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From the President's Pen...

A successful conference always brings up more questions than can be answered. It always amazes me how many good ideas we can share within two days. I would like to use this forum to explore some of the issues that we brought up in Williamsburg.

One issue is our role in preparing teachers of hard of hearing children. Of course, the unresolved issue is who is a hard of hearing child. As we all know, one definition is based on audiological information - hard of hearing children are those whose hearing losses are mild or moderate or severe. Another definition is based on how the child uses residual hearing - hard of hearing children are those who can learn language primarily through the auditory mode. Yet another definition is cultural - hard of hearing individuals are those who have a hearing loss but are not Deaf (i.e., who do not identify themselves with the Deaf community). And finally some people define hard of hearing individuals as those who use spoken language in contrast to Deaf individuals who use ASL. Again, as we all know, each of these definitions are fuzzy and are not much assistance to those of us who prepare teachers who may have to work with students who have a wide range of hearing loss, linguistic ability, language backgrounds, and academic needs.

A doctoral student at our university has recently completed an ethnographic study that involved interviews with hard of hearing students at a School for the Deaf. I was struck (but not surprised) by the characteristics of students whom he selected. Some of them were those we would accept as audiologically hard of hearing (i.e., they had unaided PTAs that were between 45 and 75 dB). At least one student, however, had a PTA of over 100 dB, was from a Deaf family, was born hearing and had good oral skills, and was therefore culturally hard of hearing. One of the students had additional syndromes that affected behavior, one was apparently gifted. To group all these children as hard of hearing and to assume that they have the same linguistic, cultural, and educational needs poses some real problems.

I bring this up in the light of the current work on the proposed CED standards for teacher preparation programs. We are proposing three kinds of programs. Bi-Bi programs will prepare teachers who work in school environments where students communicate in ASL and (I assume) written English. Oral programs will prepare teachers who teach primarily in programs where students learn oral English. Comprehensive programs will include many of the standards from both the Bi-Bi and oral programs.

There has been considerable debate about the proposed comprehensive programs, especially whether these programs can be truly comprehensive. One point of view is that teachers from comprehensive programs will not be prepared to work with children who learn ASL or children who use oral English. Another point of view is that these graduates will have less skills than graduates of either of the other two programs. However, if we examine the needs of those students whom we call hard of hearing, and if we assume that these students cannot be lumped into one group and be served by one or two kinds of programs, it quickly becomes clear that we need teachers who are comprehensive. If not, we risk forcing children to conform to the educational program rather than the educational program to conform to the child s needs. At the same time, of course, we need to ensure that comprehensive programs do not lead to preparation of teachers who cannot communicate or teach effectively in either English or ASL.

At the University of Arizona, I have proposed a possible rubric that we will be using as we redesign our program. We have difficulties with the idea that many children, Deaf and hard of hearing, are educated in an exclusive model - they have to choose between ASL and oral English. We are trying, instead, to be inclusive. To us, this means that Deaf and hard of hearing children should communicate in both English and ASL but either language could be a first language. Also (and here is a heretical thought!) perhaps English could be learned through the spoken, written and /or signed modes or all three. Thus, for many children whom we call hard of hearing, oral English might be a first language and ASL their second language. For others, ASL might be a first language, and oral and written English their second language. All our graduates would need to know about first and second language development, would use one language (ASL or English) at native or near native levels, and have sufficient proficiency in the other for comfortable communication. Thus, we hope to prepare teachers who have native (or near native) English proficiency, and whose primary responsibility would be to facilitate development of English as a first or second language. These teachers would need to be able to communicate well in ASL because many of the children they work with would use ASL as their first language. Similarly, we hope to prepare teachers who have native (or near native) ASL proficiency and whose primary responsibility would be to facilitate development of ASL as a first or second language. Educational programs that serve hard of hearing children, we hope, would hire both kinds of teachers.

We are just beginning to think through the practical implications of these ideas. I wanted to share them with you to get feedback to test their validity. Most of all, I wanted to start us thinking about hard of hearing children, their variability, and the challenges they provide us as teacher educators. I would welcome comments, reactions, or papers that we could publish in future newsletters.

...Shirin Antia