excerpt from Lend Me Your Ear continued…
Through the years, although I’ve become more confident in public speaking and far more willing to unmask myself, my deafness, before others have a chance to, I’ve always been better at writing and reading than I have at speaking. In graduate school, I was given a prestigious fellowship—principally for my writing skills—and thus my colleagues, both the faculty and other graduate students, expected me, I think, to be a class leader, to speak often and well. I didn’t. In fact, I later came to know that many interpreted my silence in the classroom as negligence about the reading, or just arrogant indifference. Negligence about reading was never a crime I was guilty of, although I might own up to some indifference. How could it be otherwise, when only two of my graduate school professors spoke loudly and clearly enough for me to understand more than half of their mumbled, head-down, lifeless, eyes-stuck-on-the-page lectures?

Mostly I was still afraid of myself—still scared of what I saw when I stood in front of the mirror and spoke. As long as I had a written text—something I had worked on and rehearsed in order to smooth out my odd “accent,” my tendency for fast talk and illogical progression, and my tonal infelicities—I could be comfortable speaking from and through it. But just to speak well extemporaneously—this was risking breaking the mirror, seven years’ bad luck. Writing smoothed the blemishes, softened the sharp edges.

Even when I teach, I teach from and with writing, thereby maintaining control. I avoid, at all costs, leading large group discussions that involve the whole class, discussions in which students might speak from the back of the room—from the places where even my hearing aids on the highest setting won’t go. I put them in small groups for discussion and then I walk around, lean over their shoulders, sit down with a small groups for a short time. Then I bring one group to the front of the class to help me lead the whole class through discussion, branching out from what they were talking about in their smaller groups. In this way, the students take charge of receiving the questions and become interpreters for me and each other. I like to argue that in this process they gain a new kind of responsibility and learning that they might not have had before; but I know, truth be told, that it’s mostly just a matter of getting me past some of the more difficult parts of teaching.

My premier pedagogy for passing is, of course, writing. My students, even in the more literature-based classes, write a lot. They always keep journals; they always write too many papers (or so it seems when I’m reading and responding to all of them). And my students, for sixteen years now, are always amazed at how much I write in responding to their journals and papers. For here is a place where I can have a conversation, unthreatened and unstressed by my listening limitations. They write, and I write back. Writing is my passageway; writing is my pass; through writing, I pass.

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