A Plattsmouth teacher helped his blind student. Years later, they met again but their roles reversed

A Plattsmouth teacher helped his blind student. Years later, they met again but their roles reversed
Mitchell Green and Bobby Thornton share a unique bond. (World-Herald News Service)

Mitchell Green encountered plenty of hurdles in the classroom.

As the only blind student in school, a lot of adaptations had to be made.

He needed texted books printed in braille. His worksheets and tests had to be transcribed.

Some teachers were more receptive to making changes than others. Bobby Thornton, who taught a computer class at Plattsmouth High School, left a lasting impression on Green.

Years later, student and teacher have met again. And this time their roles are reversed.

Thornton, 81, is legally blind — he can see shapes and movement, but can’t distinguish details. While undergoing adaptive technology training courses at Outlook Nebraska, Thornton ran into his former student, who runs the nonprofit’s information technology department.

“Imagine my surprise to learn that Bob is losing his vision and now I work for a place that provides tech and can give back,” Green, 47, said. “It’s almost a full circle.”

Green, who lives in Plattsmouth, has been blind since birth.

Some teachers weren’t open minded about making adaptations, Green said, but it was never an issue for Thornton. Green always had an interest in electronics, and Thornton figured out how to give him a hands-on experience in computer class.

He found a program that would read what was on the screen out loud to Green. He also got a braille printer to print Green’s assignments and some textbook pages.

“He was always very open minded,” Green said. “Bob was never ‘Oh, you can’t do this.’ It was, ‘I have no idea how we’re gonna do this, but we’ll figure something out.'”

Green, who graduated in 1991, went on to join Outlook Nebraska. Green heard Thornton’s voice as he walked down the hall one day.

Thornton, who lives in Bellevue, has age-related macular degeneration. Since that diagnosis, he’s dealt with a torn retina in his left eye and a detached retina in his right eye. To watch television, he has to nearly place his nose on the screen. Sitting across the table from someone, he could tell their gender, but couldn’t pick them out of a lineup.

He participated in an Outlook Nebraska program that taught him how to use computers and his iPhone. Now he can once again send emails and text messages.

Learning to be the student was one of the trickiest parts.

“It was difficult,” Thornton said. “A teacher always wants to take charge and I knew I couldn’t take charge.”

During training, the two men would visit when they could. Thornton has completed the program, but still goes back for alumni events. He’s popped back for lunches with Green and drops off the occasional box of doughnuts for the Outlook Nebraska crew.

“We’ve been reacquainted and it’s really neat,” Thornton said. “I became the student.”