By Teachers, For Teachers
As a teacher, it is commonly known that students are not always vocal about issues they are experiencing. Problems can arise in many forms such as peer issues, medical issues, emotional/social issues, home issues, and mental issues, to name a few. Students generally show signs of issues in some way, shape, or form, and teachers usually have a keen sense of something being “off”. This blog will dive more specifically into identifying students that may have a vision problem.
There are many physical signs that may present themselves when a student is experiencing a vision problem. None of these signs seem overly concerning when experienced in isolation or just on occasion, but experienced frequently and in combination with each other can be a sign that there is something more going on. Signs such as constant eye-rubbing, eye redness, squinting, tilting of the head to one side, covering one eye, holding books very close to the face, and even frequent blinking can alert a teacher that something is “a little off”. Students may also experience frequent and/or severe headaches when a vision problem is present.
When vision problems exist and are not identified, students can begin to experience issues in the classroom. For example, students may present an inability to pay attention throughout the day. This could simply be due to the fact that they cannot see what is happening. A teacher may be modeling how to solve math problems, and the student just cannot see it; therefore they may not pay attention and miss valuable learning moments.
Likewise, students may respond inappropriately to directions or rules. If the directions/rules include a piece that would require the student to use vision that they are lacking, they may act out in order to try to avoid this particular direction. This may present itself as a behavior issue, but in fact is a defense mechanism as the student does not want to feel “different” than the other students in the class and may not want to feel embarrassed in front of them, as well.
You may see whispering in the class and feel students are cheating or not following directions, but the reality behind it is that the student with a vision problem is asking another student to read something from the board for him/her, or asking for clarification on an assignment. These behaviors may warrant the teacher to scold or reprimand the student, when, in fact, it is not a behavior issue at all.
Currently, there is a huge emphasis being placed on social-emotional learning in the classroom, and vision problems can affect this as students may not be able to see body language or facial expressions that would be important in determining the context of a statement or action. Students may also be clumsier when experiencing vision problems. Tripping over items in the classroom, missing a chair, or accidentally walking into someone are all different actions that can take place when a student cannot see well.
Ultimately, with these events taking place in either isolation or combination with one another, students can experience a loss of academic growth. Vision problems can create a multitude of obstacles for a student to overcome without the student even being aware. Student achievement can suffer because the student simply cannot see as well as they should and maybe do not realize their vision is lacking. They may also be embarrassed to say something because they “don’t want to have to wear glasses” or “they don’t want to get made fun of”. There is no one reason why a student shouldn’t mention the struggle they are having, but sometimes it takes a teacher to recognize this, as the problem may not present itself so clearly at home.
As a teacher, if you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, you should first talk to the student. Pull them aside and say something such as, “I noticed you have been squinting. Are you struggling to see the board?” If you have noticed mood or behavior changes, you could also mention that to the student, making sure to include that the behaviors are not typical of them.
A good second step is to send the student to the school nurse to have his/her vision screened. The school nurse can then determine whether the student needs to go to see an optometrist outside of school. Calling the parents to let them know of your observations and actions is also a good idea at this point. Then the school nurse can further address any vision issues or any follow-up necessary with the parents.
While this issue is being addressed, using preferential seating is a good idea, as well as making sure the room is safe and free of obstacles. You want to make sure the student is being given every opportunity to meet success and stay safe.
Vision issues can cause much negative impact to a student’s performance in school and confidence levels. As a teacher, identifying an issue such as this can really save the day! As Henry Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” As a teacher, something as small as identifying a vision problem shows the students that you care about them, and you don’t know the everlasting impact that could have!
Jessica is a 5th grade teacher and holds an MA in Administration and Leadership from Georgian Court University, NJ.