When William Hanuschock ‘20BLVS
, who has been visually impaired since birth, landed an internship six hours away from his home in Uniontown, Pa., he said goodbye to his family and
girlfriend, packed his belongings and secured housing and transportation – all within 24 hours of receiving the news. Having a significant visual impairment that requires accommodations, Hanuschock thought the hardest part of his internship journey was behind him. But, because of COVID-19, he got more than he bargained for this semester.
Normally, as a student enrolled in the Educators of Children and Youth with Visual Impairments
program, Hanuschock would have spent a few months teaching visually impaired students in the classroom before jumping into his profession. It’s a requirement for education majors enrolled in the graduate degree program, which focuses on teachers of visual impairment (TVI), to spend a semester student teaching. However, things were different this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
With only weeks left until he completed his student teaching at Saint Lucy Day School for Children with Visual Impairments in Philadelphia, Hanuschock returned home to embark on a whole new journey, teaching blind and low vision elementary students – online.
“Luckily, when news of the shutdown hit the week before I left, I set up Zoom accounts for students and teachers, offering tutorials on how to work the platform,” he said. “Learning the technology and teaching everyone else how to use it was a great accomplishment for me.”
Then, one early March day, online instruction began and Hanuschock eventually witnessed students benefiting from their virtual learning communities in ways he didn’t expect.
“The online instruction allowed students to learn more about technology and how to advocate for themselves and their disabilities and, in some ways, enhance social skills,”
Hanuschock said. “Although provided at Saint Lucy, learning online also allowed students to personalize their own accommodations, troubleshoot and figure out what really works for them. Instead of having someone else enlarge a font size, adjust screen contrast or invert their screen, they’re doing it themselves, optimizing their own experience to fit their needs.”
From a student’s perspective, the biggest lesson learned in their virtual classrooms might be autonomy. For Hanuschock, however, flexibility has been the key to success.
“In all honesty, it has taught me to treat others how I want to be treated. Every student is going through something different and I don’t know what’s going on at the other end of that Zoom call,” he said. “So, I need to be flexible – education needs to be flexible.”
Often switching between educator and mentor in his student teaching role, the graduate student used his personal experience with low vision to help his students better understand their own visual impairments.
“Recently, we had a discussion about our visual impairments during what was supposed to be a social studies lesson. I told them it’s very important that they can explain their vision and visual impairment and advocate for themselves,” Hanuschock said. “For example, if preferential seating in a classroom is one of their accommodations, I want them to be able to tell the teacher why.”
He recently completed his student teaching and, as he prepares to graduate from Salus with a Master of Education degree, he is already thinking about pursuing a doctorate.