Cultivating In and Out of the Garden

Louis Braille School teacher Dianne Ferrell has an impressive collection of stories and a gift for spinning everyday wisdom.

Her background information follows the short piece, below.

This is just one of many articles about Dianne that you’ll have a chance to read as the Louis Braille School Blog continues…

Cultivating In and Out of the Garden

Teachers of young children have interesting stories to tell.

Often they think back to their own youth and remember things they did that are similar to what their students do now.

Sometimes they think about experiences that have shaped their approach to teaching.

Dianne recently told me of a time when she was around 9-years-old and helping her mother in the garden.

“I picked up an earthworm,” she said, “and put it in my hand. The ability it had to burrow in the earth, and the feel of it, fascinated me. I wanted to talk to it.

“So I started moving my other hand in a chopping motion against the hand that held the earthworm, and it began to bounce up and down. The worm rapidly curled and uncurled its body. I said, ‘I can’t talk to you, earthworm, but I know you react to what I do.’ Then I gently put it back on the ground.”

Dianne paused and smiled while I waited to hear how she would relate the story to her teaching (as I knew she would).

“Not being able to communicate in one way doesn’t mean we can’t communicate in another way,” she continued. “When I think about that time in the garden, it reminds me of how important it is to be sensitive to other people’s feelings. I try putting myself in other people’s places when I’m teaching. It helps me to remember kids must be taught to be considerate. They may have a considerate bent, but it needs to be cultivated.”

Dianne Ferrell joined the teaching staff of the Louis Braille School this year. She got her start in special education as a vocational/rehab counselor to young people in Philadelphia.

After noticing many of them experienced declining vision that made reading large print impossible, she asked why they hadn’t learned braille. “Our teachers said it wasn’t necessary,” they told her.

Dianne saw it differently. “They were functionally illiterate,” she says, “by relying on tape recordings or having their spouses read to them.” Her initial thought was to wish she had been their teacher—so she could have had the opportunity to teach them braille.

Wishful thinking changed to reality after she continued her education and eventually became a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI), a degree she earned at Hunter College in New York.

Dianne has taught in New York, Los Angeles, Los Alamos, and in Washington State.

Over ten years ago she met Carolyn Meyer, who was then head of the Louis Braille Center in Seattle. Carolyn told Dianne of her dream to someday start a private school for blind and partially sighted students. “If you start that school,” Dianne said, “I want to work there.”

Dianne finds the Louis Braille School very different from any other school she’s taught in. “The time I can spend with each student is very important,” she says. “It allows me to take a holistic approach to education. I’m able to incorporate social and daily living skills within the academic program. For example, if a student sneezes and doesn’t cover his mouth, the lesson stops and I tell the student the importance of covering up when sneezing or coughing.

“In other schools where I have taught, time with each student was at such a premium I couldn’t pause, even for something as important as that.”

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