Clare Gill, M.E.D., is a teacher of the deaf at Clarke Boston. Clare joined Clarke in August 2010 to teach children who are deaf or hard of hearing to listen and talk.
“I always wanted to work with young students, but I did not find my niche until I began volunteering at Clarke in 2008,” said Clare. “I had taken a couple ASL [American Sign Language] classes for fun in college and that’s where I first learned the statistic that over 90% of deaf children have hearing parents. This fascinated me and while earning a Master’s in Intercultural Relations at Lesley University, I completed an ethnographic study of hearing parents with deaf children. Through the process of interviewing parents and observing various programs, I fell in love with what Clarke does and knew that I too wanted to be a teacher of the deaf [TOD]. I then completed my MED at Smith College and was thrilled to return to Clarke as a full-time TOD in August 2010. My passion truly is working with children with hearing loss and their families!”
Clare’s students use cochlear implants and hearing aids to maximize their access to sound. Specially trained teachers like Clare work alongside audiologists and speech-language pathologists to help children develop listening, literacy and spoken language skills to maximize their learning.
“Our goal is to prepare children to succeed in mainstream classrooms alongside their hearing peers,” explained Barbara Hecht, PhD., director of Clarke Boston. “Clare has always gone above and beyond in the classroom and in supporting students’ families. I regularly hear from parents who praise Clare’s attentiveness and compassionate approach to learning.”
Photo by Tony Rinaldo
The majority of Clarke Boston students, including Clare’s, successfully transition to mainstream schools—attending classes with their hearing peers—by first grade.
Late in the summer of 2017, while she was in the midst of preparing for her new group of kindergarteners, Clare received the unexpected news that she had breast cancer. The diagnostic, treatment and recovery process kept her out of the classroom for the entire fall and spring semesters. But throughout that school year, Clare kept in touch with the students and families who energized and motivated her to become a teacher of the deaf.
Always the teacher, as Clare prepared to return to school for the summer term, she wanted to help her young students understand why she had been away. She wrote a short book for them about her experiences to answer with honesty, humor and hope some of the spoken and unspoken questions that she knew they would have—even to help them understand why she had so little hair at first!
In July 2018, Clare excitedly returned to her students at Clarke. “Our team, the students and their families joyfully celebrated Clare’s return,” shared Hecht. “We remain grateful for her commitment and passion.”
“Returning to Clarke was the finish line I had set for myself, what I desperately looked forward to, my goal throughout treatment,” recalls Clare. “I first visited Clarke, after having been sick, in the beginning of May 2018 and was greeted at the door by all the students and staff holding a big welcome back banner. It was such a powerful and emotional experience. It meant the world to me to finally be back and embrace everyone. It was that day that I read my experience book to my former students who listened attentively and asked impressive questions. I clearly remember everything clicking for one student when she saw the picture of me bald and said, ‘That’s why you weren’t here.’ I will never forget that day!”
On October 24, the team at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass., where Clare received all of her treatments and helped her win her battle with breast cancer, honored her at an Evening of Inspiration: Breast Cancer Awareness event. In preparing for the event, Emerson’s communications team photographed Clare teaching – doing what she loves – at Clarke. The photos were featured on a life-size banner at the event. “They chose a photo of me reading a book to the students as inspiration for others battling breast cancer,” said Clare. Now that the event is over, the banner is featured at the hospital to further inspire others.
Today, Clare is back in the swing of things. “Each day at Clarke I work with students and families whose success hinges on their ability to open themselves to learning, growing and believing in positivity and possibility. I too benefit from this philosophy,” reflects Clare. “My Clarke family, including co-workers, friends, families and students gave me an amazing amount of support. My battle against breast cancer taught me when you let people in, they give you hope.”