Following Roddy Kaye’s comprehensive coverage of organizations and survey of the current situation in ELT regarding Special Needs in Issue 158, we thought readers would be interested in the following interview with Müyesser Yenier, a blind-since-birth English teacher working in a state school in Turkey.
How did you become interested in learning English?
I started like any other student, but as time passed I realized I was interested in English. I did well at school, passed the university entrance exam, and won a place at the Aegean University, Department of English Language and Literature in Izmir. My tutors saw I was determined to learn and they helped me.
Did you enjoy studying at University?
Yes, I did, but I had difficulties because there were no Braille materials except for the books the RNIB lent me by post, although getting the books wasn’t always easy. My friends and tutors read books on tape which was a big help for me.
Did you become a teacher immediately after graduating?
No. I worked as a switchboard operator for a short time, and then in a library where I transcribed English and Turkish books into Braille with the help of volunteer readers. I also transcribed a Turkish-English dictionary. I enjoyed this work more than being a switchboard operator, but later I realized what I really wanted to do was be an English teacher. I had had teacher training as part of my degree course, and my studies had included methodology and educational psychology.
Tell me about how you started teaching.
I became a teacher in a mixed state school in Izmir. The school is mainly for sighted students but there are also a few blind students, which was the reason the Turkish government appointed me to that particular school. Like all other teachers in Turkey, I was a probationary teacher for one year. Things went well, as I had a sighted supervisor working with me who wrote on the board, corrected papers and kept discipline. My supervisor was very pleased with my work.
After the first year, because my spoken English and vocabulary were strong, I was given oral practice classes with sighted students as well as teaching the whole syllabus to blind and partially sighted students.
What kind of problems do you face when teaching?
Teaching sighted students is very enjoyable but there are of course discipline problems when I am alone in the class with them, as they take advantage of the fact that I cannot see. This makes it very tiring, much more so than teaching blind students. But at the same time, it is much more challenging and I like that.
In all areas of teaching the main problem is materials. I don’t have any textbooks except the government-produced English language books in Braille. These are not really suitable for the age of students I teach, 15- and 16-year-old’s. They are designed for younger students and are not challenging enough either for me or my students.
Are there any other sources of materials for blind learners?
No, there aren’t. All my reading material comes from the RNIB or the Braille Institute of America, but these are not teaching materials. They are written for native speakers and of course, they are far too difficult for my learners. I read them for pleasure. As far as I know, there are no Braille books produced by any of the publishers of ELT textbooks.
What would make your job easier?
I would like to have more Braille textbooks at different levels, including course books, grammar reference books and storybooks with grammar exercises, in fact, everything that sighted learners have! I would like to know more about materials available in other countries, for example, I have heard that there are letters that you can feel and arrange on the board, and I’m sure specially adapted Information Technology could also help me, but I just don’t have access to it. These things would enable me to teach more effectively.
Some useful websites
- http://www.rnib.org.uk – Royal National Institute for the Blind
- http://www.sightsavers.org.uk – Sight Savers International
- http://www.aerbvi.org – Journal of the American Association of Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired.
- http://www.icevi.org – International Council for the Education of Visually Impaired People.
- http://www.network.poznan.pl – ELT magazine with an article about teaching blind students,
- Kaye R, Special Needs: A Challenge Neglected by ELT? IATEFL