A Teacher's Story

The problem of deafness is not a lack of hearing but an abundance of isolation. This isolation is experienced by both deaf/hard-of-hearing (d/hh) students and their teachers. As a teacher of d/hh students in Memphis TN, I felt this isolation each day as I would decide what to teach, how to teach, how much time to spend on a given subject and how to evaluate my students' progress. Each day I would try to motivate, coerce and encourage my students to do their work, to try their best and above all, pay attention! Each day I would despair a bit on how much my students seemed to forget and how much they yet needed to learn. Each day I felt a bit more overwhelmed by my job and I wondered if I was the only one that felt this way. As the years passed, my students experienced some success, I was recognized for some accomplishments and everyone appeared to accept the status quo. Yet, in spite of this, nagging questions that kept confronting me each day as I drove to work, i.e., "What should I teach today?" "How should I teach?" and "How do I know if I made a difference?" These questions persisted because I lacked the ability to compare what I did with the actions of my peers, i.e., fellow teachers. I lacked the opportunity to observe how my colleagues taught, to review the curricular materials, instructional activities and evaluation protocols that they used. Professional conferences were prohibitively expensive and foreign to my professional enculturation. Workshops and faculty meetings were more likely to be a break from the classroom and an opportunity to socialize, than a professional development experience. University course work, while often interesting and intellectually stimulating, rarely touched upon the core questions I had to deal with each morning as I drove to work. Such questions persisted in spite of the fact that I was widely considered to be one of the local "experts" on deafness. I was routinely barraged with all manner of questions concerning every possible aspect of deafness. The questions came from the parents of my students, the general education teachers with whom my students were placed, the administrators of my school and even community leaders. Given that I was the one with the "degree" and teaching experience, I attempted to answer each question, regardless how scanty my knowledge base might be. Inwardly, I would often cringe at how confident my voice would sound and how whole heartedly my comments were accepted. This role of "expert" made it even more difficult for me to voice my core questions and to seek the help that I needed to become a more effective teacher of d/hh students.

The preceding scenario represents a common dilemma faced by many teachers of d/hh students. Ongoing educational trends of inclusion, decentralization of services and non-catagorical grouping of students are further complicating teachers' problems and responsibilities. Expected benefits of "Total Communication" have yet to be realized, while at the same time, renewed calls are being made for the use of a "Bilingual/Bicultural" linguistic and instructional model. While the use of cochlear implants are becoming increasingly common, follow-up services for implanted students are often fragmented or incomplete. While the list of "issues" appears to be endless, the array of "solutions" is quite limited. Teachers can read professional journals and texts, they can attend conferences, workshops and meetings and they can take additional courses. The basic difficulty with these choices is that they rarely increase the number of instructional strategies, curricular materials, instructional activities and evaluation protocols that teachers can use in their classrooms. Additionally, the choices are essentially "one way," i.e., they attempt to give information to, but rarely seek to draw information from teachers. As a result, the proven information of the classroom is neglected, while the research data of numerous studies are largely ignored. An alternative and potentially much more effective model would be one in which teachers could collaborate and share what they know, while at the same time, receive assistance in learning what they want to know. Surprisingly, this "two way" information model can now be accomplished through the collaborative and focused use of two readily available resources, i.e., the Internet and preservice teachers. This article will describe how these two resources can be used to not only document and support the instructional effectiveness of experienced teachers, but to also enhance the preparation of new teachers and increase the array of curricular materials and instructional activities that are available for us all.