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Personal Reflections
by Naomi Epstein


Some teachers are blessed with the ability to draw. Others can sing. When I first became a teacher, over 20 years ago, I had to face the truth - I couldn't do either of those things.

Since I chose to become a teacher of the Deaf, my lack of singing abilities wasn't much of an issue. However, an elementary school teacher, particularly of the Deaf, who couldn't draw at all, created a huge problem. All the other teachers I met during my first year could, at the very least, draw at a level that enabled the pupils to recognize the objects drawn (not to mention those with real talent). They could decorate their worksheets and create the drawings for the games they made. A daisy-like flower was the only recognizable drawing I could produce. All other attempts were met with puzzled looks of laughter. Obviously, this wouldn't do.

Those were the days before I even had access to a computer, let alone owned one. I collected magazines from all my relatives and cut out huge amounts of pictures. The shelf size needed for my teaching aids multiplied itself at a dizzying speed. My retired grandmother would help me color in pictures I had photocopied from books using a black and white copier (she always said she was doing it for the kids but seemed to love every minute of it!). I spent my birthday money that year on purchasing picture packs for teachers. I also sat and practiced drawing basic stick figures: all basically the same drawing with one different accessory.

Perhaps, dear reader, you are now thinking that I will relate how, over the years, after lots of practice, my drawing skills improved. In fact, the reverse is true. I began teaching in high school, purchased a computer and a Cd with a huge collection of clip art. I abandoned my attempts at drawing altogether.

My "special gift" came from an unexpected source. My brother in-law-became a photographer. A photographer of scenery (with emphasis on color combinations), places and people from all over the world. It seems that photographers snap many shots of the same thing and then choose only the photos that are just right. What about the rest of the photos? Those that are only 99% perfect? Obviously, someone had to rescue them from the wastebasket and I "answered the call".

At first I thought that the photos would be useful only with elementary pupils, which by then I taught only in afternoon classes and summer courses. One favorite activity was to pour a whole pile of photos onto the middle of the table. The children had to read something, locate a suitable picture, cut and paste the relevant part on the worksheet. Some worksheets only had names of colors on them and the children cut out the right color from the pictures they chose. More advanced pupils found sentences such as the following on their worksheets: "This man has a hat", "The girl is eating", and "There are four trees". Then they had to cut and paste sections from different pictures so that they would match the sentences. Higher-level pupils would create something by themselves and write sentences about it.

After a while I discovered that photographs are very useful in the High-School English room as well. Besides using them to cover old binders and surfaces, livening up the worn things, there are educational purposes. The students finish their projects and want to show off? They write invitations in English on lined index cards, which are then pasted onto the backside of a photograph - each pupil gives a teacher an invitation with a different photo (which they choose, of course). The school counselor just had a baby? We mail her an envelope full of greetings pasted on photos. The student teacher is leaving? She gets a packet of personalized thank you notes. All in English!

While rummaging through the pictures the pupils sometimes ask questions. Some Deaf children's world knowledge is very limited and the photos are useful for incidental learning. The latest pile of pictures happened to be from China. After seeing some pictures of huge parking lots filled with bicycles and pictures of street life, a pupil (17 years old!!!) asked me: " There seem to be a lot of people in China. Are there more than in Israel?" We have a map of the world in the classroom and can see where the photos were taken. I particularly love it when a pupil looks at a photo and sighs, "Oh, I wish I could go there" and I reply, "you can! This one was taken right here in our beautiful country!

Today, 22 years since I first began teaching, I still can't draw. Only my young niece and nephew will let me sing to them (or are they too young to object?). But I have definitely acquired my own special tool and have earned a reputation as "The teacher with THE photos"

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