Monday, 17 August 2015

My Hard of Hearing Teachers: Part 2

Last week, I introduced you to one of my former Hard of Hearing Teachers, Annabelle Cutting. She gave a pretty awesome overview of my first year at the Vancouver Oral Centre, when I was 3-years old. Fast forward two years, (at this point, I'm 5 years and probably full of mischief), the foundation has been set, and I'm on the cusp of being mainstreamed into the regular school system.

Next, I'd like to introduce you to Cindi Augustine. Cindi actually has a Childcare Worker degree (not specifically designated as a teacher of the deaf), and I remember seeing her as a bubbly, vibrant person who always had a huge grin on her face!

Even though I was only in her class for one short year, we still keep in touch via email and Facebook. Here is her write up:

1) First, tell me a little bit about yourself, how you came to be a teacher for the hard of hearing/deaf.
I come from a large family and always loved to play school as a child. I have an adopted brother younger than I by 12 years, and he had many special needs both mentally and physically. As a teenager, I devoted a lot of time helping whenever I could by visiting with him and the other youngsters at the Children’s Hospital. It inspired me to read books about Helen Keller, and other children with special needs and I became fascinated - and eventually obsessed - with the idea of helping these children.

After receiving my Childcare Worker degree, I worked mainly with children afflicted with physical challenges, such as cerebral palsy, in the regular school system. Eventually, I began working with kids affected by autism and other similar challenges. I was never officially a teacher of the deaf, but my varied experience with other educational challenges helped me get the job at the Vancouver Oral Centre (now the Children’s Hearing and Speech Centre), where I worked as a kindergarten assistant for 17 wonderful years.

2) What's your first (or last) memory of me?
I was your kindergarten teacher, along with Rae. I remember you as being very shy, with very limited language skills. You liked to hide behind your dad’s leg! I remember looking at your audiogram, and seeing the level of your hearing loss. I recall thinking “Oh dear! How are we going to turn this child into a verbal communicator!?!”

But, your parents were determined, and with the help of a hearing aid and that determination, everyone decided to give it the best shot possible. You were always a lovely student in class, very happy and hard-working, and you loved school. That’s why I remember you; there are many students I can’t recall as well.

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?)
First of all, how could anyone doubt the success you’ve achieved? So many people with hearing loss never learn to become good verbal communicators. With such barriers, it’s far more difficult achieving high levels of reading and writing skills, despite their IQ levels. It’s not very unusual to find these folks underemployed and restricting themselves mostly to friends with hearing losses. You are not only successful from an educational standard, but seeing photos of you laughing and smiling with your husband and daughter, and from reading your blog, is evidence that you have acquired the quality of life your parents and teachers hoped you would. It makes me proud to have been a small part of your journey.

I didn’t find you very challenging because you were a happy child, eager to learn, and you really were a joy to teach.

4) Would you say that my parent’s relationship with you contributed to my success?
I would say that the parent/teacher relationship is always a factor in a student’s success. But even more so when a child has a special educational need. Communication and teamwork not only helps the teacher develop a more individually-suited program for the student, but also increases the odds that everyone is inspired to pull their weight in making the program work. Also, it’s important to be aware that the student will always feel it when there’s stress between parents and teachers. There’s no question it’ll interfere with the student’s positive learning environment.

Your parents are the type of parents teachers like me love to work with! They were not only determined to get you the best education possible, they would not be deterred by obstacles. They knew it was going to be a long road because of your level of hearing loss, and they knew there would be bumps along the way. But what mattered was that they were willing to work through them.

I also recall what a great sense of humour they had! No matter what, they were always so wonderfully positive. I remember them as always being ready with a smile and a laugh. I know this encouraged all the staff to want to work even harder for you! Your dad demanded nothing less than our best and his warm nature went a long way to encouraging us to go the extra mile to help you.

5) Do you have any words of wisdom for parents who have a child with a hearing loss?
First of all, never underestimate any child’s ability to adapt and learn. My family was told by many doctors that my own brother wouldn’t grow up to be 5 years old or learn to read. But my parents refused to let that influence them. My brother proved the experts wrong. I don’t think that would have been the case if my parents had quietly accepted that the experts knew everything. All children are born willing and eager to grow and learn. All they need is the right support and encouragement.

Secondly, be willing and open to using all the technology now available. Cochlear implants and hearing aids may seem daunting, but like glasses or wheelchairs they’re tools for independence. Embrace them, learn everything you can about them, and help your child accept them as wonderful devices. They should be viewed as liberating, not limiting. When parents have a positive attitude about the tools, then their children will develop one as well.

Third, hold your child to the same standards you would hold any child. Don’t let their hearing loss be an excuse for not becoming who they want to be. Don’t let any special need lower your child’s quality of life. Instead, give them lots of social and educational opportunities to help them achieve the best life possible.

As a parent, one of the most important roles you can play in your child’s development is that of an advocate. Be educated about the choices available and work with the experts as part of a team. You should feel that you and your child’s teachers and doctors share the same goals for your child. You will always be the expert on your child, and when you team with experts you trust on hearing loss you’re more likely to get the best outcome possible.

Get to know other families that share your challenges. Having a support network is invaluable, as there will inevitably be times of getting through the lows and sharing the highs. They will understand in a deeper way than most.

The last thing I will say is expect bumps in the road, and don’t let them stop you. Life is not a smooth highway. It’s more like a hiking trail with hard patches, unexpected twists and dangers. However, there are also times of great accomplishment and beauty that take your breath away. In many ways having a special needs child is a blessing, because most parents learn amazing things about their own strengths. There are tough challenges to be sure; but there are also those occasions when conquering the challenges cause great feelings of success and contentment.

6) What were some of the teaching tricks you used with your students, to help them learn language?
The teacher and I would agree on a vocabulary list, containing both nouns and verbs. These words would be used over and over again throughout the day, as we were always looking for opportunities to incorporate those words into every activity.

For example, if we were doing a classroom theme on farm animals, I would read books about cows and horses. We’d sing Old MacDonald’s Farm everyday, and during art we made animals from clay or cardboard barns to hold the little plastic animals I would put out at play time. At Math time, we’d planned such activities as counting plastic chickens. Although you didn’t realize it, I was very exact about what toys and books were put out for you everyday.

One of my favourite things to do was to create songs and books especially designed to help you with these language targets. To help make connections to concepts such as chickens give us eggs, farmers grow food and raise animals. I loved doing this, and even though I have poor drawing skills and can’t sing very well at all, you didn’t care. Children don’t judge these things as harshly as adults often do, and I had just as much fun as you did when it was story or music time!

The most important thing in teaching any child, special needs or not, is to be as freely creative as possible. This helps with the repetition that’s necessary to learn language. We don’t learn a word or a concept until we use it many, many times. For a child with a hearing loss, you have to be very deliberate in exposing them to words and ideas over and over again.

7) Before I was mainstreamed into the regular school system, how did you assess that I would be 'ready' for it?
Assessment around mainstreaming was a team responsibility. Your teachers, audiologist, and parents took many thing into consideration, such as your readiness both educationally and socially to fit into a larger school environment. It also depended on what services would be available to you at your new school. This is why so many children with challenges attend private school. The smaller class sizes and availability of tutors and other services greatly increase a child’s chances of success.

Any other comments you'd like to share?
I think your questions really covered a lot of things, and to add more would turn this into a book! As a life coach and teacher, I’m thrilled by this opportunity to share my experiences as an educator and my views on parent involvement. Thanks so much for asking me.

Thanks Cindi! :)  

Stay tuned for one more VERY special teacher to come - (I'm still waiting for her response... summertime = vacation)! 

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