Excellent Work (Japan)
"White Blackboard"
Osamu Kurikawa (50, male, teacher) Niigata Prefecture

Carrying a braille textbook and bag in my left hand and a white cane in my right, I entered the social studies classroom. The students gathered around to say good morning. A boy on duty used a chain hanging down from the ceiling to pull down a screen. A girl on duty moved a trolley from the teacher’s desk to the usual place for screening. Then she put the projector’s control switch on the trolley. “Here you go”, I said as I gave another girl the attendance book. Just then, the bell rang to indicate the beginning of class. “Well, let’s start”, I said. Someone said “Stand up” and then everyone chimed “Onegaishimasu!” in greeting. Moving my finger down the list, I called out the students’ names to check their attendance. When I opened my laptop PC, there was the sound of a motor and the words “parliamentary cabinet system” came up on the screen.
 
“Today, we will study the British system of government. Look at this figure.” I moved the cursor to display an image on the screen. Someone said, “Sir, I can’t see the image well; it’s blurry.”
 
Starting from this year, I’ve been working on developing a computerized blackboard. The idea is to use a computer and a projector screen to display text and figures that used to be written on a traditional blackboard. I transcribe the key teaching points using an audio word processor and emphasize important words in a different color. This way, I can display on the screen data that I have prepared in advance. The system was working well up to now. Today I tried to display a scanned image showing the relationship between the British parliament and ministries. For the first time, it didn’t work properly. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the students also said they couldn’t read the text either, as it was blurry. I couldn’t continue the class under these circumstances. It looked like I would have to use taiyo-shi again, the method I was using in the classroom until last year.
 
Instead of a blackboard, I used to write text and figures on large sheets of paper (called taiyo-shi here in Niigata). I would write a draft on my word processor and have an assistant teacher transcribe it in large letters onto the taiyo-shi. After that, I would put stickers with braille text next to the appropriate sections of text. This was a painstaking and time-consuming process. My goal this year is to avoid all this trouble by being able to control the board by myself.
 
One mechanically minded boy came up to the projector and noted that it wasn’t properly focused. He then adjusted the lens, whereupon the students burst into applause and someone shouted, “You did it!”. The text and images were now displayed clearly on the screen. A girl sitting at the front expressed her relief: “Good for you, sir.” “Thank you”, I answered and was moved to tears.
 
My eyesight worsened rapidly during the summer when I was 27 years old. I couldn’t see the text I wrote in chalk on the blackboard. If I tried guessing, I would end up writing words on top of each other. I was transferred to a blind school and then, five years later, back to a normal high school. At that time, I received a letter from the director of the high school that outlined some teaching issues likely to arise for me. Among them was the issue of how I would use a wide blackboard to organize large amounts of information for students to take notes from. I sensed the director’s anxiety and resistance in his use of the words “wide” and “large amount”, but it just served to spur me on. I said there were plenty of techniques I could use to help me write legibly on the blackboard. For example, I could use magnetic phrase cards. At the same time, I asked a local volunteer braille transcription group and another group that rewrites books in large-sized font to transcribe the designated blackboard text from the teacher’s manual onto taiyo-shi and to attach braille stickers next to the text. This way, I was able to be ready for class.
 
It was the first time for me to teach at a normal high school after the onset of my visual disorder. The students welcomed me with anxiety and interest, obviously wondering how a blind person would be able to teach at a normal school. I explained my career and my handicap and reminded them that everyone has both strong and weak points. I told them you have to work hard on what you can do and get others to help you when needed and cover what you can’t do. That’s what being human and belonging to a community is all about. I vowed to work very hard on what I could do, and asked them to do their best to cooperate with me. When I asked for volunteers to take care of the attendance book and put the taiyo-shi on the blackboard, lots of students offered to help.
 
At first, it was thought that you couldn’t use magnets on the blackboard, so we stuck the taiyo-shi up with tape every time. During the latter half of the first term, I tried magnets, just to see if they’d work. We found that magnets could indeed be used on a blackboard. In fact, it was a cinch to attach the taiyo-shi to the blackboard with magnets. The students laughed and clapped and we all wondered what we’d been doing before. I made the serious point that we shouldn’t simply believe rumors and hearsay on face value; we should always seek real, scientific proof. I could sense the students smiling mischievously.
 
I have been able to continue working as a teacher thanks to the support of my students and lots of other people. By turning my appreciation into energy, I want to keep on teaching at school and put my efforts into human education.


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