. It is important that parents understand that the purpose of your inquiry is to help better serve their child.

As soon as you know that a child with vision impairment is entering your class, you should schedule a conference with the specialist teacher and family members to become familiar with adaptations to the classroom environment which will help the child. Additionally, you can explore whether the child uses or can learn to use Braille and/or reading spectacles, magnifiers, hand-held and spectacle mounted telescopes, computer adaptations and video magnification options with closed circuit TV.