The classroom ghost. That is what I felt like at times in the mainstream classroom as a deaf child, bereft of any interpreters and often without notetakers.
Struggling in the Classroom
Sitting up front in the classroom and utilizing every bit of hearing I had, I strained to lipread and hear the teachers. Some teachers were more lipreadable than others. In this way, combined with what I taught myself by reading textbooks, I managed to learn despite being deaf.
Deafness Made Me Feel Like a Ghost
But 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 like a ghost - spinning around in my seat, trying and straining to understand the other students. It was useless. I simply could not understand them because of my deafness.
Although I was a bright student, I learned to minimize my asking of and answering of questions in the classroom as a deaf child because inevitably I would ask a question too late, or answer a question too late. Sometimes the teachers would get annoyed, and I would suffer the embarrassment of being told "too late."
Missed True Classroom Experience
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. Oral spelling tests were a real challenge, and one boy -- in his effort to help me keep up -- almost resorted to cheating and giving me the answers. I also dreaded spelling bees because of how difficult it was for me to keep up and understand the questions. Of course, I dreaded oral reports too, but that had not so much to do with my deafness as the fact that I disliked having to get up in front of the class to give a report. Looking back, I now wonder if the teachers dreaded my oral reports too, because my speech was not easily understood.
My first and only ever detention room experience happened because I rebelled against this classroom environment for a deaf child. My ninth grade class was studying Romeo and Juliet and as part of the program, we had to watch the classic film of Romeo and Juliet. Without captions, of course. After weeks of enduring a daily trek to the auditorium and sitting through hours of a film I did not understand, I asked to be excused. My request was denied. So one day when I couldn't stand it any longer, I cut class. The teacher found out, and I received my first detention.
What Classroom Should be Like for Deaf
It was not until some time in the junior high/early high school years that I got a tempting taste of what a classroom experience should really be like for a deaf child. My mother was working as an oral interpreter at a mainstream program in a nearby state. That program, at Midland Park High School in New Jersey, was really innovative for its time in the late '70s, providing the deaf and hard of hearing students with interpreters, notetakers, etc., what we call "full support services" today. One day when my school was closed and theirs was open, I accompanied my mother to work.
What an eye-opening experience it was. I sat in on the classes, and was amazed at how much more I was able to follow in the classroom. I was even able to ask questions in a timely manner! I understood jokes! Students discussed things and I was able to follow! What a pleasure it was, one that I have never forgotten from my deaf childhood.
Unfortunately, I could not transfer to that program. We lived in a different state and could not move to that state. So I had to endure this type of classroom environment as a deaf student until I left for college.Growing Up Deaf Serial