I started my teaching career at Front Range Community College about three years before I started teaching at CSU. This is where I met Kerri, a student who remains a good friend of mine to this day.
Kerri was in one of the first classes I ever taught. I walked into the beginning sociology class that I was teaching and saw her sitting in the front row with a working dog.
My first thought was “here’s a challenge,” but before I had even finished I told myself that I had all of the tools in my cranium to help this woman succeed in my classroom. I don’t know why I assumed that she was blind, but in fact I was right.
I walked right over to the front table, stuck my hand out to hers (thank goodness she had enough sight to see it) and said, “Hi, my name is Anne Marie, what can I do to help you succeed in this class?”
I don’t know who was more shocked — Kerri, who was more than used to having to fight for what she needed to succeed in the classroom — or me, that I could say the right thing at the right time, which never seems to happen when it needs to.
In those early days of teaching, I lectured. I figured this was what teaching was all about. I was lectured to all of my life, and I figured I would carry on this tradition.
I would write an outline on the board, and then give definitions and describe concepts to the best of my ability, sometimes using newspaper clippings from the Coloradoan to talk about the social interactions on an everyday level. I also used to give tests.
From her tests, I knew that Kerri could describe all that I tried to convey in class. She was an “A” student on paper, but not a part of the conversations that are always a part of my classroom.
I let every student participate in class in his or her unique way. Some are talkers, others thinkers.
Several weeks into the semester, Kerri took me aside and said, “I just don’t get it.”
I said that I did not understand — from her test scores I knew that she was “getting it.”
“No,” she reiterated, “I don’t understand what you and the rest of the class are talking about.”
Then it dawned on me that we were examining life as we saw it — from visual experiences Kerri could not have.
It took a blind woman to teach me a life lesson, that as a society we judge people by what we see on the outside, and at the outset, not by anything of substance. This lesson goes along with what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had rallied against four decades ago. His quote is part of his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. His dream was that his children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but for the content of their character.
If you think about it, those of us with sight judge our lives by everything that we see, and act in reaction to those visuals.
Now, I will be the first to admit that I seek out beauty in my life. I seek out art, flowers, beautiful buildings, fabric and leaves that turn beautiful colors in the autumn.
As I get older, I understand what Kerri has understood her whole life — that the beauty in life can also be hidden from sight. It can be an idea, it can be love from someone, a lesson of wizardry from an eight-year-old, and it can be a cello concerto while holding the arm of the one you love. The trick is to close your eyes and understand beauty from within.
Sometimes, lessons that are learned in the classroom are not so academic, and sometimes the lessons learned are retained for longer than the time period in which the test is given.
Anne Marie Merline is an instructor for the University Honors Program. Her column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to email@example.com.