To the Hearing Support Teacher Who Refused to Give Up on Me
To the Hearing Support Teacher who never gave up on me,
When I met you for the very first time when I was in fifth grade, in the “office” that was actually a broom closet, I had no idea how much of an impact you would have on my life. On that chilly September morning, I remember that I wasn’t expecting to meet with you, so when I got called to the office, I was kind of confused. Prior to you, I’d had one early intervention specialist that worked with me immediately post-hearing loss diagnosis and then another hearing support teacher that worked with me from first to fourth grade. In addition, I had just moved into the area, so I really still didn’t know anybody at that point.
Over the next three years, you would patiently teach me how to read my audiograms, care for and troubleshoot my equipment, how to define different types of hearing loss, do reading comprehension practice using “The Hunger Games” series, spelling and vocabulary practice, organizational skills, and the meaning of different legislation protecting individuals with disabilities (ADA, FAPE, and IDEA). I still remember!
But most importantly, you taught me how to advocate for myself, even though I fought you every single step of the way. I think it is safe to say that meeting after school after I had expended all my energy listening in school all day was not the optimal time, but that’s what we had to work with. So we dealt with the meltdowns almost every meeting. I’d be good for the first 10 minutes or so, but the fatigue set in and that was the end of that. It makes me shudder when I think about awfully I behaved. Yikes. I’m glad I grew up and matured!
You slowly but surely managed to work the self-advocacy skills into my head. You helped me take more responsibility for my equipment. You helped me maintain a organizational system that worked for me. You made sure I used my student planner to write down assignments. Including me in my IEP planning meetings was one of the most important steps toward improving my self-advocacy skills. One of the most valuable tools was teaching me how to ask my teachers for help or accommodations, a skill I use to this very day. The day I figured that out, everything changed.
In eighth grade, just before my graduation, you helped me collect handouts and other information on cochlear implants to give to my new teachers in high school. We sat down and composed that introductory letter introducing me and telling them about my hearing loss. It was a tremendous help and the teachers loved it. In fact, it was such a huge hit, I used it all four years and tweaked it as necessary.
Going into my freshman year of high school, I was adjusting to life with bilateral cochlear implants, having received my second implant just days before school was to start. That entire first year, you helped me make the transition from a grade school class of 11 people I had known for years to a class of 88 people, none of whom I knew. By practicing listening skills religiously each week, my transition to completely bionic hearing was almost unbelievably smooth. My transition to high school was amazing academically and socially. I played basketball on my school’s team, participated in service clubs and other community service opportunities, and I joined a youth group that allowed me to go on mission trips.
After my freshman year, you retired after a long and successful career. I was supposed to be assigned a new hearing support teacher, but I never requested one. And do you know why that is? You successfully taught me how to advocate for myself; skills I use eight years later in college.
Thankfully, my initial refusal to acknowledge my hearing loss or advocate for myself hasn’t held me back in the long run. I now serve as a hearing center auxiliary volunteer, where I get to share my story with parents of newly diagnosed children and answer their questions. I’m also blessed to have the opportunity to help other deaf children along this educational journey. This is all so ironic to me, because I was an absolute nightmare about practicing self-advocacy skills.
Now we can look back on the chaos I caused, but in the end, the job was completed and done well. Your job was not easy at all, but it was a critically important one. All of the skills, tips, and tricks are some of the things I now recommend to families that are new to this journey.
Thank you for being my hearing support teacher, advocate, and friend! If every deaf child had a support team like you, we would be so much better off. Congratulations on a very successful career and a well-deserved retirement!
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Thinkstock photo by Sladic.