Alone in the
Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School
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.
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.
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.
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.