While COVID-19 has impacted education throughout the country, here in New England we were hopeful in the spring of 2021. Masks seemed to be working. Vaccines were rolling out. Enthusiasm was high in anticipation of a normal school year for the fall. We’ve now come to realize that the masks, distancing and cleaning protocols are the new normal. Accepting this fact has helped me to transition into the new school year with a more positive mindset. Rather than waiting this out, I’m working on accepting the current circumstances and helping my students to do the same. We now have experience. We know what works and we know the challenges. Students with hearing loss have always benefitted from the support of a teacher of the deaf, but that support is absolutely critical now—more than ever.
A teacher of the deaf supports students in self-advocacy and the development of confidence and a positive sense of self. And in just the one week I’ve been back in schools, I’ve already seen my students benefit from this support. One of my middle school students approached his team leader the second day of school and requested that his in-service happen sooner than originally scheduled so that he could talk to all of his teachers at once about his access needs. A high school student presented her in-service (with my support) to her teachers and followed up with an email summarizing her key access needs in the classroom. Another student sent out an email before the start of school with a link to her preferred clear mask that she would like teachers to wear. Yet another student created a chart comparing and contrasting the pros and cons of the various instructional modes: remote versus in-person versus hybrid. And this is just the first week of school! Without continuous teacher of the deaf support, many of these students may not have had the self-awareness to know what they need or the confidence to reach out to their teachers proactively.
A teacher of the deaf also supports academics, especially literacy and communication. My students are all relieved that we can meet in-person this year! After a hectic and confusing year last year, staying on top of the academic skills and helping school staff to understand the impact of hearing loss will be an important component of my job. I do not believe that anyone is “behind” or that we need to worry about regression for most students. Everyone is right where they are. Rather than focusing on the last year and a half and what may have been missed, I’m encouraging school teams to start fresh without added pressure on teachers or students. After all, we still have plenty of other challenges with the ongoing pandemic.
Even savvy, strong classroom teachers can miss both the obvious and more subtle needs of our students with hearing loss. Many students on my caseload are academically bright and quite social. As teachers of the deaf, we are trained to recognize the nuances of hearing loss and how those challenges impact access and education. While this may not be the fall that I envisioned last spring, I’m still hopeful for a smoother year with the continued goal of ensuring that every student has access to this valuable teacher of the deaf support.