To celebrate the unique impact teachers have, Teacher Appreciation Week is a time set aside each year to acknowledge teachers for the countless ways they support their students. This year’s event runs May 2 – 6.
Besides their families, teachers are often the most influential adults in a child’s life. Most adults, long out of school, can quickly name a teacher who helped them finally understand a challenging subject, encouraged them to pursue a passion or instilled a sense of self-confidence.
Data show that the non-academic impact teachers have on students is the most important. A 2018 study found that when teachers bolstered students’ non-cognitive skills such as motivation, self-regulation and adaptability, students achieved better grades, attendance and graduation rates among other benefits.
Teachers of all kinds are vitally important to students, but for children with hearing loss, the relationship they have with their teacher of the deaf (TOD) is especially significant. TODs help their students understand their hearing loss, grow academically, develop study skills and social/pragmatic skills, as well as learn to advocate for themselves.
To celebrate this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week, we’re highlighting Amanda Tracey, MED, a Clarke teacher of the deaf, and the inspiring way she’s influenced her student Eric to become an educator in his own right.
The Impact of Support
High school senior Eric uses bilateral cochlear implants and after receiving early intervention services from Clarke and attending Clarke’s Preschool Program, he began working with Amanda in his mainstream first grade classroom. Today, he’s a three-sport athlete with excellent grades who won numerous scholarships and was accepted to all nine colleges to which he applied.
In the fall of 2022, he’ll enter Arizona State with the goal of becoming an audiologist. He’s especially interested in working with children and teenagers. “It gets so much harder when you start high school, and the academic demands are higher — especially for kids who want to be high achievers.”
While he’s long been interested in entering the medical field—particularly in an area like biomechanics that would help those with hearing loss—Eric says he’s become increasingly interested in using his skills and experience to help others in ways that go beyond access to sound.
“This year, knowing I’d be losing her help [when I go to college], I’ve been really noticing all that Mrs. Tracey does for me, and realizing that I want to do this for other people,” Eric says. “Parents, kids, schools — they all need to hear about what [students with hearing loss] can do and what they need to succeed. I wish people saw the ‘wins’ deaf kids have more often.”
Recently, when Eric was asked to write an essay about a teacher who influenced him, he didn’t need to think about who it would be. “Mrs. Tracey deserved that essay. She has supported me in so many ways,” Eric says. “And now I want to give back by supporting other kids and their families.”
Amanda recalls that Eric happened to send her the essay on a day when she was struggling. “Dealing with [the pandemic] and a new baby, I was having one of those days where you wonder: am I making a difference?” she recalls. “It inspired me to know that I am. I’ve been working with Eric for so long and like all children, he’s had ups and downs, but he’s never given up. It made my heart so happy to know I was making a difference in someone’s life.”
The Push to Build Confidence
Eric says he’s particularly grateful that Amanda consistently pushed him to go outside his comfort zone to develop his confidence and self-advocacy skills.
He notes that when he was younger, he often felt awkward speaking up to self-advocate. “Mrs. Tracey would encourage me, ‘Do it. Raise your hand.’ And when I did, she’d praise me and encourage me to do it again. She always made it clear that if you want to be successful, you have to push yourself,” Eric says. “Over time, she was able to come to school with me less often because I was able to speak out on my own.”
He adds that it really helped him understand the importance of self-advocacy when Amanda offered a big-picture perspective on their work together. “In the long run, who’s going to do it for you? As I got older, eventually I realized that I have these accommodations for a reason; my mom fought hard to get them for me, so I better use them.”
That self-advocacy is important for all children, but especially for children with hearing loss. Amanda shares that self-advocacy is her favorite thing to teach students. She notes that all families and caregivers are prone to do too much for their children, but it’s especially important for families of children with hearing loss to encourage their independence and self-advocacy.
“Students must know what they need to be successful and to have access. I really push them because I want them to have the confidence and self-awareness to not feel different,” she says. “I don’t want my students to blend into the background, I want them to stand out! Not for their hearing loss but because they know who they are, and they’re ok with it.”
Even when children who are deaf or hard of hearing are aware of what they need in terms of accommodations, they may feel uncomfortable speaking up to adults to request what they need or to remind them. To make it easier, Amanda often frames it with a sports metaphor. “Sports like golf and bowling have rules in place to level the playing field for different players,” she explains. “It’s the same with a student using their accommodations on their IEP [Individualized Education Program] such as getting a copy of notes, using a HAT [hearing assistive technology] system, preferential seating, et cetera. It makes it even.”
Fortunately, there is more than one way to self-advocate. Amanda notes that children need to find a way that fits their individual personalities. If they aren’t comfortable speaking up in class, they can speak to or email the teacher later or even develop non-verbal signals. If they don’t want to field on-demand questions about their hearing technology on a regular basis, they can give a PowerPoint presentation to their class at the beginning of the year.
For students with hearing loss, a teacher who can help guide them in understanding who they are, developing their strengths and finding their own way of self-advocating, can have a lasting impact in school and far beyond.
What Does Your Clarke Teacher of the Deaf Mean to You?
In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, we asked the Clarke Mainstream Services community how their teachers of the deaf have impacted them. Here is a sample of the many responses we received!
“My Clarke teacher of the deaf helped me with my assignments to help me better understand the material and how to complete them to the best of my ability. She also worked with my teachers so that I better understood what I needed to correct in class and on assignments. She was very helpful during my high school years and I’m very thankful for her help.”
—Twelfth-grader Jack, who has been working with his Clarke teacher of the deaf for three years
“Our teacher of the deaf is a strong advocate for our son and does a very good job articulating his needs to the school district and the teachers. She understands that every child’s hearing loss affects them differently, and the challenges these students face vary individually. I appreciate how responsive she is to communicating with me whenever I have a concern. We have worked with her for such a long time and trust her completely. Having our Clarke teacher of the deaf as part of our son’s team has provided us with assurances that his academic plan is the best it can be.”
—Karen, mother of seventh-grader Dylan, who has been working with their Clarke teacher of the deaf for nine years
“Our teacher of the deaf from Clarke has been instrumental in Colin’s success at his mainstream school. Since he was in preschool, she was an ally in helping us advocate for Colin’s educational needs, skillfully navigate interactions between school and home while not losing sight of Colin’s needs, services and goals. We really appreciate her thoughtful and diplomatic approach in meetings, collaboration with teachers/staff and tailored IEP goals that reflect her knowledge and our vision for Colin’s success in school. Most importantly, the manner in which she connects with Colin, talks about him and connects with us, shows how much she cares about what she does. We are aware of how challenging her role is, in which she has to wear so many hats, travel to so many schools, balance so many viewpoints, while also working with so many kids. We hope that she knows that her sacrifices and efforts are not unseen. We recognize that Colin’s gains come from her hard work and consistency that is poured into him day in and day out. We will always be forever grateful for her being part of our village.”
—Juliana, mother of first-grader Colin, who has been working with their Clarke teacher of the deaf for three years
“Our Clarke teacher of the deaf is such a blessing! She works alongside Drew’s teachers, adapts materials, troubleshoots issues, and breaks material up into understandable chunks… all while encouraging his independence! Drew tackled tough subjects while in high school and we credit his success to his hard work and her help!”
—Jen, mother of twelfth-grader Drew, who has been working with their Clarke teacher of the deaf for four years
Read an Excerpt from Eric’s College Essay…
“Mrs. Tracey [Amanda Tracey, Clarke teacher of the deaf] has changed me by instilling a bold confidence in me with how to speak out on what I need without being embarrassed about it. I struggled a lot when I was younger with speaking up… I really hated being ‘different’ and it felt so weird to have these two devices [FM system and mini microphone] that the class had to use that were only for me. I hated it, but Mrs. Tracey would come in often to observe me using my devices and speaking up when necessary… She would always help and work with me on anything hearing-related, talking to teachers, helping me out with sounds, teaching me the anatomy of the ear and how people hear and how I do as well… She would encourage me, telling me I could have spoken to unmute the FM sooner, raise my hand more or strive for even better grades because that’s what she, my mom and even myself expect. And she helped me realize it’s more than just for the classroom but that I’ll need to do these things on my own and in the workplace.”
-Eric, Clarke alum and incoming freshman at Arizona State University