Mickayla Biddle vaguely remembers being a kindergartener in a rambunctious class and thinking to herself that she wanted to be a “strict” teacher when she grew up.

“I’m going to make those kids be quiet,” she would tell herself.

Now at 17, the visually impaired graduating senior from Chaparral High School is preparing to become a teacher for other visually impaired students. She just completed the Gadsden Independent School District’s Teacher Cadet program, which allowed her to gain some classroom experience.

The cadet program allowed Biddle to work with a young visually impaired student from Riverside Elementary School, Axel Gonzalez, and that sparked her passion for education.

Photo: Mickayla Biddle, right, is teaching Axel Gonzalez, 4th grader at GISD Riverside Elementary, how to download a book so he can use his BrailleNote Touch to read the book.
Mickayla Biddle, right, is teaching Axel Gonzalez, 4th grader at GISD Riverside Elementary, how to download a book so he can use his BrailleNote Touch to read the book.

“I just told my instructors at the end of last school year, ‘I can’t leave Axel by himself. He’s my fourth-grade student,’” Biddle told El Paso Matters in an interview.

Biddle, who was born blind, said her experiences and the challenges she faced growing up allowed her to relate to Axel, and help him learn to operate the assistive technology blind students use to do their schoolwork.

“He was having issues with his technology. He couldn’t figure it out,” Biddle said during an interview with a television reporter. “He was behind in language arts. He’s totally blind just like me, so when he doesn’t know how to maneuver the device, or he’s having troubles with certain contractions or numbers in Braille, I’m like, ‘I get it.’”

Biddle and her teachers said this shared understanding helped Axel do better in school and the teachers hope Biddle can do the same for other students with visual impairments.

“When Mickayla came in to teach the same concept, (Axel) seemed to have picked it up faster, obviously because of how they relate,” Biddle’s teacher, Rachael Rivera, said in an interview. “Mickayla had a better way of explaining it than I did.”

Rivera, who specializes in teaching students with visual impairments, started working with Biddle when she was only 3 years old. 

Photo: Mickayla Biddle is supervised by her teacher, Rachael Rivera, on the "real world skill" of navigating the hallway at Riverside Elementary.
Mickayla Biddle is supervised by her teacher, Rachael Rivera, on the “real world skill” of navigating the hallway at Riverside Elementary.

“She came in just like any other kid. She was in regular pre-K and just right away Mickayla was very, very outgoing,” Rivera said. “She was a sponge. She wanted to know everything. I would maybe describe some things and then she would say, ‘but why?’ Or ‘how does it work?’”

Rivera said that when Mickayla first started with the teacher cadet program, the student would sit by her side helping her teach. Eventually, Rivera let the fledgling educator take control and experience “the ups and downs of being a teacher.”

“And she really, really enjoyed it,” Rivera added.

Growing up blind

Along with facing the trials and tribulations that came along with being a teenage girl, Biddle also faced unique challenges going to school as a visually impaired person. 

She said it was often easy to mix up the numbers “5” and “9” in Braille and talked about how challenging it can be to learn to use new assistive technology, like the BrailleNote Touch. The device connects to apps like Google Classroom and Google Docs, where visually impaired students can work on their assignments.

Biddle said that she has also dealt with social isolation as one of the few visually impaired students in her rural community.

“All my life, except for when I visited the New Mexico School for the Blind, I’ve been the only visually impaired student in the entire school. Sometimes that could be difficult,” Biddell told El Paso Matters. “I sort of feel like the blind outsider. Like everybody’s just trying to jump out of my way, everybody’s apparently just gawking at me every day. It gets a bit frustrating.”

Though Biddle struggled to bond with her peers, she learned she had good teachers she could connect with.

“I would always miss my teacher at the end of the school year,” Biddle said. “I would literally dream about all my teachers being at my house and we were having this giant party with them. Little did I know that I was going to become a teacher.”

Despite the challenges she faced, Biddle thrived academically. She graduated fifth in her class with a 3.8 GPA. She was a member of the National Honor Society and received multiple accolades including the First American Bank Scholarship.

Biddle also found joy in her hobbies like blind hockey and arts and crafts. The teen said she uses a special crafts kit with uniquely textured materials that allow her to tell them apart.

“My most popular thing that I make is an angel. It’s a little container with a child-proof lid so they can put anything in there,” Biddle said.

As Biddle prepared to say goodbye to high school, the moment was bittersweet for her teachers who watched her learn and grow into the person she is today.

“Every kid is different, but it is probably going to be very difficult for us because we’ve had her since 3-1/2,” Rivera said of losing Biddle. “But we always tell her, you know our phone lines are always open if you need any help.”

Claudia Silva was born and raised in El Paso and studied journalism at New Mexico State University. She's covered a number of topics, from education to arts and culture, in both Texas and New Mexico.