Teaching with a disability – Part 2

Previously, I discussed my initial fears about going into teaching with a hearing loss and how that might make me self-conscious. It turned out that students were accepting and it was a non-issue for them.

But what about the physical issues of being in a classroom?

Impracticalities

Each classroom has its own unique character. Some are designed with a positive, student-focused sense of space and light. Big windows frame views of a city giving way to countryside. Desks are arranged in a horseshoe around the teacher and allow for unimpeded eye contact between everyone.

Others are buried deep within the bowels of a campus, away from the sun, dimly lit by regulation eco-friendly bulbs. Students are lined up in lots of short rows and bordered by dull 1980s office walls.  In rooms like this, the hum of air conditioners recirculating stale oxygen can be a particular problem. The gentle buzz, coupled with a lack of vocal enthusiasm from students (particularly in late afternoon lessons), have left me asking people to repeat themselves.

A lot of staff can struggle with this but I’ve suffered slightly more than others. A former teaching colleague who also wore hearing aids shared his disdain for some lessons because of the room they were in. We can both rely on lip-reading to support difficult moments but when a student’s mouth is obscured or they’re mumbling, it can lead to a sense of frustration at yourself; it’s not your fault but it is your fault.

Accents can add a particularly tricky spanner in the works. Britain is a nation made up of pockets of language, each interpreting their own version of English and filtering it through the local culture. Trying to piece together what somebody is saying by reading their lips goes out the window when the sounds and movements they make are completely alien to you.

Nevertheless, it has made me question whether it’s a hearing issue or a lack of understanding. I believe it’s more of the latter.

The big picture

Overall, my hearing loss hasn’t had much of an effect on my physical ability to teach but I feel my success is down to my confidence. I’m not afraid to ask students to repeat themselves and everywhere I’ve worked has been full of wonderful, supportive people.

The fear of getting something wrong is worse than the actual mistake. I’ve moved around enough in my life that I’m used to the period of adjustment to new ways of speaking. I accept that a stumble here and there, as I learn a dialect, will lead to a greater understanding. The key is to be polite and hope people empathise, accommodate and assist you.

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, they do. That’s a good ratio in any walk of life.

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