Vision for education - Blind teacher gives back through students

Published: Tuesday | March 31, 2009

Petrina Francis, Staff Reporter

Coswell Barnett, a blind teacher at Clan Carthy High School in Kingston, interacts with a student during a Spanish class yesterday. - Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer

He may be visually impaired, but Coswell Barnett, a teacher at Clan Carthy High School in Kingston, is giving his students a clear vision.

Determined not to allow his disability to get in his way, Barnett, who has been blind since age four, joined the staff at Clan Carthy as a Spanish teacher in 2006, after graduating from Shortwood Teachers' College.

"I believe that we need to give back to the society and this is my way of doing so," Barnett told The Gleaner yesterday afternoon, shortly after teaching his last class for the day.


Barnett said he encountered some challenges when he started teaching at Clan Carthy.

"When I just started here, the students weren't so friendly, in terms of their behaviour. There are students who will test you, and there are those who will pay attention," he said.

"They wanted to see how I would cope, but I was physically and mentally prepared for that. Hence, I did not succumb to that pressure."

Barnett deviates from the traditional methods of teaching to keep his classes lively and ensure that his students are learning.

The Gleaner yesterday sat in on one of his grade-nine classes, and it was not merely chalk and talk.

Lively interaction was taking place. Students recited a dub poem in Spanish and there was also a session in which students were asked to say the names of items, such as bottle and eraser, in Spanish.

Intense dialogue

"I use other methods so I can reach the students. This is the only way I can know that they are really understanding," said Barnett.

The 24-year-old educator said intense dialogue has to take place in his classes.

"This gives a better understanding of who understands and who doesn't," Barnett explained.

"I tell them that if they don't participate I can't get to know them."

But how does he know the students who are not participating?

"The ones who don't participate are the noisemakers. Because I am blind, the other students would help me identify the disruptive ones and even argue with them," he said.

Barnett teaches six grade-nine classes and two grade 10s. He has a teacher who assists him in some of the classes. He also has a teacher who assists him when he grades the students' test papers.

Barnett is a graduate of the Salvation Army School for the Blind and Calabar High School, where he left with seven subjects - one distinction and six credits.

He later went on to Shortwood Teachers' College, where he did a teaching diploma in Spanish and education.

He is an ardent lover of dub poetry and has written several dub poems. In fact, Barnett intends to publish a book of dub poetry in different languages.

Barnett has won numerous awards at the Spanish Festival. He also took two of his students to the festival last year and they walked away with a trophy.

Barnett, who hails from Manchester, has also been presented with two awards at Clan Carthy for best attendance and punctuality and outstanding performance in the Language Department.

Jodian Bryan, one of Barnett's students, said he is a very good educator.

"If we don't understand things he usually goes over it until we do. He is generous and very creative," she said.

Barnett may switch careers, but it will certainly be to an area where he can have a positive impact on the lives of people.

"I believe in being dynamic, so in the future, I intend to go into other areas where I can make further contributions."