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American Annals of the Deaf

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Alone in the Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School

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The best experience I ever had with a teacher was with my speech team coach in high school. He was always very supportive and encouraging and never told me he thought I couldn't do something. Even when I wanted to try out debate (which many teachers might discourage for a deaf child), he let me do it. He never tried to protect me from failure and always reminded me of my strengths. F 93
Another participant mentioned a debate team coach as well. The coach worked with her diligently, helping her to prepare for an upcoming event. As time drew near, she became more and more nervous about speaking in front of an audience and hearing the questions and comments made by other students. She begged the coach to excuse her from the event. He gave her a final boost of confidence when he looked her straight in the eye and said, "I see the person you really are. You are smarter than anyone in this school. I see past your hearing problems. I SEE YOU. Show people who you are, past your ears. Believe in yourself!"

It is obvious that this coach was creative as well as encouraging. He was willing to make allowances for the student's hearing loss. This represents an absence of the rigidity or ignorance that caused other teachers to go into the annals of "worst teachers," as will be shown later in this chapter. He gave the student an effective example of "reasonable accommodations," thus providing a very important lesson for her life. The student took her teacher's advice to heart, with the following results:

I refused to worry about rebuttals. I just concentrated on speaking clearly. My partner wrote down points the other teams spoke on, and I argued our points back from all of my research, quoting this and that. We [were] county champs that year. I still have the award and pictures. I treasure them. From then on, I began to believe in myself, that I could figure my way out of tough spots. F 84

I found it interesting that when describing their best teachers, participants often mentioned what these teachers did not do. They would also often say that their best teacher was "the only teacher" who did such and such. This suggests that these teachers were an exception rather than the rule; they stood out from the norm. Consider the following description of a favorite teacher:

The best experience I had was with my high school English instructor. [He] was very aware of my deafness and took that into consideration while teaching. He made sure he taught facing the class so I could speechread him. [He] made sure not to mumble and never grew a mustache. [He] was very careful to explain the problems in my English papers so I understood them. This was important to me, as most instructors had never taken the time to explain my errors. F 81.

Several participants spoke positively of teachers who encouraged them to teach their classmates about their hearing loss. They also recommended that children being mainstreamed as solitaries today do this as well. From the excerpts below, we can see that discussing one's hearing loss with classmates enhanced the self-esteem of the deaf or hard of hearing children and educated the teachers and students involved.

This teacher was the only teacher I had who was genuinely interested in my hearing impairment. He would ask me questions and get me talking about it. We had to give speeches in that class, and he asked me to give a speech on hearing impairments and base it on my own experiences. I remember thinking that was the last thing I wanted to do, but I agreed to do it. And I believe from that moment on, things really changed for me in terms of being my own advocate and self-disclosing on my own. F 91

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