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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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Since the general public has so little information about deafness and its ramifications, we should not be surprised that participants emphasized the positive impact that conveying this information had on their relationships with their classmates.

Co-teaching a class on disabilities was one of the best experiences I had ever had. [My teacher] allowed me to teach the class about hearing loss, demonstrate equipment, hearing aids, etc. It was a lot of fun and really opened eyes. This made me feel welcome and, in turn, the classmates respected me more, realizing there was more to me than they thought. F 91

A few teachers had the foresight to use the deaf child's presentation as the basis for informing not just hearing students who were classmates of that child, but other children in the school as well. The first teacher described below tape-recorded the deaf student's presentation, and the second teacher had the student put her experiences in a newsletter. Both teachers provided creative opportunities for the deaf or hard of hearing child to explain his or her impairment to classmates and demonstrate specific skills and the ability to make a contribution.

My teacher had me do a "deaf" presentation--[in which I had to] talk about my deafness, show the class fingerspelling, and have the class ask me questions relating to my deafness. This speech was tape-recorded so she could use it with her other classes. F 87

My fourth grade teacher was sensitive to my difficulties working in a mainstreamed environment. She often had special activities for me that would help me to express my creativity and my communication. She encouraged me to write a newsletter to share with my peers. I think she provided these activities to help me feel more included in the class and to make my peers more aware of what I had to offer and what I could contribute. Being in her classroom was like an oasis in a hard, uncaring desert. M 85
Some favorite teachers encouraged their deaf students to talk with them about any issues they might have been facing. The participants quoted below felt fortunate to have had a teacher who became a good friend, who was willing to help not only with homework but with personal problems as well.

This teacher took the time to help me with any problems I had, both those relating to English, as well as those relating to personal problems I exhibited during the school year. I knew I could always go to him when a problem arose, and he would be there to help me through it. [He] and I remained friends and discussed anything from deafness to personal problems. [He] was one of the few people I could trust to value my opinions and care for my feelings as a Deaf person. F 81

It is clear from these responses that deaf or hard of hearing children, prone to social isolation, need more attention than hearing students from teachers, coaches, and other adults. These best teachers made sure that the other students were aware of positive ways to view and interact with the deaf or hard of hearing child, noticed the child's strong points and made sure everyone else was aware of them too, and gave him or her some extra encouragement to help counterbalance any negative experiences.

As for me, I don't have many specific memories about teachers. I recall with great gratitude that my elementary school teachers were very encouraging to me. I remember sitting on Mrs. White's lap, learning to read. I remember Mrs. Pickering singling out me and two guys to work on advanced arithmetic in third grade. I remember Miss Psaharris taking special interest in me because we both had Greek ancestors. All of them were easy to lipread, and it was easy for me to keep my straight-A average. All of these teachers deserve credit that my solitary experience in elementary school was as good as it was in the academic arena, at least.

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