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The Before and After of Biology Class

Anybody who asked me about biology six years ago would know my unwavering response: “I hate biology and can’t wait for it to be over!”

Biology started strong with top grades, but within a month they started declining — a consistent trend in my science classes between ages twelve and sixteen, due to an increase in class pace and my hearing loss worsening. The teacher would use strange words I could not inference and lecture while drawing on the blackboard. The strain to hear in such circumstances often ended in migraine headaches.

I thought junior year would be free from this trend, after my surgeon declared me “cured” with the success of my ninth surgery. When it turned out not to be, I blamed my poor performance on simply being stupid, until I realized that my teacher’s voice fell right within my worse frequencies. The migraines should have been a dead giveaway, considering they had a knack for arriving right in the middle of biology class. Denial and my fear of permanent disability kept me from admitting I could not hear, causing me to not get a hearing aid until after biology came to an end.

Fast forward to the year after I graduated from college; I opened an invitation to my high school reunion, initially thinking that I did not want to go. My mind changed, however, when I saw the one of the classes alumni would be able to visit: “Ms. Warren: Biology.”

re-experience-biology-with-hearing

One thing I always regretted about not wearing my hearing aid sooner was the academic material I missed, and the fact that I could never return to that classroom again. Though it was only for a day, rather than a year, reunion gave me the opportunity to travel backwards in time, and truly learn the biology I thought I had lost forever. One Joan Jett jacket, fully prepared hearing aid, and front row seat later, I was ready for class!

The return to Ms. Warren’s class was certainly full of surprises — the two most obvious ones being that Ms. Warren’s hair grew to her shoulders blades from a pixie, and the elementary school students I taught in ninth grade were all teenagers. Among the alumni, I was the youngest in the class, and amid the students, I was recognized instantly for my wild dress. Both Ms. Warren and the students gave me a warm welcome, and opened the door to the world of genetics.

We began by observing single-allele traits, where the dominant gene in a heterozygous pair determines the manifested trait, unless there is a homozygous pair of recessive genes. Slowly, we meandered to incomplete dominance, where a heterozygous pair represents a hybrid of two separate traits. An alumna with a sister researching blood disorders became very excited as we discussed the most famous multiple allele trait: blood types. Every single student, alumna, and Ms. Warren secretly rejoiced when we dissected sex-linked disorders; boys, you are royally screwed for so many illnesses because of your Y (or should I say, “why?”) chromosome.

It was in this lesson that I found my greatest surprise: I was able to keep up, respond to questions, and even let bad biology jokes roll off my tongue. Ms. Warren’s voice had a clarity I had never known during my high school years. Regardless of where she stood in that classroom, I was able to mostly understand her voice. Gone was the strain that made me dizzy and sick. Destroyed were the feelings of stupidity that gripped my mind every time I even thought about science. I had accomplished what I had previously believed was impossible: going back to old classrooms, and retrieving lessons stolen by hearing loss. Once the strain to hear was removed by a hearing aid, biology class became quite fun, and a prime opportunity for smartly planned absurdities.

Alumni and students bonded over a class project, where we had to create our own species. My group and I decided to study Pikachu genetics, and we had lots of fun devising our own Pika-traits. In moments where the students struggled with concepts, I was often the one to re-explain them — something I never thought I would do in a science class.

With a hearing aid, I became the one helping other students, rather than the student who needed help just to understand. Together, the students and I laughed over the crazy Pikachu genes we created, but inside my own mind, I laughed with joy of being fully present in biology class. When re-telling this experience to my former classmates afterwards, I was met with reactions of amazement; one even said, “That’s so cool that you get to re-experience biology with hearing.”

Nothing can rewind time or make up for what I lost before I got my hearing aid. With that being said, biology class showed me how far I have come and how much I have gained in the past six years. Permanent disability was nowhere near as bad I believed it to be at age seventeen. Biology class is actually a lot of fun instead of a judgment of my value, intelligence, and worth as a human. Questions about class material were a prime opportunity for science jokes instead of a test to prove I could hear.

Though I know a lot of these fears originate inside of my mind, I would not have been able to confront them without a hearing aid. Returning to biology fully out as an intelligent disabled individual was a chance to gain confidence, release my fears, and truly enjoy the beauty of science. Now instead of hating biology, I will remember it fondly as a place where I confronted my past self, and read about it whenever I get the chance!

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Christina is a 21-year-old with hearing loss. She has been writting for the Phonak Open Ears blog since 2014.
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Christina is a 21-year-old with hearing loss. She has been writting for the Phonak Open Ears blog since 2014.