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.
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
asked, “We’re both deaf. We’re the deaf
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.
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.
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.