Update on Deaf for a Day

Things that make me go “hmmmm”? It’s curious as to why some years “Deaf for a Day” goes by without any ripple, with every goal I have for my students is met! Other years D4D seems to really flop! (grin)

I’ve not been able to pinpoint or “guess” how it will go, and so have not yet been able to accurately guess how my students may respond. This year I was contacted by a record number of teachers of sign (5 to be exact… usually it’s only 2-3 per year). It’s great to share ideas when teaching ASL to high school students, and “Deaf for a Day”, can be a very effective learning tool. One teacher that I have “met” online, actually has her students “Deaf for a week”! She teaches in a traditional school, however, so it’s easier to get updates from the students Monday through Friday.

I was in contact with a teacher from Texas this year who also teaches ASL to a large homeschool high school co-op like I do. He also teaches in another type of educational setting, and so sees “both sides” and can hypothesize about things that I cannot do. He believes that homeschool families are worse about “embracing” anything that will “mess with their schedule”, than others. I like to think that isn’t true.

This year was a “tough” year for me regarding my “Deaf for a Day” assignment. Again, I wish I knew what to look for ahead of time so that I can “brace myself” for the emotional negatives that come from students who “don’t get” the assignment. It was even suggested to me through a parent survey, that I give the students more time to prepare for the assignment. My personal opinion is that if a student has to much preparation, they aren’t really experiencing D4D. I’ve not ever met one person who planned when they’d go deaf. Not anyone who lost their hearing slowly, or overnight. So “preparing” themselves and their families is a little confusing to me. Families do not get to plan ahead for things that “hurt” when they are real.

I think that is why my daughter had such a strong reaction to what she was overhearing in the classroom. (Something I’m not able to do for obvious reasons). She was angry because some weren’t learning “anything… not even at the very beginning of the assignment”. ‘Course I also think it’s because my feelings were hurt so deeply, as well.

I believe I have more paperwork and written explanations, etc., about this assignment than most teachers of sign. And yet… it seems to be that this does not insure my students come away from D4D with new insights and having learned something valuable about their own hearing.

Certainly, the MAJORITY of my students do learn something, and the assignment is successful in giving them a glimpse of what it would be like should they become “late-deafened”… or adventitiously deaf. It allows their families to “realize” with a very sudden type of clarity, how they would react should their family member acquire a disability. The reality of the how successful this assignment may be, actually hinges on the hope that the students experience what to THEM is a NORMAL day… but doing so “deaf”. If you choose a day that is out of the ordinary, it’s not a day you can really experience D4D. I actually have had parents upset that their child wasn’t able to do anything all day long! Since when does being “deaf” keep you from school, your chores, your work, your church, your friends? Grin/grimace! The only thing I cannot do is HEAR. I worship, work, study, drive, “do chores”, love, laugh and learn. Sigh.

I currently teach 3 levels of ASL, and have taught students up to 5 levels. However, I offer the D4D assignment in ASL 1 class. I’ve always been very up front about what I teach… I do NOT only teach sign. It is important to me that my students realize that most people with hearing loss are not culturally Deaf. Deaf history, technology, advocacy and disability rights are also things we discuss and learn about in class. The D4D assignment seems to “naturally fit” into my ASL 1 class as I’m really trying to provide a good foundation about hearing loss. We don’t just learn a “few signs”. I am careful to explain my goals for the class in my “class description” and syllabus.

Each year I learn something new about D4D, and student reactions. Some years… I’m tempted to ditch the project. Some years… I yearn to change things to make it easier on the students to keep “some” (albeit a minority) from reacting so negatively.

However, each summer I come to the same realization. D4D does what it was designed to do! Not every individual who suddenly faces a disability or loss of a sense handles it well. Some react with shock, negative thinking, depression, etc. My students are people too… as are their families. I don’t have the statistics, but I imagine the percentage of those who handle it poorly, matches the percentage of folks who truly do handle real crisis poorly. It’s human nature.

Those who have negative reactions, often … eventually… recover. (The alternative is not good). Given more time… I’m sure even my students who handle the onset of “deafness” badly, will eventually turn it around. Maybe I should ask they be “Deaf for a Week”! (Naaaah! Just kidding!)

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary

Deaf for a Day

This week, one of my classes will be doing an assignment I call “Deaf for a Day”.

For most, it is a frustrating experience but not for the reasons that you may believe. Most of the complaints that I get from my students are because the assignment cannot be done “totally deaf”. The earplugs simulating hearing loss, simply do not take away ALL the sound. They truly want to try to get a grasp of what it would be like to be “deaf for a day”.

I do everything I can to make it possible (smile), but in the end most experience the day “hard-of-hearing”.

I suppose that most who are late-deafened, have at one time WISHED deafness on someone for a day. Perhaps it was even someone to whom they were close… someone being particularly thick-headed about communicating in a way that made life a little easier. In anger, I’ll admit that I have at times wished “deafness” on someone if only to help them understand what my life was like… to experience the frustrations I live.

In truth, I will admit that I do not wish deafness on anyone. I do not wish it on anyone who was born hearing. I have Deaf friends who were born Deaf and are accepted into the Deaf culture and community. They fully utilize ASL as well as fully experience life. When you are born with normal hearing, however, deafness is not something one becomes accustomed too quickly… nor easily.

Many think that becoming deaf means that voices are no longer heard. Certainly communication is one of the more frustrating things a late-deafened person experiences. And yet, so much in our world makes sound! Learning to live in an environment where everything is silent can be painful.

I think that is why I chose the cochlear implant. It helps to keep me connected to the hearing world in which I was born. Almost everyone I know communicates through spoken word. Many of the things I enjoy the most make sound. I have reached the point in my “hearing loss journey”, that I readily accept changes in my hearing, choose to wear “bling” on my implant, and confidently put my faith in my hearing dog, Chloe! Hugs from this Vizsla darling are certainly a perk I enjoy!

I always look forward to the responses from my students about being “Deaf for a Day”. It is interesting to note, that many of the family members tend to be extremely frustrated and “ill” about the assignment. I had a mother once tell me that she “hoped I never repeated the assignment”, for it was “very frustrating trying to make conversation and make sure instructions were understood” to their hearing child gone “deaf”. After that conversation, I cried. You see, the whole point of the assignment was lost on this parent. At the end of the day… when the lights went out – the earplugs came out as well. In the morning their child woke up to their regular alarm clock, or “get out of bed NOW” reminder! (smile) What I want my students to learn… the lesson I hope they come away with… is how their world and relationships would change should they lose their own hearing. Certainly, the greater number of them will adapt, find help, and discover how very supportive their families are.

But hands off Chloe… grin! She’s mine!

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary

Crickets and Cicadas

I made 15 teenager’s mouths drop open last week. It seems a cricket had made it’s way into my classroom somewhere, and decided to wait for a break in my lecture to begin singing… or chirping… or cricket-ting. Frankly I have no idea what it’s called when a cricket makes noise but it was definitely doing just that. I know my eyes must have been as big as saucers as I managed to stutter out, “What is THAT?”

When informed that is was a cricket, it was all I could do not to drop everything and start looking for it, in order to get a concert of the sound up close and personal! As a matter of fact, I came awfully close to enlisting the help of my class to do just that. Why?

Well, perhaps it’s because I’ve only been hearing things like this for a very short amount of time. I heard the chorus of cicadas this September, which is the best I have heard them since my initial cochlear implant activation in 2005. The nice thing about cicadas, however, is they leave behind a memento… a shell… something I can count as an “ebenezer” of sorts. Crickets don’t leave that type of keepsake behind. I think they simply die – grin! In the Old Testament, Samuel set up an “ebenezer” as a memorial stone, in order that the Israelites would remember how God routed the Philistines from the area.

It’s October, and I cannot hardly believe it. Where did the summer go? It’s autumn already and the leaves are beginning to turn colors and fall to the ground. Crickets and Cicadas seem to be everywhere. They are both seem eager to “wax melodious”, and yet are so different, aren’t they?

Are you a cricket or cicada? Tricky question really. All of us would like to be the kind of person that we “leave behind a lasting impression”… an ebenezer… a memorial. Have you ever thought about how you would be remembered? When your “song” is finished and winter’s snow covers the frozen ground, will you find that you are a cricket or a cicada?

©2007 Hearing Loss Diary

3 Reasons for Teaching

My kids bought me this plaque last year. Kinda cute, idn’t it?

However, I was praying for my classes this morning (prior to sitting down and grading their papers – good time to pray for them, yes?) and I got to thinkin’ on what are the top 3 reasons I teach. I’ve narrowed it down, but it was hard!

#1 Love for the Deaf
If I didn’t love the Deaf, I’d have no interest in being the best ASL teacher
God has equipped me to be!

#2 Love for Students
A student gave me a copy of a poem she was writing this week. It was beautifully written, and yet I could see many heartaches in between the lines. Things like this make it very easy to pray for my students – they are people too with real needs and concerns.

#3 Love to be Used
Being a person with a disability… in which no amount of bionics will completely “make new”, there is nothing quite like knowing you can still be used by God.

Denise Portis
©2006 Hearing Loss Diary

Back to School Night

I teach part-time at a wonderful private school called “Chieftain Institute”. We had our annual “Back to School” night last night and I was able to meet all of my students and their parents. Wouldn’t you know I forgot my ALD’s? (assistive listening devices) My pocket talker is currently inoperative and being repaired, and I left my clipboard at home! Rats! And it works so well! Sigh. At least I didn’t forget any of my things to pass out to the students… including their first homework assignment. They would have been really upset had I forgotten that.

©2006 Hearing Loss Diary