How much is good enough? Is it good enough for a deaf kid to “do well” in a classroom? If they are above average, is this enough? If a deaf kid is at or above the average achievement in their class is the job done?
In my years working as a case manager or support worker for young deaf people I have constantly been confronted by the word “coping”. It seems to me that too often “coping” is the highest common denominator in deaf education.
This might be a harsh statement because there are variations in every system. There are some teachers that push deaf kids to achieve the very highest they possibly can but there are far too many that see “coping” or “doing well” as the benchmarks.
Around Australia something like 85% of deaf kids are mainstreamed. They often are the sole deaf person in their class. They largely receive support from a visiting teacher that may visit them once a month. Some of these visiting teachers are not even teachers of the deaf.
Even then the visiting teacher does not really support the deaf student. They support the teacher. They advise on how to structure classrooms, how to improve communication, how to use technology like FM systems or how to reduce background noise so that the deaf student can utilise their hearing to the maximum.
All this is important stuff. But largely deaf kids are in classrooms with classroom teachers who do not have much knowledge of deafness. The focus of the classroom teacher will largely be on making sure the deaf student knows what to do and completes task. Very few of these classroom teachers will understand the issues of classroom interaction. Fewer still will understand just how much of this interaction that the deaf kids actually miss out on.
What happens to help these kids understand classroom discussions that occur? How much focus is placed on the value of the input from peers? Who focuses on providing deaf kids with access to social interaction in the playground? Just how much better would the deaf student perform if they had better access to all the banter and discussions that happen in the classroom and the playground?
And then we have situations like those of the “little deaf girl” who is the subject of this article. The Deaf kids who have so called “interpreters” but who only interpret the “important information.”
Apparently when confronted with the issues that are raised in this article the ‘interpreter’ said, “Well how do you expect me to interpret everything, she doesn’t watch me any way?”
If she had bothered to ask me I would have told her that at a young age it is important to move into the sight of the young deaf person rather than try to force them to focus on the interpreter all the time. Why? Simply because at a young age the attention span is not yet sufficiently developed to focus in such a way. Therefore the interpreter adapts. Over time the young deaf person will learn naturally to focus more on the interpreter. This is just basic human development theory that every teacher of the deaf should know.
What is worse is that the school were dismissive of the report that was provided. The mother commented that she felt bullied. That the school made her feel ungrateful for the effort that they were putting in to support her daughter. The school did not even want to consider strategies to improve classroom interaction. They were completely defensive and in their view they were doing enough because the little deaf girl was ‘coping’.
Simply put it’s NOT GOOD ENOUGH! Education is about the whole child and their environment and not just what comes out of the teachers’ mouth. Access to peer interaction is a vital part of deaf education!