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Using Labels with Pride

Selecting
a Name
            I was sitting in a high school
class, observing my student. There is a second student with hearing loss in
that class as well. They’re not really friends but they do have several classes
together and know each other. On this day, the class was reviewing for a unit
test and would be playing a Jeopardy-style game. The teacher instructed
students to pair up, come up with a team name, and write that team name on the
board where the score would be recorded.
My student and the other student with hearing loss were
sitting near each other and decided to work together. After a brief moment of
discussion and a high five, the second student hurried up to the board and
wrote in careful block letters, “THE DEAF PEOPLE.” As she scanned the team
names on the board, the teacher’s face went from smiling to concerned. She
glanced at me and then anxiously tried to get the boys to change the name of
their group.
Why?” my student
asked, “We’re both deaf. We’re the deaf
people.”


           
Teaching Labels and Identity
Identity is so important for all people, students with
hearing loss included. When I’m working with students on self-advocacy—beginning
as early as preschool— labels are part of what we discuss. We talk about the
differences between audiological terminology (hard of hearing, deaf, etc.) and identity terminology (deaf, Deaf, hard of hearing, person with
hearing loss,
etc.) These labels may change over time as students get older;
learn more about their hearing loss and communication style; and discover who
they are as individuals within their communities.

Connecting through Differences
             Sitting
in that classroom, I realized that it’s not enough to work with my students
around choosing labels, but it’s also important to educate their teachers and
school teams. Had this teacher realized that my student and his classmate chose
the term “deaf” proudly, her reaction to them writing this on the board may
have been different.
The teacher and I did discuss this event after class and she
admitted that she was uncomfortable because she’d never had a student with a
difference “own” it and express it so openly before. While most people want to
ignore differences and pretend we are all the same, these students demonstrated
that labels don’t have to be shameful or “bad” words. Sometimes the thing that
makes you stand out is also the thing that helps you connect to others.

Hear Me Out

Hear Me Out is produced by Mainstream Services at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech as part of our mission to support children with hearing loss and the professionals who serve them.

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About the Hear Me Out Blog

Itinerant teachers of the deaf (TOD) provide direct services to children with hearing loss in mainstream schools, consultation to their teachers, and professional development to school staff. Itinerant TODs travel to a child’s neighborhood school to provide one-on-one educational support, foster listening and spoken language development, and help children build social and self-advocacy skills. They also act as a liaison between the family and their mainstream school. Hear Me Out provides a unique forum for these special teachers to share their experiences as they grow as professionals.

Hear Me Out is produced by Mainstream Services at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech as part of our mission to support children with hearing loss and the professionals who serve them.

Hear Me Out Blog

About the Author

Heather Stinson (CAGS, MED, S/LP-A) received her master’s degree in Education of the Deaf from Smith College in 2006 and a graduate certificate in Children, Families, and Schools (with a concentration in research methodology) from the University of Massachusetts in 2012. In addition to her many years of experience working with children with hearing loss who communicate using listening and spoken language, Heather has also worked as a preschool classroom teacher.

Heather has presented both locally and nationally on issues related to mainstreaming students with hearing loss and is a contributing author to Odyssey magazine. Heather currently works as an itinerant teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing at Clarke Mainstream Services, a program of Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech.

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