I’d like to talk briefly about some of my experience with early schooling in a school not equipped to handle a deaf child.
Feeling invisible at times lost but always accepted,
I could not hear and understand what went on around me in the classroom. If anyone else besides the teacher spoke, I was lost. That is when I felt invisible – spinning around in my seat searching for who was talking now. Trying and straining to understand the other students. I missed the jokes some probably directed at me. I missed the questions often and I limited my participation in the classroom.
I was a bright enough student but getting my questions out or answering the teacher was tedious and time consuming so I learned to not ask questions and find the answers for myself. Frankly it was faster to do this than fumble with sign or pen and paper.
So, I missed out many of the things that make a classroom a small community unto itself: the jokes, students’ replies to questions, commentary, films, stories, discussion, and even naughty whispers and notes passed around. I missed out on spelling bees, and many other activities involving the ability to speak. It saved me from many oral book reports and other speaking engagements within the classroom.
My early elementary school memories are vague, but one thing that does stand out — I was definitely NOT part of the class. I did not have interpreters, the school couldn’t afford it. The teacher read to the class while I sat alone trying to read her lips. Being deaf, I did not know what was going on all the time, I missed instructions and sometimes half the story. There is definitely an isolation when sitting in such a foreign place. Though for me most of the kids were nice enough. We lived in a small town and the two siblings closest to my age my older sister Angie and my older brother Martin were very popular and included me in everything possible. Other kids got to know me through them. Some would even try and remember the things I missed that day in class. The funny joke, or naughty note.
I missed morning announcements, missed out on movies in class but I did learn to dance and was even asked by boys to go with them to many of our high school and Jr high school dances. I had BFs and GFs and have as many good memories as trying ones of my early academic years in a hearing school without the budget or ability to handle my disability. Jr HS and HS is where I came into my own learning to conquer new challenges and making connections with people.
Firsts and some lasts,
My first detention room experience happened because I acted out against this classroom environment for a deaf child. It was ninth grade and our class was studying Romeo and Juliet and as part of the program, we had to watch the “classic film” of Romeo and Juliet. Which was without captions, of course. After days of enduring a daily trip to the auditorium and sitting through hours of a film I did not understand, I asked to be excused. My request ofcourse was denied. So one day when I couldn’t stand it any longer, I cut class and I received my first detention that day.
I remember the anger from my dad at others in his defense of me. Once at a school play (eighth grade) I actually had a part. I knew the few words I needed to say and I proudly said them. Moments later my father and another man were fighting and I didn’t know why until later. He had made a rude comment about my voice he said something like She shouldn’t be allowed in plays with a voice like that. My father was always slow to anger but he was also over protective of me. It was an interesting evening but in the end the cops didn’t arrest him and convinced the other man to drop the charges.As a result of this I never went out for a play or talent show again.
This too is changing since I got my implants I’ve practiced hard many new words, I’ve learned to filter noises, Play the guitar. Ever since I wrote this: https://aghostdancer.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/what-does-one-voice-mean/ I have dreamed of bringing it to life with my voice. I will at the open mic christmas show in my old small town. I allowed another to silence me and by my choose I remained so. No more as this changes. Sorry back to our subject of mainstream school as a deaf child.
I played HS volleyball, soccer, La Cross and field hockey and in Jr HS played basketball and volleyball. Sports required a hightened sence of awareness because the lack of hearing I missed directions from couches and other players without it. Inattention cost me a volleyball to the face and once a pop in the head with a La Cross stick. I know you’re thinking ah ha that’s whats wrong with her…you maybe right. 🙂 I was never left out in sports partly because I am a good athelete. All back to those values “physically fit and mentally awake”. I pushed myself hard in all things I saw value in doing. My teammates knew I worked as hard as anyone on the team and I was accepted for that.
Wrapping it up.
I am sure many deaf children had it rougher. I wasn’t cursed to be alone; though I wasn’t part of the classroom community. There was some bullying sure but honestly it wasn’t as bad as some would believe. My older brother and sister only 1 and 2 grades ahead of me did not leave me alone. I had friends and even some not because of my siblings. There was a sense of being lost and at times invisible, I asked few questions and there were language barriers. I played sports, discovered people can be hurtful, discovered a fathers love and a mothers heart. All in all it wasn’t as bad as some might think.Over all because of my family, good people and determination; things weren’t as bad for me as some.
This was my life in school being deaf. I was blessed with a strong and loyal family. A keen mind, and unstoppable desire. I had friends and though I missed out on some and perhaps more than I know of the classroom community I didn’t miss out on life.
~Michelle Styles November 12, 2013