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June 5, 2012—(From The Worcester Telegram) On the job: An interview with Christine L. Derosier, Teacher of the Deaf, Clarke Mainstream Services, at Woodland Academy.
This is your first year, and the program's first year, at Woodland Academy. What does it add to the city school system?
“Kids in Worcester did not have access to a program like this before. They would be sent to other districts or they would have services that weren't always tailored specifically for a child with hearing loss. Our goal is really to keep them in the district, in their neighborhood schools, and we're able to do that now. Our goal is that once they have a solid one or two years in preschool learning language, learning all those social skills that have to be directly taught, the subtleties of language that you would overhear, then our goal is for them to mainstream into kindergarten and first grade with their hearing peers, still with support from a teacher of the deaf but not as a separate classroom.”
What made you decide to become a teacher of the deaf?
“One of my aunts is a speech language pathologist, and I always thought it sounded interesting. … I realized (in college) that the teachers of the deaf, which was a job I never really knew about, had a little bit of speech involved in it, because they're always working with kids with language, a little bit of the equipment and the listening, the audiology side of things, and the education piece, and I knew I wanted to work with kids, so that job just opened to up to me and seemed to have a little bit of everything I was interested in, all in one.”
What did you have to learn in college and graduate school?
“You have to have a solid foundation in the anatomy of the ear so you know what type of hearing loss is equal to what kind of access (to various sounds). … You learn about speech acquisition and what sounds babies start with earliest and what sounds are more visual, what sounds are the most difficult, when children should have these sounds and when it's developmentally appropriate to say, 'wabbit' instead of 'rabbit.' And then you also have a solid understanding in education, but specifically in relation to language, so even if we're working on a math test it's language-based. … Everything is a language moment; everything is teachable.”
How does hearing loss affect a child's vocabulary?
“If you think of a classroom or a playground, and you're hearing that this student asks that one, 'Do you want to come play?' and that was while they were running across the playground, my children didn't hear that. They didn't have access to that sound. It's not a lack of ability, it's a lack of the opportunities they've had to experience that interaction.”
Is lack of confidence part of it? Do they just find it easier to stay silent?
“For a lot of our kids, that's much easier. It's a lot of work to be listening all day, interpreting what you're hearing, processing and then having that expectation to then use your words to tell what you want. It takes a lot of practice, a lot of work. You can see they're fatigued at the end of the day because they're working so hard. If a child doesn't have access to sound until they're 3, they're already three years behind in hearing all that vocabulary incidentally over and over again.”
Do all your pupils speak English at home?
“Out of the three that we have, there are three different languages at home. They're all exposed to two languages and learning two languages. … Once a child has a solid foundation in one language, they're able to carry it over to a second. It really works for them to have two languages.”
How does your classroom differ from a typical preschool?
“The makeup of our classroom is much different because it's much smaller. Where we have a class of three, they have a class of 24. Where we have a wall (showing) the progression of learning for the whole year and daily journals that go home, that's impossible to do with a group of 24. The makeup of the rooms, the small student-to-teacher ratio, really allows us to have much more involvement with the families.”
How do you work with the parents?
“The parents are such a huge part of the children's learning. … For our kids, they really need that practice in listening, parents having the expectation at home that my child's going to listen to what was said, having the expectation that they'll speak. They can't just point to what they want, they have to use their words: 'I want milk, please,' or 'Please tie my shoes.' ”
What's your favorite part of this job?
“Music with the children. I don't think there's anything more beautiful than hearing a deaf child sing.
So much of what they learn about language is in song; it's so repetitive. So much of what they do with listening is in music. … It triggers something in their brain and helps them categorize things and remember them.”
Do your pupils learn sign language?
“Once they're older, it's a personal choice. What you'll see in our classroom is an auditory-oral method. That's always our primary goal, listening and spoken language.”
Compiled by correspondent Michael J. Ballway