Tuesday, 11 August 2015

My Hard of Hearing Teachers: Part 1

For the next couple of posts, I will be providing some valuable insight(s) from my former teachers of the deaf (as they are titled). From six months to 18 years old, I was provided guidance by the Vancouver Oral Centre (VOC) School for the Deaf, now re-named the Children's Speech and Hearing Centre of BC

With their permission, they answered a few questions that I thought would be helpful to parents with children going through a similar program, students currently in the itinerant program, or to the general public wanting to understand more about the tough work behind the scenes in helping a hard of hearing child learn to speak, listen and understand sound.

The first teacher I'd like to introduce you to is Annabelle Cutting, who was one of my first 'in-class' teachers (I started my formal schooling education at the age of 3!). She continues to remain a close family friend nearly 20 years later.

1) First, tell me a little bit about yourself, how you came to be a teacher for the hard of hearing/deaf.
I was born in Barbados and moved to Canada in January 1969.  We were married in Vancouver in 1971. I was trained as a secretary and worked in this capacity until we adopted our children.

When our daughter was 2 years 4 months, we found out she had been born with a hearing loss. The cause is unknown. Although we suspected something was amiss, we were not sure what it was. I had no knowledge of what a hearing loss was all about and had never met a person with one. We were living in Canada without the emotional support and knowledge of our parents.

Our doctor kept telling us that some children do not talk until they are much older than the norm. So this had prevented us getting an earlier appointment to have our daughter's hearing tested. It was not until she had turned 2 and I took her to a doctor's appointment, saw another doctor who was standing in for our family doctor, I told him our concerns and he then made the appointment for her hearing to be tested. We had to wait another 4 months for this test! In the 1970's the early screening for babies was not in place.

Our daughter was enrolled in the Home Guidance Program of the Vancouver Oral Centre for Deaf Children in January 1979.  After she left the Centre, and in 1988,  I was approached that I could apply for the job as an assistant to the teacher of the deaf for the 3 year olds, as a staff member was retiring.  The principal offered me the position and afterwards I attended Kwantlen College and took the 2 year night school program for Early Childhood Education. 

So without having had a child with a hearing loss, I am positive that I would not have entered the field of deaf education! 

2) What's your first (or last) memory of me?
I began my teaching career at the Vancouver Oral Centre for Deaf Children in September 1988. You were one of 7 children in my first class which was for children turning 3 years old, or already 3 years old. I was hired as an assistant to a wonderful teacher of the deaf. I taught at the centre for 22 years.

My first memory of you was that you were a happy and contented little 3 year old with a wonderful smile and great personality and you had dedicated and loving parents. I was delighted that your parents invited us to attend your university graduation. It was a very proud moment for myself and for the other staff of the VOC who had been invited to attend. Also it was an honour to attend your wedding, as I followed you through another milestone in your life!

3) As you were teaching me, what were some of the things you found challenging, as a teacher? (and do you think I'm a success story?)
My first year working as an assistant was in 1988 when you entered our class.  That year was a great learning curve for me.  Although I had raised our hearing impaired daughter, it would be my first role as "teacher" to children not related to me.  On the plus side, I had already begun to raise a daughter with a hearing loss and so I had great empathy for the new parents who were bringing their children to the centre for the first time. I knew how they felt as parents leaving their children to be looked after by an outsider. My teacher had already known you as she had worked with your parents before your entered the Centre.

I guess challenges for anyone teaching small children with a hearing loss, is that you have to make sure the child has your attention and is in close proximity before you begin to talk to him/her. Children with hearing losses miss a lot of communications that hearing children would readily pick up say from a distance and on the fly. 

You certainly have been a success story!  You were born into a loving, caring family who have been dedicated to your success every step of the way.  Not only was your grandmother a pivotal part of your growth, but you were surrounded by your aunts, uncles and cousins who all have all played a great part in shaping you and making you what you are today.

4) Would you say that my parents relationship with you contributed to my success?
Most definitely!  At the Centre, with the small classes of no more than 7 children with a teacher and an assistant, both parents, caregivers and teachers develop very close and almost "intimate" relationships that you would not find in any other school or centre which serves children at a preschool level. On account of this closeness, parents feel very open and ready to discuss any possible queries they might have regarding development, behaviour or anything else on their mind.  These communications were always kept confidential.  An openness and flow of thoughts and ideas would only be a positive way in shaping and educating children, parents and teachers! I have always felt very close to your parents and in fact you may not remember, meeting my own extended family, both here and in the Caribbean!

5) Do you have any words of wisdom for parents who have a child with a hearing loss?
Parents need to work very closely with their child's teachers. Try to follow ideas  and tips that the teacher puts forward to help your child learn language. This effort will pay off as your child develops and grows. 

A lovely idea is to start making a journal of your little child's life.

Draw pictures of activities your child has done at home, write a short description of it and let your child take it to school to share with the teacher and friends. I kept a weekly list of the words our daughter learned to say. It was wonderful looking back on it and see her growth.  Even 36 years later, I still look at these lists!

6) What were some of the teaching tricks you used with your students, to help them learn language?
My job as an assistant with the 3 year old classes was to provide opportunities to engage children so they would be able to answer open ended questions; working on language targets which the teacher of the deaf would set as goals for individual children and all children as a whole.  We would  provide interesting centers at free play where children could experience all levels of play as they moved from one centre to another which would build their language skills as well as their gross and fine motor skills, creative skills, social skills, etc. etc.  The curriculum  was always theme based so language and play was always centred on the particular theme engaging children in the appropriate language for the set theme.

7) Before I was mainstreamed into the regular school system, how did you assess that I would be 'ready' for it?
I have always worked with the 3 year old classes. Mainstreaming of the children was usually done when the child was older, maybe by Kindergarten.  Basically, this did not come into my domain, as this fell to the teachers at that level along with the parents' input  and personal needs to decide when they thought the child would be ready for mainstreaming. The children would have to show their independence to move into a class where the ratio of teachers to children would be a lot less than they had been accustomed to and of course their play and language skills would need to be almost on a level with children of their own age as well as their educational level.
8) Any other comments you'd like to share?
It has been such a pleasure over the years getting to know you, your parents and your extended family. To have watched you emerge from a toddler to a young parent has been awesome!  

I am sure you are eternally grateful to have had such supportive, caring and loving parents who have taught and  guided you along the way to help make you what you are today.

You have been extremely fortunate to have had the same teacher of the deaf who has followed you from infancy to high school graduation!  She is one in a million and I cherished working with her and gaining insightful knowledge which she has shared over the years with me to have made me also successful as an assistant to a teacher of the deaf.

Thanks Annabelle! :)

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