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Teacher of the Year Kateri Gullifor assists a visually impaired student

Kateri Gullifor works with sixth grader Kadeen Alansari. (Photo courtesy of the Huntley Community School District 158)

ISU alumna wins national teaching award from Braille Institute

Illinois State alumna Kateri Gullifor ’10 has been named the 2019 Teacher of the Year by the Braille Institute of America, a nonprofit organization that assists people with blindness and severe sight loss.

“Kateri is very well deserving of this honor,” said Peter A. Mindnich, president of the Braille Institute. The Teacher of the Year is selected by the Braille Challenge National Advisory Committee based on work ethic, innovation, and dedication to the field.

Gullifor works as a teacher for the visually impaired (TVI) in Huntley Community School District 158 in the Chicago area. She teaches her students how to read braille and access information in alternative ways, such as through auditory and electronic methods.

A student’s family nominated Gullifor for the award. “I’m very humbled to win such a big award,” said Gullifor. “Working in a small field with a dire need for teachers, it feels great to be recognized.”

From a young age, Gullifor displayed an interest in working with children. When she was in seventh grade, she became a student mentor through a program called Little Angels. While in the program, Gullifor mentored a blind preschooler. Gullifor’s experience impacted her for life, inspiring her to help other children like her Little Angel.

“I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher,” said Gullifor. “However, I also knew that I didn’t want a classroom.”

Illinois State offered Gullifor just what she had been searching for. While attending an event about the different majors available from the University, Gullifor found the booth for Vision, Hearing, and Learning Behavior Disorders.

“I had a light bulb moment,” said Gullifor. “I realized that I could teach in an individualized, one-on-one setting like I always wanted.”

Kateri Gullifor walks through the halls with one of her high school students.

Gullifor with junior Owen Cravens (Photo courtesy of the Huntley Community School District 158)

Gullifor switched her major from elementary education to special education after her discovery, entering the low vision and blindness sequence. Once she began her classes, Gullifor knew that Illinois State was the right place for her.

Gullifor had a fulfilling experience at Illinois State. She took her major classes with mostly the same, small group of students, who grew close with one another. Nine years after graduation, Gullifor’s college-formed bonds are stronger than ever.

“I still call those girls my close friends to this day,” said Gullifor.

Most importantly, Illinois State provided Gullifor with the tools that she needed to succeed after graduation. “I felt that I was very ready to begin teaching,” said Gullifor. “ISU did a great job of immersing us into the field.”

“I felt that I was very ready to begin teaching. ISU did a great job of immersing us into the field.”—Kateri Gullifor

Before graduating, Gullifor had real-world experiences such as student teaching and field-based learning. She also spent six weeks living in a school for the blind, working with students of different ages and ability levels.

After graduating, Gullifor began her job search. She found a part-time job as a TVI for the Special Education District of McHenry County while she pursued her master’s degree from Northern Illinois University. She received her master’s degree in 2011 and began working full time as a TVI.

In 2013 Gullifor was hired by Huntley Community School District 158. Gullifor works with a wide range of students. Her youngest student is in preschool, while her oldest student is 19 and in a transition program. “I get to follow my students on their journey and watch them grow and overcome adversity,” she said. “It’s very moving.”

Additionally, Gullifor collaborates frequently with her colleagues to adapt content that all students can access. As the job of a TVI can be challenging at times, Gullifor notes the importance of working with a strong team. “It’s all about teamwork and collaboration. I work with great colleagues, and we all pull together.”