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Tips for teaching with hearing loss

teaching with hearing loss

Being a teacher with hearing loss gives you a unique opportunity to teach students about empathy and hearing loss awareness from a young age.

As a now-former Deaf teacher, I taught for three years as an intern and elementary school educator. I was originally drawn to teaching by my coaching. The principal of the school that I was coaching at the time came over and told me that she’d been watching me with the boys and thought I had what it took to step into the classroom environment. That changed the trajectory of my studies, and I ended up teaching at a short-term remedial school once my studies were completed.

For those looking to join the world’s noblest profession and who have hearing loss, here are a few tips that I picked up during my time in the classroom.

Create boundaries

You must set boundaries early on, regardless of whether you have a disability or not. Children like to know that there are limits, and you’ll save yourself a world of headaches if you are able to make it clear what behavior you’ll allow in your classroom.

As a Deaf teacher, you’ll need to pay particular attention to rules that allow for clear communication. For example, requiring students to raise their hands before speaking.

“As a Deaf teacher, you’ll need to pay particular attention to rules that allow for clear communication.”

Identify those students likely to push the boundaries and be firm with them from the start. Heading off problematic behavior early is the best way to ensure that you don’t continue to struggle with it for as long as you have that class. In fact, I’m sure if you think back to your own time at school, you may remember how certain teachers had a reputation for being strict or fun or having a class that you could get away with anything in. Kids will weigh you up the same way, and reputations can stick for a long time. Cultivate the reputation you want from the start, set your boundaries, and make sure that you have the kind of environment you need to be able to do the best for the students under your care.

Be upfront about your hearing loss

Kids are awesome. They’re curious, they’re forgiving, and they don’t revert to awkwardness like adults do when confronted by people living with disabilities. They want to know all about it and are accepting of it once it’s been explained to them, in my experience. Obviously, age is a factor here, but by and large, you are presented with an incredible opportunity to grow young minds as an educator. By normalizing people with disabilities for kids, you have a chance to change attitudes.

“Kids are awesome. They’re curious, they’re forgiving, and they don’t revert to awkwardness like adults do when confronted by people living with disabilities.”

It’s also fairer to the kids to equip them with the best tools to communicate with you and allow you to do your primary job effectively.

Watch out for those students who will look to take advantage of you, though! For the most part, if you’re firm, fair and able to make allies of your students, this type of kid will get shut down pretty quickly with minimal effort on your part. If you see this kind of behavior, though, clamp down on it fast and show no mercy. This is one area where you have to be ruthless, else you’ll open yourself up to more of the same down the line, and you’ll miss out on an important opportunity to impress a life lesson on empathy for your students.

Leverage your hearing loss

Use your disability as a teaching tool to inspire, to encourage empathy, to promote learning down paths that otherwise might not be explored. When doing this, be careful with the boundaries. You’re there to be a teacher, not a friend, but there are plenty of ways to make references to it and teach the kids in ways that they can really identify with.

“Use your disability as a teaching tool to inspire, to encourage empathy, to promote learning down paths that otherwise might not be explored.”

You can explore similarities with ADHD, vision impairments, and mobility impediments. Even kids with temporary injuries such as broken bones will be able to learn lessons by comparing and contrasting your disability with their own situations. They’ll become better people for it. While teaching, I found that the single biggest thing I needed to do in order to get kids to succeed was to build their self-confidence. More than knowledge of subjects, more than perfect lesson plans, more than talent or ability or anything else, self-confidence in students is what drives their ability and passion to learn.

Read more: 5 Ways to Teach Children about Hearing Loss to Discourage Bullying 

Build a good relationship with your colleagues

This should go without saying in any work environment. You are, after all, part of a team with the same end goals, but there’s a number of reasons why you should do so as a deaf or hard of hearing teacher.

As you’re feeling your way around the classroom environment, take any advice, support, and guidance offered by those who have been there and done that. Make sure that those in management know what you need in terms of assistance. Whether it’s classroom devices like the Roger Inspiro system or to back you up on disciplinary issues, and that you communicate effectively with them constantly.

Bring parents onside

Effective education involves parents, teachers, and students. If you work well together as a team, you’ll provide your learners with the best possible opportunities to succeed. Make sure that you build good, working, professional relationships with the parents of your students, and give them all the information they need to work with you.

If parents give you issues and question your ability to work because of your disability, this is another area where having management onside is important. If you do end up with a situation like this, handle it with grace and poise! Most often it’ll come from a place of ignorance on their part. Treat it as a teachable moment, work hard and prove yourself. We will always come across bias and prejudice, but how we choose to handle it defines us.

“We will always come across bias and prejudice, but how we choose to handle it defines us.”

Best of luck in your teaching journeys! It’s a career that takes great strength of character but is one which leaves a lasting impression on the world.

What tips do you have for teaching with hearing loss? Let us know in the comments.

markbarnard
Mark was discovered to have severe hearing loss - total loss in his left ear, severe in the right - at the age of 3, owing to a Cytomegalovirus infection. He grew up as part of the mainstream community, and only started regularly wearing hearing aids at the age of 15, when his hearing loss dropped to profound levels.

Rugby has always been a passion of his, and he's never stopped playing since getting his first opportunity in high school. His greatest claim to fame is playing for the South African Deaf Rugby team, a position he also uses to advocate for the Deaf community. However, he is afflicted with an interest in anything and everything, which manifests in limitless Star Wars puns, comments on the things making up the fabric of society, requests for your favourite banana bread recipes, a predilection for painting 28mm sci-fi models and the inability to fit into any of the proverbial descriptive "boxes" society likes to place people in.

He currently lives in Durban with his wife, Amy.

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