Author: Youran Wang
Beijing No.4 High School International Campus
It is commonly believed that blind students are a minority group in society and they are different from regular students. Not only other people, but even teachers in blind schools also have stereotypes towards blind students. This is caused by several reasons, shown by nine well-designed interviews with blind students and teachers in Qingdao School For The Blind. The grounded theory regarded as the basis of interviewing reveals the fact that teachers “ lack systematic training of teaching ability”, “thought that teaching in blind school is a stable and relaxing job”, and believe “blind school is not an idealistic workplace”. These stereotypes are then categorized into other stereotypes about understanding difficult concepts, taking care of themselves, and career choices. The contribution of this research is to raise people’ s awareness of how these stereotypes influence blind students and to encourage resource partitioning. Meanwhile, the government can reconsider the education system for blind students by assigning higher quality teaching resources to them and leading to a dramatic change in blind students’ future paths.
Data from the seventh National Census show that 10 percent of China’s population is disabled. Among the disabled people, more than 8.3 million are blind. The blind people are actually not a minority group of society but they do not receive enough education resources. Based on the data from Ministry of Education, there are 27 blind school in China and 14,600 regular high schools nationwide; at the same time, there are 62,400 full-time teachers in blind school and 2,028,300 teachers in regular high schools. The lack of teaching resources reflects that government does not attach the core to the education of blind students and it is an underdeveloped area.
Previous studies have already investigated existing stereotypes towards blind people. The study of Odile reported that “at an implicit level, persons with a disability were associated not only with less competence than persons without disability but also with less warmth.” (Odile et.al, 2012) Fiske researched and believed that notion comes from two concept which are warmth that refers to the extent to which the target of the stereotype is believed to be “warm and trustworthy” and “sincere” and “competence”, refers to the extent to which the target is believed to be “competent, intelligent, skilled, and efficient, as well as assertive and confident.”(Fiske,2018, p. 68) People simply assume that blind people do not social with regular people, which in long term leads to the sense of inferiority and insufficient social opportunities for blind people. Additionally, it is widely believed that disabled people do not always wish to be associated with other impairment groups for a variety of complex reasons, including competing for scarce allocations of funding/resources, sexual attraction, stigma, etc. (Mark Deal, 2003) As a result, at any field, when a small group of blind people become predominant experts, they are respected by others due to the dread of communication. Films and documentaries have most direct reflection of social current belief, which contain expression of stereotype towards blind people, as well. Brylla reports that documentaries about blind people, such as Blindsight (2006) and High Ground (2012), have repeatedly deployed character-led and obstacle-laden narrative formulas that render the visually impaired character either as the ‘supercrip’ or the ‘tragic figure’. (Brylla et.al, 2016) Furthermore, many well-organized researches have already paid attention to blind students’ education including subject teaching method and institution of special courses, education for blind students at different ages, historical review and practice of curriculum system. From a historical perspective, Nordstrom categorized the history period of education of disabled people: indifference or segregation, pity and humanitarianism, self-reliance and social integration (Nordstrom et.al, 1986). We are currently at the last period.
Although education of blind students and stereotypes towards blind children are researched by existing literatures comprehensively, few of them relate two area together, leaving a blank space for future research. Some questions appear: what are teacher’s potential stereotypes towards students in blind school? How do teacher’s background, experience and desire for that particular job cause those stereotypes? This research focuses on the causes that lead to these stereotypes and specific teachers’ stereotypes towards the education of high school blind students in Qingdao School For The Blind. Furthermore, this research will provide persuasive details for teachers realize that they can fulfill self-accomplishments while teaching blind students and alter their perception that blind school is not an ideal workplace. The completion of this research will not only awaken all teachers of schools of blinds to change their potential stereotypes and remind teachers to treat blind students the same as regular students, but also, raising people awareness of how these stereotypes influence blind students. Without such insight, more educational resources and working opportunities will be accessible to blind students who are currently standing on the edge of society, and blind students can be granted with a bright future. Moreover, the quality of teachers of blind school can be improved by using people’s empathy and their desire of challenges, which lead to the unprecedented conversion of blind students’ career path and access of education resources. The researcher hopes that the research can pull blind students back from the edge of the society.
The survey data of this research consists of four teachers and five high school students in Qingdao School For The Blind. In order to understand existing stereotypes and their cases, several interview questions are designed (shown in appendix). Corbin & Strauss (1990) provides the ground theory for this research. The interviewees are mostly students from grade twelve and teachers from both high school and technical secondary school departments. The suervey contains information such as gender, grade, teaching subject and time stayed in the school, which can lead to comprehensive findings. The table of sample characteristic is presented below.
Qingdao School For The Blind is chosen as the interview subject, since it is one of the few blind schools that offer high school certification to students. Meanwhile, there is no restriction on students’ Hukou, which means that every student who achieves the entry standard can enroll the school. Furthermore, Qingdao School For The Blind can present the best education resources for blind students, and teachers are more qualified comparing to other blind schools due to its strict entry standard. Therefore, the stereotypes that exist in Qingda o School F or The Blind are representative for blind schools in general and can provide an holistic insight.
Interviews were taken online through meeting app because of the Covid-19. All interviews were recorded by phone after interviewees’ consent, and then transformed into text version as the evidences of findings.
The researcher asked questions to interviewees on the perspective of an enthusiastic student who is interested in education of blind students and willing to bring some changes. On the other hand, teachers are willing to share shortcomings of school and feel relieved that people are concerning the problems. As the result, researcher has received several appealing personal experiences and found many realistic problems. The researcher encourages both students and teachers to tell their stories and asks about students’ feeling towards teacher’s negligence, because emotional words can directly display feelings which influences students’ self-confidence. By asking questions with such position and trick, both teachers and students can share their experiences, problems and feelings frankly which lead to the smooth process of the interviews.
The findings from interviews are in two categories: one is the existing stereotypes among teachers, which includes three kinds of stereotypes between teachers and students; the other category are causes that lead to stereotypes, which illustrates the connection between teachers’ background and stereotypes. The following figure provides an overview of the findings.
Category 1: Existing stereotypes among teachers
From students’ experiences and teachers’ descriptions in interviews, it is obvious that there are several stereotypes in blind schools which affect students’ education. The stereotypes are summarized into the following three subcategories:
Stereotype A: Assumption that blind students cannot understand difficult concepts
The textbooks of blind students are the same as regular students and include many comparatively difficult courses for blind students, such as geometry, English and so on. But the examinations for blind students is easier than that for regular students, so some teachers ignore the hard concepts and assume that blind students cannot understand them. Student Zhang stressed that some teachers will design and make accurate geometry figures for them to understand in her previous school; however, in Qingdao School For The Blind, teachers will teach them no other figures unrelated to the exam:
“When I was in junior high school, teachers would supplement us with a lot of extra knowledge, because they thought we were equal to regular students and have the ability to learn. But teachers in Qingdao School For The Blind usually follow the textbook. And if figures are not drew in the textbook, they basically skip it. Teachers rarely teach us mathematical, sometimes trigonometry, but never geometry. In fact, I think we are capable of learning some extra topics in the book, but the teachers always say that it is too complicated to be described to us.”
——Student Zhang, Female, Grade 11, Studying for 1 year
As Student Zhang mentions in the interview, although students prefer to include some topics beyond exam range and improve their spatial imagination ability, teachers tend to have the stereotype that blind students cannot understand those concepts and give up in practicing their ability to understand geometry. Overall, such behavior will negatively influence blind students’ development of spatial thinking and miss the chance to improve spatial imagination ability.
Stereotype B: Misperception that most blind students cannot take care of themselves
Many blind students have difficulties in moving conveniently in the classroom building, and some teachers tend to provide extra protections and prepare everything for them. Although it seems kind and thoughtful, some blind students are more willing to face challenges by themselves, so that they can develop self-protect ability and be able to protect and take care of themselves after graduation. For example, student Yu mentioned that in high school, everything is well-prepared because of teachers’ concerns, however, she actually wishes to complete the tasks more by herself.
“ [I remembered that] Sometimes teacher will arrange some tasks, such as looking for someone to sign and so on. Because we are not very convenient to travel through buildings, teacher normally help us to do so. Personally, I think if the teacher just tells me the location, as there are Braille letters next to the house number, I can find the way myself. I really enjoy the process of finding the location by myself, after all, there may not be people to help us every single time in the future. Moreover, since the teacher thought it was not convenient for us to find locations, they also form an impression that we cannot complete other tasks well.”
——Student Yu, Female, Grade 11, Studying for 1 year
Student Yu stresses that teachers do not trust blind students to fulfill tasks by themselves, even though they have the ability to finish it. She argues that blind students require more practicing opportunities, because as they leave the school, they ought to ensure basic livings by taking care of themselves. However, due to teachers’ concerns, students lose the opportunities to conquer difficulties and develop skills.
Stereotype C: Belief that blind students are hard to finish “Gaokao” and massagist is the only career option
Gaokao is China’s national high school graduation and the gateway of future path for most regular students, everyone will pay efforts to achieve the best score. In contrast, although blind students have the ability and intention to participate Gaokao to grasp the chance to change their lives, teachers do not recommend students to attend it and will not provide assistance for them. Mr. Li, a Chinese teacher, mentioned one of his experiences by telling students massagist is their best choice in the interview. He spontaneously considered that blind students do not have the ability to complete Gaokao from heart which limits the students’ future career:
“ The first problem is the college entrance. Although our school has many successful examples of students taking the general college entrance examination, school generally does not support it and provide no resources. Students who want to take the test can only go out to find training institutions for preparation. The second problem is work and I had a personal experience. I used to tell my students: ‘even though most of you don’t like massagist work. But there are many massagist shops in Qingdao, and the income is high. For example, they can make over $100 for 20 minutes, which is way higher than my salary as a teacher. With such employment condition, a lot of students are not willing to take classes.’ Later on, I reflected on my behavior and thought it was too biased. As far as I know, there are many children in our class, who have their own interests, but as a teacher I was too pragmatic which becomes a potential stereotype.”
——Teacher Li, Male, Chinese, Teaching for 1 year
Here in the blind school, students cannot get access to the resources to prepare for Gaokao, because teachers believe massagist is the easiest career option for students and ignore students’ interests and other job opportunities. Although not many students will choose Gaokao which is a stressful and difficult, school should provide more opportunities and resources for students to grant them with a bright future.
Category 2: Factors that lead to stereotypes
Above stereotypes are formed gradually even without conscious, because blind school’s teachers do not have systematic training and are not as professional as regular school’s teachers. That leads to the second category which is the factors that lead to the stereotypes that are mainly about teacher experiences, which can be summarized into the following three subcategories:
Factor A: Lack of systematic training of teaching ability
Different from regular schools, many teachers in blind school are not majored in education study, and have never approached to education before working. Therefore, most teachers miss the professional and complete training about special education including teaching method, mock lessons and teaching cautions. Mrs. Liu, who has worked in Qingdao School For The Blind for twenty-eight years, mentioned that when she first began teaching, she was nervous and confused because she never imagined becoming a teacher before:
“I didn’t want to be a teacher when I was young, but when I was about to graduate, my parents found the job for me and then I came to be a teacher. I know nothing about teaching method at first, because I only studied human medicine in university. So I was really confused about teaching. Then, I gradually learned by myself and followed the training in the education system.”
——Teacher Liu, Female, teacher of Theory of traditional Chinese medicine, teaching for twenty-eight years.
Many teachers in blind school are facing the same situation as Mrs. Liu, and they are still freshmen towards education when they start teaching blind students. As a result, teachers are not only nervous to get along with blind students, and need to get to know them through school lives, but also are confused about the process of teaching. Overall, teachers will treat students with misperceptions without detailed understanding towards blind students, and at last, lead to the stereotypes unconsciously.
Factor B: Thought that teaching in blind school is a stable and relaxing job
In China, teacher is a permanent and stable job for a life-time. Especially in blind school, there is no stressful academic pressure for teachers and teacher can check in and out freely as there are less students. Mr. Li, who takes teaching seriously, pointed out a phenomenon among his colleagues that some teachers talk irrelevant topics in class and leave the school immediately after class:
“[I found that] many teachers do not pay enough efforts in their teaching work since they feel their job is stable. I used to be under a lot of pressure at Regular School and had to prepare for classes until past 11 o’clock every day. Because our school work is relatively easy, every day start at 8:30 and finish at 15:40, so there’s a lot of time for teachers to improve teaching skills. But a lot of teachers in blind school never pursue better teaching skills which is different from regular school. Personally, I think this is a tragedy for special education. At the same time, my colleagues will not treat teaching plans seriously but as an unnecessary work instead, some teachers ignore the notice, miss the meeting and even do not hand it in. All in all, I feel that the teachers are slack now, which may affect the improvement of the quality of the teaching team.”
——Teacher Li, Male, Chinese, Teaching for 1 year
The negative attitude of teachers towards teaching will impede teachers to better their understanding of blind students, since they get off work as soon as possible. The lack of understanding of students will cause teachers unawareness of the students’ condition, and blindly follow their misperception. As long as teachers do not spend time to refresh their impression of students, it is the likely that misperception will be converted into stereotypes and affect the education of blind students.
Factor C: Belief that blind school is not an idealistic workplace
Differ from regular school, teachers in blind school do not have many promotion opportunities like working in the Ministry of Education or in a commercial education institution. Therefore, undergraduates majored in education are not willing to work in blind school. Mrs. Zhao has worked in Qingdao School For The Blind for thirty-five years, and will sometimes attend the interviews of undergraduate students, she pointed out that most applicants are graduated from medical department and only few teachers majored in education will apply to blind school:
“[I have] took part in our school’s recruitment this year. Our school would predominantly accept graduates majored in education and then open the recruitment to the public. [I remembered that] there was an applicant graduated from education major and applied for physics teacher this year, but he did not come up to the interview, which is probably because he got a better job offer. So far, except for one teacher who was transferred to our school, no teacher from education major volunteered to come to our school. This is a worrying phenomenon.”
——Teacher Zhao, Female, Chinese, Teaching for thirty-five years
With such problems, most teachers do not have sufficient ability and enough passion to teach students. Since teachers are not as familiar as the one graduated from special education with students, they will have biased perception towards blind students. At the same time, the problem that undergraduate students are not willing to work in blind school reveal that people generally believe blind schools are inferior than regular school and such perception will also reflect on teachers’ attitude towards blind students.
Limitations and next steps
Due to the limitation of interview, this study only covers nine samples which is a relatively less in number and most students’ samples are from grade 11. For future improvements, more students from various grade in Qingdao School For The Blind should be interviewed which can certainly reveal more problems. Meanwhile, since Qingdao School For The Blind provides the best education for blind students, other schools for blind students might have different and more severe problems. When analyzing the interviews, it is interesting to find that some students think teachers are mean and unfriendly, while others holds the completely opposite view. However, based on existing information, it is difficult to provide reasons of why students have such distinct attitudes towards teachers, which can be imporved in future research.
The findings have several crucial implications to understand stereotypes of education for blind students and causes of these stereotypes. Teachers in Qingdao School For The Blind who have different attitude for blind students, some are passionated but others are indifferent. Students are suffering from the stereotypes and tend to accept teachers’ curriculum design and the plans for future career path. Moreover, since teachers are not willing to spend more time to get to know the blind students and spontaneously follow their intuitive perceptions, students are distant from the teachers. Although some students rebel against the ignorance from teachers at first, but as these stereotypes sustain, students will eventually accept it as fact and be influenced negatively, especially on their future decision. Just like Qingdao School For The Blind does not provide support for students to attend Gaokao, as year passes, more students believe that give up Gaokao is the most convenient choice. Overall, although words seem harmless, but hundreds of words will combine into a sword. Teachers, who are the most important tutor of blind students, should be careful when conveying information to students. In daily lives, teachers should encourage students more often and stand on the students’ sides.
Findings also indicate that low quality of teaching resources is the biggest problem of Qingdao School For The Blind. When teachers are professional in teaching or well-practiced, they will use less time and efforts to adapt and accept this job. However, the fact that teachers with limited experience in education will need transitional periods, which not only affect the education quality of blind students, but also create a communication gap between teachers and students. This gap can be eliminate if teachers have more understandings in students, however, since teachers have little interests in improving student-teacher relationship and hardly spend extra time to stay with students, such gap is the main cause of the stereotypes. Without improvement of teaching quality, no skillful undergraduates is willing to work in blind school, which gradually create a vicious cycle. To solve this urgent problem, the school should provide more detailed information for applicants, so that they could realize they can achieve self-accomplishment by teaching blind students.
Ultimately, by pointing out the problem of the underdeveloped teaching resources for blind students and the fact that the stereotypes for blind students are turning into facts, Qingdao School For The Blind can aware of the problems and resolve them. This study mainly focuses on blind students who are many in number but draw too less attention. This research will raise public awareness to various stereotypes and sheds lights on the condition faced by blind students, who are now standing on the edge of the society. Blind students should not be scared from falling off the edge, and should showering under sunlight as everyone else.
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Appendix: Interview Protocol
1. Background information:
-What grade are you in now?
-What is the number of students in your class?
-Did you go to school in a place other than a blind school? What’s the difference?
2. Experiences in School life:
-Are you happy in school now? What happy or unhappy experiences have you encountered in teaching outside school or in school?
-Do you have any other expectations for the learning environment, content, style, etc.?
-Have you ever encountered or heard of stereotypes in school? How do you think these stereotypes affect school life?
3. Evaluation of teachers:
-When faced with difficult course content, do teachers skip it or try to clarify it?
– Do you have any special career directions or suggestions for the future when you teach? What is your future career plan?
– Did your teacher ever say that any classes were not suitable for you?
– Do the teachers try to integrate with the society and discuss how to get along with others in their teaching?
– Do you have any feelings in your relationship with teachers?
-How do you evaluate the attitude of the school and the treatment of teachers?
1. Background information:
– Which grade are you teaching now?
– What are the subjects taught?
– How long have you been teaching in this school? Never taught at another school? Why come to a blind school?
– Are you majored in education in university?
– How did you adapt this job?
2. Attitude towards teaching:
– How long do you spend to prepare a class?
– How do you feel about teaching in a blind school?
– How do you deal with the difficult course content for students?
– What do you think is the worst thing about blind children in the school environment? Are there stereotypes in school?
– What is your attitude towards Gaokao?
-Do you have any other expectations for the learning environment, content, style, etc.?
– Do you have any other expectations for your colleagues ?