Why You Should Have A Tutor From Your School


As a student with low vision, I often struggle reading numbers and graphs in my classes.  This isn’t because of a math disorder, it’s just that I have trouble seeing. I was fortunate enough to have tutors, who were teachers at my school, that were able to give me extra assistance with my assignments and help me realize that while my eyes may not like all of the numbers and tiny font involved, my brain loves math, and I am quite good at it- I even scored in the 99th percentile for mental math on my ACT (more on those accommodations here). Here are some of the ways having a tutor from my school helped me succeed in the classroom. Please note that these tutors were at a paid private tutoring service, and I never had lessons in the school.

They know the curriculum

In my first school district, there was a standard curriculum that all of the teachers would follow, so there was little to no differences in course content between teachers. As a result, my tutor was able to easily see what we did in class that day and explain concepts I was stuck on.

More likely to understand disabilities

The teachers who do tutoring outside of school hours really do care about their students and are highly likely to follow disability accommodations. My tutors were always awesome about using large print and computer apps during our sessions, something I really appreciated.

Access to textbooks

There were classes where I did not receive accessible textbooks on time, and the teacher would be frequently referencing a textbook I couldn’t see. My tutors had access to the same textbooks and would help me work through practice problems, drawing the problems on the board or having me write/type them out.

A look inside the classroom

While there wasn’t a lot of variation with course content, the teachers were dramatically different. Because they worked at the same school, my tutors could come observe the classroom for short periods of time and see what was going on, something that was incredibly helpful when I was routinely given inaccessible materials.

Get assignments from the teacher

One time, I was given an oral quiz because the teacher didn’t have time to enlarge my assignment. I got a 5 on the quiz…out of 100. After my tutor heard about this, they were able to get a copy of the quiz from my teacher and then we made it into an accessible format.  The original grade shot up 90 points when I retook the quiz later that day, with accessible materials.

Help provide guidance

When I was in classes where my IEP was not followed, my tutors would give me and my family guidance on how to handle these situations, or give us ideas on what to say to administration. This was very helpful, especially when I was starting at a new school and didn’t know a lot of the staff members yet.

They can be helpful in stressful situations

I had a teacher make it abundantly clear to me that I would not be receiving accessible materials while in their classroom. Following this, my tutor received permission from the school to let me work on assignments in their classroom, removing me from the stressful environment and allowing me to focus on my classwork- which they enlarged for me. For more on my accommodations for print materials, click here.

Practice using assistive technology…or not using it.

If a student uses assistive technology or alternative technology resources in the classroom, a tutor can help the student learn to integrate it into the classroom, and learn how to use the different devices. And if the student has no technology in the classroom, like how I didn’t have a graphing calculator, then they can spend more time teaching the student how to do things by hand, a topic that some teachers may not cover.

Help demonstrate understanding

When I don’t receive accessible materials, I can’t complete assignments, and some teachers would assume this was because I was stupid, when the reality was that I couldn’t see. When I completed assignments with my tutor in an accessible format, I would get very high grades, which would serve as evidence that the content wasn’t the problem, it was how it was given to me- in small print I couldn’t reaed. Read more about collecting evidence for IEP violations here.

It shows the student is trying

We always let my teachers know that I was receiving tutoring once a week from a teacher at the school, and that went a long way in showing the teachers that I was trying, and making an effort in the class. We also told my case managers and school administration about my tutoring services, especially during IEP meetings.

Having access to tutors that taught at my school was an amazing resource that really helped me in the classroom, especially in classes where my IEP was viewed as “optional.” I highly recommend that students find a tutor like this- ask the teacher or head of the department at school for tutor names, or look at private tutoring places in town to see if there are any teachers from the same school, or at least the same school district.

How Do People With Low Vision…Participate in Theater?


My freshman year of high school, I had the opportunity to participate in a school wide play competition. Each grade presented a student-written and directed one act play and competed against the other grades to see who had the best performance. While I don’t remember what place we got in the competition, it was still an awesome way to try something new, make new friends, and strengthen existing friendships. Here are some of my tips on participating in theater with low vision.

Talk to the director, if necessary, about your disability

Since I had been friends with the director of the play back in middle school, they already knew I had terrible eyesight and it never even occurred to them that my vision impairment would be a problem. The drama teacher was mildly worried, but trusted the director that everything would be fine. If I had needed to convince someone to let me participate in theater, I would have shown my IEP and requested accommodations using that. Here is my post on explaining extracurricular accommodations.

Ask for the script in large print

For small productions, getting an entire copy of the script in large print is usually easy to do. For more intricate productions, it may be more difficult. If large print is impossible to get, use a magnifier or see if you can get a digital copy of the script loaded onto an iPad or similar device.

Memorize lines as quickly as possible

When it comes to printed materials, the larger the print is, the more paper there is, and therefore the finished materials can be very heavy. I had about twenty lines in the play and memorized them all before the first rehearsal so I didn’t have to worry about carrying the script.

When in doubt, improvise

Can’t figure out what a line says? Improvise! Do not spend more than ten seconds trying to figure out what a word says. Often times my best lines were the ones I improvised.

Do not remove your glasses

This was never an issue for me, but if you need to wear your tinted glasses for photosensitivity, do not let anyone try to convince you to go without them. Having your eyes burning on stage, where lights are typically brighter, is not a fun experience. Also, it can be interpreted as discrimination.

Have someone on stage be a guide

I’d known about half of my fellow cast members since elementary/middle school, and the other half were band students that eventually became some of my close friends. As a result, they were used to my vision impairment, and were happy to help guide me on stage and make sure I didn’t fall over the edge. For one scene, I always stayed close to another cast member who helped me navigate around the crowded stage.

Request no sharp lighting

Because of my photosensitivity, I never had the spotlight directly on me or bright lights shining in my face. It’s rather hard to concentrate when it feels like your eyes are on fire, after all.

Have someone verbally announce stage cues

Often times, stage cues are given using a series of hand gestures, often from the other side of the stage. I always had someone give me a verbal cue for when to go on stage, and this helped me from not going on stage too early or too late because I couldn’t see my cue.

No flash photography

The director and school staff reminded the audience several times not to use flash photography, mentioning it was dangerous for the people on stage. If people tell you this is a ridiculous request, tell them that this is a policy for Broadway plays and other professional performances, and the same courtesy should be extended to this production.

You belong

Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t belong on stage, or that you shouldn’t participate in theater because of your low vision.  After all, you belong. Theater is an awesome experience, and every student should be able to participate in it, regardless of their disability. There are many talented actors and actresses with disabilities, as well as characters from popular movies, TV shows, and plays.

I’m grateful that I was able to be included in theater, at least for one production, and that no one seemed to care that I had low vision or ran into walls a lot. The theater community I have found is very accepting of differences, and I encourage anyone who is considering participating in theater to try it at least once.

High School Mentorships


During my senior year of high school, I received the opportunity to take a class which allowed students to be paired up with mentors in the community, and shadow them at their jobs. I had the unique experience of doing my mentorship at the elementary school I attended for six years, and it was an amazing experience I learned a lot from. Here are ten reasons why doing a mentorship is great for students, and things I learned from my own.

Getting a mentorship

Before I get into the reasons why mentorships are awesome, I thought I would share how and why I chose mine. I originally thought I wanted to work in video production, which had been a huge interest of mine all through school. I didn’t think there would be many opportunities to work with assistive technology in my town. Problem is, video production is highly visual, and it was difficult to find someone who wasn’t apprehensive about having someone with low vision. However, after thinking for a while, I decided to talk to my elementary school technology teacher, who said they would be happy to have me shadow them in the classroom and work with all types of students. They knew I had low vision, and they were excellent about integrating me into the classroom both when I was a student and when they mentored me.

Working with a variety of people

The elementary school I worked with had a very diverse student population. There were students who spoke English as a second language, students with disabilities, students from other countries, and so much more. I got to learn a lot about different age groups and observe how they acted.

Investigating desired career

I knew going into this mentorship that I wanted to work in assistive technology, with the goal of developing tools for students with disabilities. By working with students who have disabilities and students without them in a computer lab setting, I learned a lot about how they use technology and how it can help them.

Practicing and applying skills

On many days, I was helping students learn to outline, create, and edit videos, a useful skill I had learned when I was their age. I was able to learn a surprising amount of information about video production while working with them, as well as pass down what I had learned to these students.

Leadership

Being the oldest sibling, I have developed natural leadership qualities, and working with an elementary school really helped me to refine these skills. I learned a lot about how to explain topics and work with students, as well as learn to be a role model, especially for the 9-11 year old students.

Learning from the adults around you

I worked with a lot of fantastic teachers who were always willing to show me what they had learned in their years of experience. Some of the topics included technology usage, classroom management, behavior, and even inclusion of students with disabilities.

Looks great on a resumé

When I did college interviews, I was frequently asked about two things- my Microsoft Office certifications, and my mentorship. The colleges loved to see that I was applying what I had learned outside of the traditional classroom setting, and that I was really passionate about what I wanted to study. When I did an interview for a local college, they asked me even more questions about it, because most students chose to take AP classes instead of doing a mentorship, and they were more interested in knowing why I chose to work with an elementary school than what my final grade was in AP Psychology.

Educating others

Because I had attended this elementary school for six years (kindergarten through fifth grade), I knew a lot of the teachers that I worked with. Since not much was known about how poor my eyesight was back in elementary school, a lot of my teachers were surprised to see how high achieving I was, even though my vision is so poor. I was able to educate the teachers on low vision and things I had learned over the years about my condition.

Learn workplace adaptions

Lucky for me, I am going into a career that embraces disabilities and accessibility. Working with the elementary school allowed me to understand what I can do easily and what may require additional assistance, as well as understand what assistive technology I could use to help me at my future job.

Learn things no class can offer

One of the questions I am asked somewhat frequently in college is if I took any classes related to my major in high school. Well, I am yet to encounter a class in a public high school about assistive technology, so I didn’t have the opportunity to take any formal classes for my major. However, my mentorship helped prepare me for what I would study in college and teach me about my desired field. Mentorships are awesome for students going into less traditional majors.

A memorable experience

I absolutely loved working with everyone at my mentorship, and found myself more emotional at the fifth grade graduation than I was at my own graduation. I am so fortunate that I was able to attend my elementary school for an additional year and see everything that has changed, so I can keep these things in mind for my future career. I highly recommend that every student do a mentorship or job shadow in high school, at least once.

Dear High School Teacher


I’m one of the new students in your class this year. You probably received a copy of my SAP, 504, or IEP in advance, and likely have an idea of who I am based on it. However, there are ten things that I would like to request of you, to keep in mind as the school year progresses. I might admit these things to you, I might be scared to say anything, or I might not even realize I want you to do these things. Every student is unique, but these ten things will help me tremendously:

Follow my IEP

In high school, I have the option to drop out of school, something I never had in elementary or middle school. Please don’t make me feel like I am incapable of learning, or that people with low vision don’t deserve to be in school. I might take those things to heart.

Give me a partner

Don’t make me sit away from all of the other students because I am different. Give me a partner in class that I can reach out to if I can’t see something, or that will help me with difficult assignments. Sometimes, you won’t have to choose a partner for me- one of my friends might already be in our class, and they understand my low vision.

Let me use technology in class

I know it’s tempting to take away cell phones and other devices, but I use them for my learning. I wrote here about why I can see my phone, but not small print.  I use my phone as a magnifying glass, my laptop for taking notes, my iPad for accessing online resources, and other devices. Technology is not a crutch for me, rather it enables me to succeed.

Don’t assume I’m cheating

I can’t see small font or pencil, which is why I use large print and high contrast pens. Don’t assume I am cheating off of my sighted peers next to me, as I don’t have much peripheral vision and can’t read what they are writing. And don’t even consider that I cheated off of someone behind me.

Teach me to self-advocate

I won’t be in high school forever, and it’s likely I will be moving on to post-secondary education. Teach me how I receive my accommodations and how to ask for them, so I am not left wondering these things after I graduate.  Learn more about self-advocating here.

Help me figure out where I’m going

These high school hallways are confusing, and a lot of the classrooms look the same. If you see me wandering the halls or constantly getting lost, help me navigate to wherever I am going. If you aren’t sure if I need help, ask. I might not know to look for you.

Don’t tell me how unfair my disability is

I take it pretty hard at this age when I am told that my disability or accommodations are unfair to other students. A lot of teenagers go through a phase where they wish they could get rid of their SAP, 504, or IEP and be like a normal student. It’s because there are teachers that complain about giving students extra time or large print. If it’s such a problem, why not give the entire class these resources? My geography teacher did this, and noticed a lot of grades improved, and a few students even found out they needed glasses.

Encourage me to challenge myself, and reach my potential

It’s easy to tell me I am doing good enough just by getting a C in your class, or to think I am doing good enough for a visually impaired student. Am I doing good enough as a student without a visual impairment? Would you be concerned if another student got a low grade or missed a question like I did on a test? Don’t lower your expectations just because I have lower vision. I can surprise you!

Help me find what I’m passionate about

In high school, there is a high emphasis on sports and other activities I may be excluded from because of my low vision. Help me to develop my interests and find what I am passionate about. Maybe I love music and could join band, or am interested in technology and could take a computer class (maybe even getting a Microsoft certification).  If it seems like no extracurricular activities exist for what I am interested in (this happened with assistive technology), ask me about them and let me talk to you about them.  I’m always excited when someone asks me about low vision, assistive technology, or issues with disability life.

Tell me how proud you are of me

One of the best things that a teacher can tell me is that they are proud of me. When I have teachers that tell me how they wish they never had me as a student, that can be very discouraging. Tell me that you appreciate me as a member of your class, and that you are proud of me. You’ll be remembered as one of my favorite teachers.

I thank you in advance for the influence you will have on me.  I hope that after I leave your class and graduate, I’ll be able to visit and show you all the cool things I have been up to.  Maybe it will be a cool internship, an acceptance into a highly competitive program, or an awesome website about one of my passions.  You’ll likely inspire me somehow.

Sincerely,

Your new student with low vision