Sarah Martin, MED, Clarke teacher of the deaf, (right) with her mainstream student Nathan (center) and his mother Nicole (left). Serving students for 10 years as a Clarke teacher of the deaf, Sarah brings a unique perspective to the profession having a unilateral hearing loss herself.
When you think about an itinerant teacher of the deaf (TOD) working in mainstream settings it may be obvious that this professional would work with students who are deaf or hard of hearing as well as their classroom teachers and other support staff. However, an equally important connection that we must establish and sustain is with the student’s family and caregivers. This relationship may look different depending on the needs of the particular student and may evolve as they get older. It will also depend on how often you work with the student and how much support that individual family requires.
Keeping a strong working relationship with the families of your students will help them understand what you do and you are there to help their child succeed in school. Here are my recommendations for staying connected with families at different phases.
When children are in elementary school, they are developing their self-advocacy skills but may not be the most reliable reporters yet for their specific needs. Their families or caregivers are the ones who are hearing that they did not understand what their teacher said after they get home from school or that their equipment was not working but no one noticed. It is so important for the TOD to be in consistent contact with the family to help facilitate what the child needs at school. This may be as frequently as every week.
Once students are in middle school, they may have established basic advocacy skills, but now may be more hesitant to use them due to social anxiety or other contributing factors. This is when the relationship with the family may change into more of a supportive connection because families may see the same hesitancy to speak up about the student’s auditory needs at home. Families are always appreciative of suggestions or resources to help make their child more comfortable at school.
At the high school level TODs should direct the family/TOD relationship to include the students themselves—whether that be including them in email correspondence, encouraging them to attend and participate in their IEP/504 meetings or involving them in any other ways you might communicate with their family.
There will be times when this task is more demanding than others. Some families understand how the special education process works, including annual meetings, progress reports, etc., and this may be because they have had this experience with an older child. They may not have as many questions or they may have known you longer and know what to expect of your services. You may also find that some of the families you work with are eager for as much communication as you are willing to provide. At the very least you want to keep it consistent throughout the year—no matter what age your student is—and foster a sense of comfort that the families can reach out with any concerns, even the families who do not think they need as much support.
- Balance. Try to balance your communication with families and caregivers. Do not contact them exclusively with challenges the student is having or things that appear negative. They want to know when things are going well too!
- Consistency. If you are able to, send periodic check-in emails or notes home to families with informal progress information. This might be after a consultation with the student’s teacher, with the student themselves or just to report something that may have happened.
- Be Proactive. If there are changes occurring (staffing, schedules, caseload, etc.) make the family aware as soon as possible. They will appreciate your honesty and it will build trust between you. Include the student in this communication as well when appropriate!
About the Author
Sarah Martin, MED, Clarke Teacher of the Deaf
Sarah Martin is in her tenth year working as a teacher of the deaf (TOD) for Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech, based out of their Boston site. She spent her first three years on site at Clarke, teaching a PreK-1 classroom before transitioning to an itinerant role where she currently serves students aged PreK-12 in eight districts on the South Shore of Boston. Over the last five years, Sarah has been supervising Fontbonne University graduate students who are completing their deaf education programs at Clarke Boston, and she recently began working as a mainstream coordinator for Clarke’s Massachusetts mainstream team as well. Sarah has enjoyed being able to follow some of her earliest students throughout their mainstream careers and brings a unique perspective to the TOD profession having a unilateral hearing loss herself.