Anne Sullivan: An Early Transition Teacher

Transition may be something that has come to the forefront of the Special Education world, but it’s not something new.

Every June, the world celebrates the anniversary of the birth of Helen Keller, acclaimed blind/deaf/mute woman who captured the world with her successes despite her disabilities.

Anne Sullivan

While Keller developed the fortitude and self-determination to pursue her dreams and goals, much of the credit goes to her lifelong teacher, Anne Sullivan, who also struggled with a vision impairment. What she did to prepare Keller to be a productive citizen may not have been called “transition”, but that’s exactly what it was.

At only 21 years of age, Sullivan showed great maturity and ingenuity in teaching Keller. She wanted to help Keller make associations between words and physical objects, and worked hard with her rather stubborn and spoiled pupil. After isolating Keller from her family in order to better educate her, Sullivan began working to teach Keller how to communicate with the outside world. During one lesson, she finger-spelled the word “water” on one of Keller’s hands as she ran water over her student’s other hand. Keller finally made her first major breakthrough, connecting the concept of sign language with the objects around her.

Helen Keller

Thanks to Sullivan’s instruction, Keller learned nearly 600 words, most of her multiplication tables, and how to read Braille within a matter of months. News of Sullivan’s success with Keller spread, and the Perkins school wrote a report about their progress as a team. Keller became a celebrity because of the report, meeting the likes ofThomas EdisonAlexander Graham Bell, and Mark Twain.

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