David walked into his classroom and sat down. Around him there was a bustle of chatter. Richard and Adrian had their heads locked closely together in an obvious conspiracy. Debra and Meg whispered and giggled as they gossiped over the latest school yard romance. David watched everyone in animated chatter. He understood none of it. His head was filled with the noise of the class room. Screeching chairs, tapping pencils and a cacophony of mingling but indecipherable voices. The teacher entered the room and there was silence. A final screech of chairs and a tap of pens on desks, the class came to attention and the lesson was underway.
Today’s lesson was Australian History. Mr Isterling had forgotten to attach the FM microphone again. David had dutifully placed it on his desk. All it required was for David to put his hand up and ask Mr Isterling to attach it. But, hell, David has to ask him to do it nearly every lesson. He couldn’t be bothered today. It always meant he had to speak and bring attention to himself. David was very conscious of his deaf voice. Every time he spoke he sensed his class mates whispering around him. He was sure that they were whispering about him. No! David would leave things as they were.
Mr Isterling spoke, “Today’s lesson …will …learn …… turn to page ….pa….” Dutifully the class opened their books and turned to the correct page. David furtively looked over Peter’s shoulder to see which page he was reading. Peter, knowing that David was unsure which part he had to read, pointed to the paragraph they were supposed to be reading. The paragraph was quite interesting. It was about the development of the Australian larrikin trait. Reading was always David’s favourite part of a lesson. He understood most of what was on the page, interaction was minimal. It was just David and the book.
He would not know what to answer. He would look stupid. He dug his nails into the palms of his hands.
David was engrossed until Peter gently nudged him. Mr Isterling was talking again. David had not heard him. He realised his battery had gone flat. There were batteries in his pencil case. All it required was for David to insert the battery into his hearing aid. But this would mean that David would have to fumble with his ear in what he considered an uncool way. He was sure that when he did so everyone in the class stared at him in fascination. Apart from the odd glance they didn’t really, but David’s anxiety was very real.
Without the benefit of his hearing aid David had to rely totally on lip-reading. With his hearing aid he could hear some things and his lip-reading helped him to understand some of what he heard. At best David understood about 30% of what his teacher said. Without his hearing aid this percentage was drastically reduced. Without the benefit of his hearing aid, coupled with Mr Isterling’s bushy beard, he understood nothing. David found himself developing a cold sweat. He was sure the teacher was going to ask him a question. He would not know what to answer. He would look stupid. He dug his nails into the palms of his hands.
Suddenly the class erupted into laughter. Paul, the class clown, had made a joke. Even Mr Isterling chuckled and Mr Isterling was not known for his sense of humour. Peter, next to David, was beside himself with mirth. David looked around the class and smiled. He laughed too. He did not know why, but the laughter was infectious. Anyway, he didn’t want it to seem as if he had not got the joke.
Mr Isterling put on a video. It was about the Great Depression. Phar Lap and Donald Bradman figured prominently. Derelict men sat on the streets. Old people were interviewed about their experiences of the Depression. Manning Clark had a lot to say. David knew he was Manning Clark because his name flashed up on the screen. David realised that this was the author of the book that they had been reading. In fact the only parts of the video that David had understood were the names of the people that flashed up on the screen. Captions would have helped but the video was not captioned. David made as much sense as he could of the video over the next 30 minutes.
Mr Isterling explained the evening homework to the class. David did not understand a word of it. He looked to Peter with a questioning shrug. Peter wrote down for him what they had to do. David was thankful for this because communication with Mr Isterling was nigh on impossible. David usually made up for what he missed in class by reading profusely. This was really his only learning. He received no benefit from classroom discussions or from Mr Isterling.
His deafness set him apart from his school mates and he hated it. This fear of interaction and unwanted attention was his constant companion.
On the bus going home from school David sat by himself. He liked to sit at the very back of the bus so he could see everyone in front of him. If he could not get a seat at the back he found himself anxiously looking around. He feared that someone would be talking to him and he would not know. He wondered if they were staring at him, talking about him or making fun of him. Being a teenager he felt a strong desire to fit in. His deafness set him apart from his school mates and he hated it. This fear of interaction and unwanted attention was his constant companion.
David arrived home from school. “How was your day?”, asked his mother. David answered as he usually did, “Good” His mother smiled. “Teenagers”, she thought to herself, “ are such a surly lot..” David headed to his room and threw his bag in the corner. He lay down on the bed and covered his face with his arms. He was knackered…