As a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing, I love FM! FM systems – wireless devices made up of a transmitter and receiver– can make it feel like the teacher’s voice is right next to the student’s ear. The signal-to-noise ratio is improved! Attention improves! Who wouldn’t want this? The answer is, unfortunately, many of our students. The excuses are endless: “The receiver sticks out.” “I can’t hear the other students.” “Oh, I don’t need it in this class.” “FM doesn’t actually help me that much so I’m not going to use it.” “I think it’s broken.” “I don’t want to carry the transmitter around all day.” And on, and on, and on…
Still, achieving FM success is possible, even with the most reluctant user. The first step to ensure that the equipment is in working order is to ask the student how it is functioning and to listen to it yourself. The sound should be consistent, not intermittent, with no static or distortion. The teacher of the deaf should also check with the managing audiologist to be sure that the students’ hearing aids have been verified using Real Ear to Coupler Difference (RECD) and for transparency. Proper settings will ensure proper amplification. It may be true that your student does not perceive sound as he or she should.
Students who do not feel that they benefit from FM may need to develop a greater sense of self-awareness as part of their self-advocacy program. Using the Common Phrases auditory checklists or the Listening Inventory for Education- Revised (LIFE-R), both available from Karen Anderson, can help students identify areas where they struggle with auditory comprehension. If students are not aware that they are missing auditory information, they will not see any need for a resolution! These tools are designed to help students better understand what and how they hear. Students must understand why these inventories are being used so that it doesn’t feel like the teacher is merely pointing out flaws. Such tools can also be used with younger students who use FM willingly to emphasize the benefit and prevent future rejection.
Students often comment that they are not able to hear their peers as clearly when the FM is in use and therefore reject using it. For some CI users, this may be due to the internal settings of the processor map and may be resolved by having the managing audiologist adjust the mixing ratio in the student’s cochlear implant speech processor(s). This will ensure that the student is receiving a proper signal from the environmental microphone when an FM system is in use. Requesting a copy of the student’s cochlear implant MAP will allow you to see the settings in the speech processor when connected to the FM. Audiologists want the best for their clients, and as the teacher of the deaf, you are in a position to help the audiologist maximize the student’s access.
Include the student in choosing a class where they can try out the FM system for the first time. We know that the FM is designed to reduce the signal-to-noise ratio and is most beneficial for students in larger classes. With that being said, large classes may actually be the most uncomfortable setting for our reluctant FM users to begin a trial. I often work out a compromise with my students and begin the FM use in one class each day, typically a small class where the student feels more comfortable, and with a teacher who will be supportive. For students who are willing to use FM in some classes but not others, it is important to find out why – perhaps the teacher is not muting and unmuting the microphone appropriately, making it difficult for the student to concentrate or follow along. Students may also need a listening break and not even realize it! Choosing not to use FM during some classes may be their way of getting this reprieve from concentrating. With this knowledge, you can work with your student to find alternative times for listening breaks.
Encourage classroom teachers to support the student in FM use but not to pressure them or embarrass them in front of their peers. One of my reluctant FM students recently reported, “[Teacher] keeps saying, ‘Well, that’s what your FM is for. Bring it to class,’ in front of everybody. It’s just annoying.” I have a trusting relationship with this student, and like many teenagers, her resistance to the equipment grows as outside pressure to wear it increases. I have since had conversations with teachers encouraging them to allow me to be the “bad guy” around FM use since the student and I have an agreed-upon plan. If you do not have a trusting connection with your reluctant FM user, find out who does and guide that person in helping begin consistent FM use.
Most importantly, listen to what your reluctant FM user is telling you. Many legitimate concerns can be addressed through adjustments to the FM programs, building self-awareness, or starting slowly. Although I’d love every student to start the year using the FM full-time in every class, I know that patience, and slow integration of FM – as well as making my student a partner in decisions regarding FM use – will pay off in the long run! Still not convinced? Listen to what my high school student, Stephanie, has to say!
(To access captions, view the video on YouTube.)
Try these strategies with your reluctant FM user and let us know how it goes! What other strategies have you used successfully to help your student accept an FM system?