Update on Deaf for a Day

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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