Hey guys! Merry Christmas Eve Eve! Today is a really special day for me because it’s the 1 year anniversary of being activated on my right ear. Hurrah!
I apologize for the lack of updates. I know I promised you guys back in like August that I’d post on what it’s like to teach with cochlear implants…and now it’s the end of December…sorry! Between working full time at Penn Medicine, teaching 3 times a week at Rowan, and taking two graduate courses towards my MA in Writing, I haven’t had much time for blogging. But the good news is that winter break is finally here giving me a little bit of free time to give you all an update!
Before I begin I just want to apologize ahead of time for any major typos in this post. My laptop is currently on life support and the R, Y, 7, and perhaps some other keys I’ve yet to discover are currently broken. I’m actually using an external keyboard to type most of this. I know I should be less stubborn and give in and buy a new laptop (my current one is about 7 years old, after all) but I just love this one so much I’m not quite ready to part with it (and to be honest I’m waiting to be able to use my leftover loan money for the Spring semester so I can purchase one from the bookstore with boro bucks…).
Well anyway where was I? Oh that’s right…teaching. What it’s like to teach with cochlear implants. As I mentioned in the past, this past fall semester was my first time EVER teaching. I taught a class of 18 (well, it was originally 18, turned into 17 when one of my students withdrew from the class) three times a week…Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. All of my students were freshman taking Intensive College Composition at Rowan University. This was a first-year writing class for Freshman with lower test scores on their SATS that needed an additional day of class each week for extra support.
I am currently in the process of earning my MA in Writing and I have no prior teaching experience. I am able to teach as part of my MA in Writing program through acceptance into the Teaching Experience Program (TEP) at Rowan University. When I first started teaching I was honestly terrified. I think I practiced my first-day lesson about 20,000 times before teaching my first class on Friday, September 2nd.
I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous about how my students would react to my cochlear implants at first. Being silver and blue, they definitely stand out and are kind of hard to miss…something I’m proud of. I never wanted to hide my cochlear implants from the world and never tried to hide them on anything. However, I assumed most of my students had never seen cochlear implants, wouldn’t know what they were, and never been around a deaf individual. I felt kind of vulnerable on my first day of class. I wasn’t sure if my students would take me seriously if they knew I was deaf, but at the same time my deafness was something I was proud of and wanted to make known to my class.
Here is a screenshot from my “First Day of Class” PowerPoint. I probably spent a little too much time talking about myself, but I was so nervous and they were so quiet!
While I did have a mini-lesson on rhetorical analysis for my first class, a majority of the first day was spent introducing myself to my class and going over the syllabus. I used this time to explain to my students about my deafness. It honestly felt kind of awkward. My students were SO QUIET on the first day. It felt a lot like “Bueller…Bueller…Bueller”. They just kind of starred blankly at me. I couldn’t get a feel for their reaction at all. Did they like me? Hate me? Find me and my deafness strange? I couldn’t tell at all. I felt strange talking about it though. I almost felt like I had to apologize for it like “Hey guys, sorry but you ended up with a graduate student who doesn’t really know what she’s doing right now and just so happens is also deaf.” I remember actually telling my students, “FYI…I CAN hear now so don’t think you can whisper and get away with because I will know!”I immediately regretted saying that…
My students probably forgot that I said that last statement immediately after I said it, but for some reason it really stuck with me. I felt like after I said it I HAD to hear my students and that asking them to repeat themselves would be like I was lying on contradicting myself and that it would cause my students to lose trust in me. Unfortunately, my students tend to mumble and speak softly on occasion, and this was especially true on the first day when all of my students were still really shy and fearful and not at all familiar with the college experience (they were freshman, after all). I found myself using coping strategies I used back when I was a camp counselor and couldn’t hear what kids were saying to me…I just smiled and said “Yeah” or something of that sort and moved on. Fortunately, this only happened once or twice on the first day.
As the semester went on my students and I quickly came to know each other and built up a strong sense of trust in each other. I would often tell my students they were like my children and I always meant that. I can’t begin to tell you what these kids meant to me. I wanted nothing more to see them succeed and nothing in the world was more heartbreaking to me than seeing a student who was not living up to their potential. By the third day of class I knew everyone’s names. By the 2nd full week I could give a little bit of biography or backstory on each of my students. I knew I was going to like teaching, but never expected to love it as much as I really did. I realized teaching was one of my biggest passions in life.
As the semester progressed, I became so comfortable with my students and my deafness in the classroom that I even willingly shared this embarrassing photo with all of my students…
I became more comfortable with my deafness in the classroom as well as time went on. My students never questioned my cochlear implants or my deafness. They seemed intrigued by it, but they were very respectful of me and they didn’t seem to mind having a deaf professor at all. They were very accepting. I tried to use my deafness in my lesson plans wherever appropriate. For example, when introducing my students to the concept of Grit for their second project in which they had to join the conversation of Grit and connect it with their own personal lives, I shared my story of overcoming challenges as a deaf student prior to getting a cochlear implant. I explained how statistically most deaf children can’t read or write and how my initial elementary school tried to label me as being special needs even though I was very intelligent simply because I was deaf. I even shared with my students about how I challenged my senior seminar professor and filed a report against him for discrimination my last semester of undergrad. I used these experiences to show how I had grit – the passion and perseverance to overcome great challenges to succeed. This was one of my favorite lesson plans to teach. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my students more focused or attentive than they were that day. While my students didn’t question anything I told them about my personal story that day, it was clear that I had their full and undivided attention. They were hooked.
I want to use my deafness to inspire my students in my classroom. I want them to see that they can do anything they set their minds to, no matter how difficult it may seem. Whenever someone tells them they can’t do something, I want them to work twice as hard to prove that individual wrong.
I also want to teach my students to be loving and accepting of others and their differences. I want them to see my deafness not as a DIS-ability meaning “not abled”, but rather as meaning “differently abled”. I want them to realize that the deaf can do anything the hearing can do except hear. They can still succeed and have the same opportunities for success in life.
Lastly, as a professor I want to make sure I am giving my students every opportunity I can to see them succeed. I know what challenges I faced as a student not being able to hear in class (I didn’t get my cochlear implants until after I already graduated from undergrad). One way that I do this is by making sure I always air closed captioning on any video I play in class (I use videos when I teach a lot in class). I know it sounds like such a small gesture, but it can make a huge difference when it comes to learning. Remember, just because a student doesn’t come to you and tell you they have a hearing impairment doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Also, reading the captioning in addition to listening to the audio of videos can further help students to retain the information presented in the video and further enhance learning.
My first semester teaching Intensive College Composition I has definitely been a challenge, but it has been such a blessing. I had an amazing class of students who always kept me on my toes and I learned so much from each and every one of my students and I hope that they learned equally as much from me. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to teach them, something that prior to receiving my cochlear implants I never thought would’ve been a possibility. I am so excited to teach again in the spring and to see what my next class has in store for me!