Cynthia Towers Interview (MP3 format)

Interview with Cynthia Towers
Middle School Math Teacher, Seattle Public Schools
By Sam Kanter, Brandee Grambrell, and Brittany Lee

Sam: My name is Sam Kanter, and today it is my pleasure to interview Mrs. Cynthia Towers. What is your job title?

Cynthia: My job title is seventh grade math teacher for the Seattle public school district.

Sam: Did you receive any special training or education for your job?

Cynthia: Well, I went to college to be a teacher, and I first started out teaching special education. I worked with kids with learning disabilities, and then later on I moved into the regular classroom. My training has been in teacher education through the University of Washington, and since then I take what are called professional development classes, just to keep abreast of developing research, best practices in teaching, and just to also get better ideas as to how to teach with the new curriculum that we have. In schools, they probably change curriculums every five to ten years and with that, you need have to have new training. So I’m always taking trainings as well, to keep up with the new curriculum that we’re teaching and ways to teach today’s youth.

Sam: How did you decide on which career you wanted?

Cynthia: When I was a little girl, I was made fun of a lot. I’m African-American and albino, and so when I was a little girl, kids made fun of me a lot. I personally didn’t feel that my teachers stepped up to the plate a lot. In fact, I remember one teacher telling me, “Well, aren’t you used to that by now?” And so I remember just wanting to go into education to be a teacher so that when I heard anybody making fun of anybody else, I could tell them my stories and how I felt, and hopefully I could affect people that way. But I have been doing it for 25 years and I do really like it. I’ve really grown to love teaching and love to see when kids learn and when they get that “aha!” and when they finally do understand the concepts that I’m getting across.

Sam: Did you have any after-school or summer jobs when you were a teenager?

Cynthia: When I was a teenager, I started out babysitting, and it was very difficult for me to get summer jobs. When I was coming up, they didn’t have a lot of the programs in place, there was no ADA or any of that, so it was very difficult for me to get jobs. So I started out babysitting, and then I worked at a place called the Lilac Blind Foundation, so I taught braille and cane travel. And I actually had my own class, I actually taught cooking to elementary kids, and so I had my own group of kids and taught them how to make sandwiches. It was amazing to me because I grew up in my household having the same chores as my other sisters and having the same responsibilities, so it just floored me that these kids didn’t know how to make a sandwich, because if I didn’t make my lunch every day, I wouldn’t have eaten. It was very important to me that these kids have the same skills that I did. I went to school at the University of Washington here in Seattle, and so in the summers, I would go home and work at the Lilac Blind Foundation, and then I started teaching kindergarten, and then that’s how I gradually worked into the profession that I have now.

Brandee: Hello, my name is Brandee, and I have a question for you. I am a visually impaired youth, so do you have any tips or pointers that can help me as I get older and want to pursue a career in your job field?

Cynthia: I would say really be confident and really be skilled in whatever it is that you want to do, whether that be teaching, writing or being a chef, or whatever it is that you want to do. Get as much practice as you can. Volunteer to do what you would like to do, “I don’t want to be paid, I just want to come here and learn.” I did a lot of volunteer work when I was coming up being a teacher. And really learn your skill, find a mentor, find somebody that you can jobshadow or that can help you as well. Then when it comes time for you to be hired some place, you can say, “Well you know, I volunteered at this place and this place for the past six months, and then I was this, this, this, and by the way, do you know this, this person? Well, they are my mentor.” And so, therefore they can really know too, that you have initiative and that you have drive. And, I would say, be true to yourself, but again, too, know what you can do, and really be strong in that. Don’t let anything stop you, you’re going to have some pitfalls along the way and people are going to tell you that you can’t do or “how are you going to do this?” The one nice thing about laws now is that in a job interview, they can’t ask you anything they don’t ask anybody else. So if there’s five questions on that paper, that’s what they have to ask you by law, so if they ask you how you’re going to get work, they have to ask everybody else how they’re going to get to work. Be strong in that, I would just say be very confident, do your homework, and be as skilled as you can in the job you’re going for.

Brandee: Do you need any special accommodations to do the work that you do?

Cynthia: I am low vision, I have magnifiers everywhere. And so, I have magnifiers in my classroom, I have reading glasses. I have a computer at my desk as every teacher does, I’ve had the screen resolution enlarged, I’ve had enlargement software installed on the computer. Other than that, that’s pretty much it. I do have a CCTV that’s in my classroom, it doesn’t get used a lot. Being a teacher and teaching math and walking around the classroom, I don’t have a chance to sit down and be at it, but I’ll do that after school when I’m grading papers.

Brandee: What grade level do you teach?

Cynthia: I teach seventh graders. I teach five classes a day as all full-time teachers do. You have one class of what’s called preparation, and then you teach five classes. And one of my classes is called Math Improvement, and so it’s some students that kind of need a little extra help in math. And then third, fourth, and fifth period, I have thirty children each of those periods where I’m teaching seventh grade, what we call regular math, then sixth period I teach a seventh grade honors math class.

Brittany: Hi there, I’m Brittany Lee, and I’m here to finish up the interview. What would you say would be your favorite thing about where you’re working right now?

Cynthia: June, July and August. [Laughter] I think my favorite thing is I said earlier, is showing kids why things are the way they are in math. When I grew up, my teachers just told me, “Just do the math, don’t ask questions, just do the math.” The curriculum that we have now, it really explains you know, why is 20 divided by 1/4, 80? Why is that? Math now is a lot more interactive and that’s the fun part, is when they can go, “Oh! I get it!” And when they can take that knowledge and apply it to other situations. So that’s the fun part, is to see the light bulb symbolically go on.

Brittany: Your personality is a good match for your job, yes? Would you say that?

Cynthia: Yes, it has to be when you’re working with middle-schoolers.

Brittany: So, you have a visual impairment. How did you slip that to your employer? How did you let them know that you needed accommodations?

Cynthia: Well, it’s interesting. I have been employed with Seattle schools for over 20 years. And so, it’s one of those things where everyone knows me and they know I can do that job. My first job, when I taught kindergarten at a private school—and again that was pre-ADA, pre- a lot of laws—and I did have to tell them I was visually impaired. And I remember one of the interviewers ask me, “Well, what’s on my tie? Can you see the pattern in my tie?” And I was just stunned, and I don’t know, I told him it had squares on it or something, I don’t even remember. Anyway, I did end up getting that job, which I guess I described his tie, which has nothing to do with how well I can teach, but anyway, that was important to him. It’s interesting you bring that up because as a visually impaired teacher, there are still challenges that will come up, and I just am very confident in who I am and my abilities. And it’s interesting that with the 504 and with the ADA, there have been a lot of teachers in my building that claim to need considerations, and I have never even said anything. But for the most part, I have the things that I need, my magnifiers, I buy them. Why? Because I want to buy the ones I want to buy. Because if they break, I’ll know where to go get them, and it won’t take six months for a requisition to go through. So, I find that accommodating myself on those littler things is much easier and it just makes me feel good that I can do that for myself.

Brittany: Well thanks for your time, thanks for coming here. Is there anything you want to leave, a little note for us students here?

Cynthia: Everybody knows that education is the key. Just learn as much as you can and I would also say have as many varied experiences as you can inside the blind community, because this is where you’re going to get a lot of strong assistance from people. Outside the blind community, volunteer at church, volunteer at the food bank, volunteer at a lot of different places. Just get experiences wherever you can, because the more well-rounded you are, the more marketable you’re going to be, and the more interesting you’re going to be too.

Interview taken at the Washington State Council of the Blind Convention, November 2006.

Interview provided by Jack Straw Productions, Arts and Visually Impaired Audiences, Washington State Council of the Blind and the Child and Family Program of the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind.
Copyright © Jack Straw Productions 2006.