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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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Worst Teacher

Participants' stories about their worst teachers reminded me of one eighth grade teacher, who made a point of letting me know that I should not expect any special treatment. In fact, I felt that she saw it as her job to make my life more difficult than it already was. This particular teacher gave me enough trouble that my mother became angry and made an appointment for both of us to meet with her. I recall that the issue had to do with seating assignments, which my teacher insisted had to be in alphabetical order. She wanted students to read out loud in turn, in that alphabetical order I couldn't hear the other students and never knew where they were in the chapter when my turn to read came. My mother and I weren't asking for me to be excused from reading but to be allowed to read first so that I would not need to worry about following along with the other students. Yet, the teacher's attitude suggested that we were asking her to bend over backwards. In the following excerpt, a participant describes a similar experience.

My worst experience was with an eighth grade social studies teacher who would not give me a front seat because, with a last name beginning with T, I belonged in the back right corner, and seating me in the front would ruin her beautiful alphabetical order. Insisting that I needed a front seat so that I could see the board and hear was to no avail. It took several trips to the principal's office to plead my case before she relented. F 69

Many of the worst teachers described by participants seemed to believe that the children didn't have an actual hearing loss but were faking or exaggerating the challenges they faced. I have often wondered if a hearing person could possibly imagine how that feels: to be told, "you're not really deaf, I know you are just trying to get away with something." Receiving such feedback from a teacher can make a child feel terribly and pervasively powerless. Imagine being so nearsighted that you couldn't read a sentence on the blackboard, but being told by a teacher that if you did not copy that sentence into your notebook you would receive a failing grade. That might give an inkling of what it feels like to be told you are faking a hearing loss.

The worst experience I ever had was with a junior high basketball coach. From the beginning of the year, he never showed an interest in helping me. I remember going through the year in a daze of confusion, never really sure what was going on. When my parents came into school for a special meeting to express their concerns, he commented, "She hears what she wants to hear." He insisted that I was too smart to be deaf and that I was playing with everyone, audiological evidence to the contrary. F 93

Quite a few participants talked about a teacher who was unwilling or unable to conceal the fact that he or she did not want to deal with a deaf child. This perceived sentiment was often mixed with the perception of low expectations.

I worked extra hard in my high school art class because I thought art was one thing I could do on my own, and I really liked it. However, I never got over a D, and most of the time it was an F. I never understood this. When I would ask for help, the teacher would say she was too busy. One day, I went to class early and saw her telling another person that she hated when they put special education students in her class, so she automatically failed them. I was so hurt, I gave up my dream for art. M 83

Some teachers were insensitive even to the deaf student's most basic communication needs. These teachers would talk while facing the blackboard or walking around the room, making it impossible for the deaf or hard of hearing child to read their lips. To make matters worse, these teachers sometimes demeaned and embarrassed the deaf and hard of hearing students in front of the entire class.
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