The Gifts of Sight and Insight

Today I woke up very early. The reason: cataract surgery in my left eye. I did not sleep a wink, but this is not unusual for me before a big event. I thought I was handling it well until I went to bed, which is when I began ruminating. Otherwise known as worrying.

A newly retired senior, I’ve been having an extremely hard time driving at night and have stopped doing so except for short 5 minute rides nearby. The lights from other cars are so blinding I cannot see well for a moment or two when a car with its brights on passes by. I knew it was time; I wanted to be more independent

But here’s the thing. I am a recently recovered cancer patient, and I just did not want to have any new medical procedures done. Then I got the news: there’s pressure in both my eyes otherwise known as glaucoma. The opthalmologist/surgeon is sure that once the cataracts are gone the pressure will be alleviated. Let’s hope he’s right.

So I’ve had a lot of time to contemplate the importance of vision. Even though we think we understand and appreciate our vision, it’s just like anything else we take for granted most of the time. Just like I took my life for granted before cancer. Well, not really…I was always appreciative of my health when I had it. But vision is so essential to our well being that we cannot imagine not having it, so we don’t, most of the time.

I am being promised much better vision following surgery in both eyes. (I’m having one eye done at a time, which is typical.) I am trying to imagine seeing clearly for the first time after decades of needing eyeglasses first for reading, then for both distance and reading. If it all works out like it’s supposed to, I’ll be seeing quite well without glasses, except for reading. This, in my book, is a miracle.

In my career as an ESL teacher I encountered many children who were having difficulty seeing either close up or distances. I was often the first teacher to detect the problem since I was able to meet with my students in small groups in my pullout program. I could notice things that mainstream teachers often don’t “see” when they are faced with a room full of students, each one needing attention.

I’ve been reading a lot of complaints about the “integrated model” for teaching English as a New Language (ENL), part of the new regulations for teaching ENL under CR Part 154, but until now I hadn’t given much thought to how this would affect ESL students other than giving them less optimal conditions for learning a new language. In my ESL classroom, where I usually sat right next to my students, I have found marks on children being abused, identified communicable rashes and diseases, noticed children who were listless due to hunger, identified children who need eyeglasses and even one child who was nearly blind but hadn’t been identified as such by second grade, and scores of children who are not sleeping properly due to less than perfect home lives.

With so many children coming from homes where resources are few and often strained, these children need the extra vigilance that an extra pair of eyes can provide. Mine were the extra pair. Now that ESL teachers are having to run from classroom to classroom to co-teach in mainstream classrooms, who will be that extra set of eyes?

There is so much to “see” when you are teacher. Let’s not forget that as we continue to struggle with our students’ academic success, we need to “see” them as children whose physical and mental well being is just as important, if not more so.