Very thankful for…

Making copies in the office
Making copies in the office

… copiers who “spit out” the copies high up instead of down low. See the look of disappointment on Chloe’s face? One of her favorite things to do is to “collect” the copies if they come out low.

School is starting! “Back to School Night” is tomorrow night and classes officially start 9/10! I only filled two classes this year so will only be teaching in the afternoon. As I’m in school myself, this will actually be a welcome break.

(pssst… hey Chloe? Ready to be my school bell again?)

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

But I’m afraid…

But I’m afraid…

This morning my assistance dog, Chloe, was out on the porch barking her head off.  I’ve never appreciated how she looks without a head, so I found myself hustling outside to see what all the fuss was about.  At first, I couldn’t figure out what she was barking at, but it was very clear that Chloe was afraid.  Each muscle in her 4 legs were trembling with fear and tension, her forehead was wrinkled, and she whined in between high pitch barks!  I had to step closer in order to finally see what she was fixated on… a tiny bird feather.

Now I’m the first to brag that my working dog is a very smart canine!  She loves to learn, loves to work, and loves to train!  But sometimes… her fear keeps her from putting all the pieces together.  Sometimes… she needs help to look past her fear and approach things a little more logically.  I continued to reassure her that everything was fine.  I wanted her to investigate it a little closer with a little more, erm… backbone!  Grin!

Me: “Chloe… it’s OK girl!  It’s just a feather, and it won’t hurt you.  Show me!  What is it?”

Chloe: (Looks at me like, “Don’t you SEE?  Oh my gosh!  LOOK!  Show you?  But I’m afraid…“)

It seems that feathers have a smell… at least they do if you are a dog.  Chloe could smell a recent “alive kind of smell“.  When she would get close enough to sniff the feather, her sniff would MOVE the feather… and much to her dismay TOWARDS HER!!  Therefore, Chloe was convinced it was alive!  What does a hound dog do when they think something is alive?  They bark!  When Chloe would bark at the feather, it would move even MORE, but away from her!  Feathers are so light that they tend to want to follow the natural rules that feathers follow when applying physics… a hound dog’s hot air.

Even holding the feather in my hand, had her cowering in fear!  I sat on the porch and talked to her, all the while holding the feather out towards her.  Finally, she crept up behind me and with head on my shoulder sniffed and huffed at the feather in my hand.  I could feel her trembling, with her fearful “self” pressed up behind me!  Eventually a good, stiff, Maryland-September breeze picked the feather up and flew it up over the railing and out into the yard.

Chloe cocked her head to the side and looked at me like, “Well! What did you do THAT for?”

She was afraid of the feather, but wanted the feather.

But I’m afraid…

Last night I attended our school’s kick-off meeting.  All the teachers were present, and I knew I would face supper, entertainment, games, dessert, announcements and fellowship.  I have to admit it was something I had to make myself attend.  The night before I had even cried all over my husband, trying to find a way to get out of having to go!

When you have a hearing loss, there is just something incredibly intimidating about going to a group function that reverberates with the background noise of a large number of excited and “pumped” teachers!  I planned in advance, and made sure my cochlear implant batteries were fresh so that I wouldn’t “go dead” in the middle of a conversation.  I brought some assistive listening devices that work in conjunction with my t-coils on both my CI and my hearing aid.  Due to some recent rains, I knew I was wobbly enough to need Chloe’s special collar.  I was prepared.  I wanted to go.  I needed to go.  But I was afraid…

I talked to my director via email prior to going.  I’ll admit that I was trying to see if it was something I did indeed have to attend.  I did… and my director knew I needed to for more than the information we received as teachers.  She knew I needed to go in order face my fear.

My fellow teachers are very nice people.  I WANT to get to know them better… to even gain the treasure of a friend or two.  But in year’s past I’ve seen the look of panic when I put a microphone nearer their face in order to hear them better in a crowd.  I’ve seen their faces as they inwardly castigate themselves as they said something behind their napkin and I had to ask, “Pardon?”  (I’m a transplanted Southern gal, what can I say?)  I’m 100% sure that if these teachers knew how afraid I was of them, they would be devastated!

In my HEAD, I know that I have nothing to fear.  And yet, when I go to these things I find myself saying, “But I’m afraid… ”

My consolation, is that it is getting better.  The more functions I attend like this, the more comfortable I become.  The “feather moves”, and I’m a little jumpy about it; however, I’m learning it’s just a “feather”.

I’m thankful I do not seem to have the same illogical fears towards my students.  Young people seem so incredibly natural towards me.  If I have to ask a student for a repeat… seven different times… they cheerfully do so without any visible qualms at all.  Perhaps it’s because my classes are “electives”, (although many take them as alternative foreign language).  I know they CHOOSE to be there, and it doesn’t bother them that their teacher has a hearing loss.  I do not feel disabled around them.

With my peers it is different.  I hope it isn’t always so.

I want to attend meetings like these, but am afraid of meetings like these.

At least with fellow teachers, I am becoming stronger and more confident.  Perhaps I need a good, stiff, Maryland-September breeze to convince myself I’m in a “safe place”.  At least with every one I go to, I’m less “trembly”… and heck!  I quit barking months ago!

Denise Portis

© 2008 Hearing Loss Journal

Psalm 56:3: “But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.

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