During my graduate studies at the University of Florida, the fellowships I received allowed me to conduct research without the need for a teaching assistant (TA) appointment. However, upon reaching my third year, I realized I wanted to experience teaching. I approached the Chemistry Department and volunteered to be a TA for a General Chemistry course, but was met with apprehension due to concerns over having a blind TA for a typically visual course. In the end, they accepted me, and I became the first blind TA in chemistry at the University of Florida. This was one of the best experiences of my life.
“Thank you for all the dedication and willingness to help us. I think I can speak for all that you sincerely wanted us to do well. I aspire to be as bad-*ss as you one day.”
Each day, I found myself excited to relay my knowledge to these students. In my recitations I aided them in their struggle to grasp the problems, and made it my policy to answer any question. My blindness posed a challenge with visual presentations, and in response I developed a unique teaching style. Since I could not by myself read the slides I had prepared, I involved the students with reading and writing on the board. The students often became so engaged in problems they would ask me to stay after class. I received student reviews expressing their positive sentiments toward my teaching style.
“At first, I thought being blind would compromise her teaching style. I WAS WRONG. I was actually very attentive in class, and she always motivated us to get on the chalkboard and practice.”
This is the core of my teaching philosophy: one must make materials accessible to students in every way possible, explaining things in as many ways as necessary, and never forming preconceived notions of their abilities. One of my students, who had already failed General Chemistry once, sought my advice upon failing her first quiz. I welcomed her to attend both of my sections and to meet with me during office hours, and by the end of the semester, she had one of the highest grades. She personally thanked me for the difference I made in her learning. I will never give up on a student who is motivated and curious, and I will also never lower expectations for any students. In large part, my teaching philosophy stems from personal experiences growing up. Many of my teachers did not expect as much from me because I am blind. It took years of maturing and a few amazing teachers to realize I could expect better from myself. I want to be a teacher who encourages students to pursue their interests and motivations despite having traits that might be considered a setback in a learning environment.
“Were Mona a professor, I would go out of my way to take another class with her. I was very impressed, to say the least, as well as humbled and inspired by her courage and fortitude.”