The Attitudes of General Education High School Teachers Toward Having a Hearing Impaired Student in Their Classrooms


Action Research Project


Melanie Suzanne Watkins


In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Science Degree in Special Education at the University of Tennessee (Knoxville)

May 18, 1998




This study examines high school teachersí attitudes toward having a hearing-impaired student in their classrooms. A 16-item questionnaire regarding such aspects as teachersí initial feelings, amount of extra time spent with the student, knowledge of educating a hearing impaired student, and available support services was completed by seven high school general education teachers in a public high school in the southeast region. Responses indicate that anxiety was experienced by the majority of the sample surveyed. The general education teachers surveyed also indicated support for mainstreaming as a vehicle for classroom enrichment. Suggestions for other general education teachers are offered implications for further study are discussed.



With the implementation of Public Law 94-142 came an increased number of hearing impaired students mainstreamed into regular classrooms. General education teachers, those who do not teach in special education classes, now have the responsibility of educating hearing impaired students in their classrooms. One should not assume, however, that because general education teachers have hearing impaired students in their classrooms, they are knowledgeable about how to educate a person who is hearing impaired, or even feel comfortable around that student. To be sure, more and more teacher education programs include information about multiculturalism because of todayís growing diversity in schools, Yet, ironically, the same general education teachers are not receiving adequate knowledge about the education of the hearing impaired. Further, needed changes have not been made in educating future teachers about what to expect from hearing-impaired students.

How do general education teachers feel about having a deaf student in their classrooms? What feelings do they have before and after they have had a hearing-impaired student in their classroom? Are their experiences positive? What advice would they give other general education teachers who may have a hearing-impaired student enrolled in their classrooms? The purpose of this research is to ask general education teachers about their attitudes towards having a hearing impaired student in their classrooms. In this paper, the results of the research regarding teachersí personal experiences and feelings both before and after teaching a hearing-impaired student are reported.

Review of Literature

In a 1988 study conducted in New Jersey, Chorost surveyed general education teachersíperceptions of having a deaf student in their classroom. Chorost surveyed the teachers aboutseveral different aspects of educating hearing-impaired students. Most of the teachers felt initially inadequate. They were concerned about their lack of knowledge. They rated their initial feelings as negative. Most, however, rated their overall experience at the end of the school year as extremely positive(Chorost, 1988).

When asked if the child was appropriately placed in their classroom, most of the teachers believed the deaf student was placed appropriately. Some teachers reported feeling guilty because they felt the hearing students in their classroom were "shortchanged" in some way (Chorost, 1988, p. 9 ). One teacher noted, "Be prepared to feel guilty about neglecting your other students.....,never being satisfied with your performance, and feeling extremely frustrated...."(Chorost, 1988, p. 9). Many of these responses depended heavily on the age group of the students concerned. Teachers of grades 3 through 6 were more positive than teachers of grades kindergarten through second. Chorost (1988) theorized that the teachers of the older students were more positive because the older students were able to work more independently, thereby giving the teacher more time to work with the hearing-impaired student.

Berrigan (1982) found that general education teachers who have mainstreamed students have been consistently optimistic about the experience. One teacher expressed the belief that not only was mainstreaming acceptable, but also enriched their classes.

Hudson et al. (as cited in Scruggs and Mastropieri, 1996) found that most of the teachers in their study expressed a "willingness to accept an exceptional child" in their classrooms (p. 62). The teachers surveyed in the Chorost (1988) study reported that teaching a hearing impaired student was "both gratifying and growth-inducing" (p. 9).

Many teachers, however, do not enthusiastically volunteer to teach a hearing-impaired student in their classes. In a study by Trump and Hange (1996), teachers gave some possible explanations for their colleaguesí opposition to the inclusion approach. Among the main reasons were "a fear of change, ownership issues, role conflicts and contrasting paradigms" (Trump and Hange, 1996, p. 13). In addition, Afzali (1995) discovered that educators of the deaf in a residential school were skeptical about the efficiency of inclusion. Many of these teachers and parents of the hearing impaired believe inclusionís only purpose is to teach the hearing impaired to function in a hearing world. According to Berrigan (1982), teachers believe that there is not enough preparation for mainstreaming. There is also the fear of failure when it comes to teaching handicapped students. Still, other teachers feel that hearing students will be neglected.

An important part of effective education for the hearing impaired student according to these teachers was support services. Consultations with the teacher of the hearing-impaired, inservice training, participation in child study team conferences, reduced class size, and additional teacher aide availability in the classroom were mentioned the most as being very important to regular education teachers. Another teacher suggested being able to observe another mainstreamed classroom in which a hearing impaired student was enrolled as a factor. Other suggestions included more visual and manipulative teaching aids, and timely and complete knowledge of the child(Chorost, 1988). Davis et al (1981) surveyed general education teachers who disclosed one concern shared by all who responded. This was the need for ways that the teacher could use to adapt the curriculum for use with hearing-impaired students. Others suggested information about a hearing impaired studentís psychological development.

One major factor that continuously appears in the research (Berrigan, 1982; Davis et al, 1981; Chorost, 1988; Luckner, 1991) is the lack of knowledge concerning hearing impaired children by the general education teacher. Lass et al., (as cited in Luckner 1991), found that the majority of teachers have never had a class that involved an explanation of hearing and its disorders. The teachers are inadequately prepared to teach hearing impaired students in their own classrooms and are willing to teach them only if efficient support services and inservice training are offered. Luckner (1991) believes that this lack of preparation and knowledge "may cause the teacher to develop resentment toward the administration, parents and/or the student"(p. 302). Tvingstedt (1995) found similar results. In her study, she reported that the attitude of the general education teacher towards the hearing impaired student could so clearly affect interaction that it had an instant influence on the hearing students. Tvingstedt (1995) states, "Through his or her own deportment, the teacher knowingly or unknowingly set a pattern of behavior towards the hearing impaired person which served as a model to the other pupils"(p. 10).

An interesting finding from Berriganís (1982) study involved the relationship between the regular education teacher and the deaf education teacher in the school. The principal voiced concern over this relationship and hoped that it would improve over time. It was suggested that the only time the regular education teachers communicated with the deaf education teachers was when a formal inservice was taking place. In response to this relationship, a deaf education teacher from this school replied, "Weíre guests in the school. We're a different program... We have separate workshops frequently. Sometimes others are resentful when we have days off. The school is cliquey. We stand apart" (Berrigan, 1982, p. 11).

This study was developed as a result of the lack of information about general education teacherís perceptions of having a hearing impaired student in his/her classroom. The term hearing impaired is defined in this study as having a hearing loss that could be categorized between moderately severe to profound. It was hypothesized that general education teachers do not feel comfortable having a hearing impaired student in their classrooms because of lack of communication and the possibility that extra time must be allotted to assist the hearing impaired student. In the study, the researcher explored the attitudes of general education high school teachers who had had or now have hearing impaired students in their classrooms. The specific attitudes the researcher focused on are teachersí feelings about having a hearing impaired student in the classroom, and possible suggestions for other general education teachers who, for future reference, may have a hearing impaired student in their classroom.


In conducting this study, the researcher was confronted with two limitations. First, at the time the study took place, all of the participants were employed in the same high school. Because only 11 participants were selected, the sample cannot be considered representative of all general education teachers. In order for the sample to be more representative, a future researcher should select a greater number of teachers from different regions of the United States. Second, each of the participants was aware of the topic of the study before he/she completed a questionnaire. This may have caused participants to answer the questions in ways similar to what they believed the researcher wanted them to answer. In other words, the participants may not have been entirely truthful about their feelings and attitudes. These limitations were considered by the researcher in her analysis of the data and should be considered by the reader in evaluating the implications of the study.


Participants. A list of all general education teachers who presently or previously had a hearing-impaired student in his/her classroom was compiled by the hearing specialist of the school and given to the researcher. All of the general education teachers on the list currently teach at the same suburban public high school with a student population of 1,000 in the southeastern region of the United States. Eleven teachers were randomly selected by the researcher from a list of twenty possible participants. The randomly selected group consisted of teachers whose teaching careers ranged from six years to thirty-seven years.

The random group was comprised of five males and six females. Ten of the participants were White, and one was African/American. The subject areas taught by the group were Art, Driverís Education, Vocational Woodworks, Auto Mechanics, Biology, Geometry, Algebra, and English. The hearing impaired students were enrolled in each teacherís class for a period of at least one semester. All of the teachers in the group specified that they had taught both an oral hearing impaired student and a manual hearing impaired student.

An oral hearing impaired student is defined in this study as a person who uses his/her voice to communicate and does not use sign language. A manual hearing impaired student is defined in this study as a person who communicates entirely through the use of sign language.

Procedure. All of the participants were verbally recruited by the researcher through personal visits. Following the visit, a questionnaire was sent to each participant through the school mail system. The questionnaire consisted of sixteen items that varied from yes/no questions and multiple-choice questions to short answer questions. These questions were developed based on the previous knowledge of the researcher. The questions were intended to focus on each teacherís first experience of having a hearing-impaired student in his/her classroom. The participants were asked to complete the questionnaire and return it via school mail to the researcher. Included with the questionnaire was a letter of informed consent to be signed and dated by each participant. A sample of both the questionnaire and the letter of informed consent can be found in Appendices A and B, respectively. Of the eleven questionnaires distributed, seven were returned completed. One was returned incomplete, therefore the data in the questionnaire could not be used in the study.

A personal interview took place in addition to the distribution of questionnaires. The researcher chose two of the original eleven participants based on the number of years teaching and the teacherís willingness to participate in an interview. The two semi-structured interviews were conducted separately and lasted for approximately thirty minutes for each teacher. The participants were asked to discuss their experience with a hearing-impaired student. The interview was tape-recorded and transcribed on paper by the researcher. Both the data from the questionnaires and the interviews were destroyed upon completion of the study.


Adjusting to the new situation. The questionnaire elicited teachersí initial feelings when they first learned they would have a hearing impaired child in their classroom. Two of the seven participants reported feeling excited about the chance to work with a hearing impaired child. Four of the participants reported feeling uncertain about their ability to effectively teach the student. One participant reported feeling afraid and inadequate.

Anxieties about having a hearing impaired student in the classroom were expressed by all participants, excluding two participants who reported feeling no anxiety. Three of the teachers reported that they were unsure of their own teaching abilities. The following comments were typical: "What if I could not meet the hearing impaired studentís needs, or what if I could not meet the other studentsí needs while assisting the hearing impaired student." "I was unsure how to communicate. I was afraid of being seen as patronizing to the student." "I was unsure how the other students would react to the hearing impaired student." Another participant felt that the anxieties experienced in this situation were "no different than anxieties one has when faced with a new situation."

Need for extra time. The participants were asked to estimate how much extra time was spent assisting the hearing impaired student, and whether this extra time is perceived as negative. Three of the 7 participants reported no extra time was spent. Two participants reported that they spent "a little extra time" with the hearing impaired student. Another reported that he/she spent some extra time with the oral hearing impaired student and less time with the manual hearing impaired student. Of the three participants who spent extra time, none viewed this time as negative. The three participants who did not have to spend extra time reported that if extra time had been needed, it would not have been perceived as negative.

The teachers were asked if they felt the other students were "shortchanged" in any way as a result of having a hearing impaired student in the classroom. All seven participants did not feel the other students were "shortchanged" in any way. One participant responded: "My class benefited from the experience." Another reported that learning took place in everyone involved.

Previous knowledge. The participants were asked to comment on any knowledge of educating hearing impaired students that they had prior to having the hearing impaired student in their classroom. Four of the 7 participants reported having no prior knowledge concerning the education of the hearing impaired. Two participants reported having some "previous experience." This included knowing some sign language and interacting with a hearing impaired person in the past. One participant reported having deaf playmates as a child. One participant reported that he/she "had taught deaf students before."

The participants were also asked to estimate the number of hearing impaired individuals they knew personally prior to having the hearing impaired student. Three of the seven participants reported that they did not know anyone who was hearing-impaired. One participant indicated that several friends, her own mother, and her own husband was "hard of hearing." Two participants reported knowing several hearing impaired people at church, while in college, and through a family friend. One participant noted that she knew two people who are hearing impaired, but neglected to give her relationship with the two people that she knew.

Available services. When asked to comment on the available services that were most helpful to the participant, six of the 7 teachers thought the interpreter was the most important service. From the responses of the participants, it seems the interpreterís competency was directly related to the success of the student. One participant commented: "...the interpreter was excellent. She was truly interested in the studentís comprehension." Another noted: "The interpreter was tremendous. She and I shared high expectations for our student! We were supportive of (the studentís) efforts, but we both wanted 100% effort!" Other helpful services that were mentioned by the teachers were the deaf education teacher, a caseworker, and the video library of the local residential school for the Deaf. None of the participants felt there were any other services that could have been helpful had they been available. Additionally, six of the participants reported receiving advanced notice that they would have a hearing impaired student. One participant specifically reported "one/two days in advance." The previous six did not specify how far in advance they learned they would have a hearing impaired student in their classrooms.

Parental Contact. Each of the participants was asked to comment on any contact he/she had with the parents of the hearing impaired student. Three of the 7 participants reported no contact with any parent. Four participants reported having contact with a parent. The following occasions were mentioned: "open house," "parent/teacher conferences," "informal chats," and "phone conversations." One teacher remarked: "It was a good experience. The parents were more than helpful." A comment from another participant proved very interesting: "...students whose parents I talked with seemed to do better than those with whom I didnít meet."

The Overall Experience. Six participants rated the overall experience as being "very positive." One participant rated his/her experience with an oral hearing impaired student as being "fair," and rated his/her experience with a manual hearing impaired student as being "positive." The participants also commented on the reasons for the rating they gave, making statements such as "The student and teacher worked real well together" and "The student always tried extremely hard and was able to master the class."

The participants were asked if their initial feelings changed as a result of working with the hearing impaired student. The two participants who were excited when they learned they were going to have a hearing impaired student reported that their feelings did not change. Five of the participants who experienced anxiety when they learned they were going to have a hearing impaired student reported that their initial feelings did change with reasons such as "I learned that they were like all other students," and "I realized the student was no different than the others except for the need for an interpreter" Another participant commented that his/her feelings changed "...thanks to the interpreter and her help." Additionally, all seven of the participants believed that the student was appropriately placed in his/her classroom.

The participants were asked to give their own personal advice to other regular education teachers who may find a hearing impaired student in their classroom in the future. Many of the participants stressed the importance of treating the hearing impaired student no different than you treat your other students. They believed that encouraging the hearing impaired student to participate and "become involved in classroom activities" was equally important. One participant recommended the following changes in oneís teaching style: "Do not lecture for extended periods. Give the student a copy of the notes before class starts so they can focus on you during the lesson. I allowed the student to teach the class some signs which made her feel more like a part of the class, and other students were less curious about her handicap." Another participant gave his/her overall impression of mainstreaming: "Mainstreaming is good for deaf students in that they can get out, see other people, and better adapt once theyíre out in the real world...If you can mainstream a child, I think itís better."


Although only tentative conclusions may be drawn on the basis of a single investigation, the findings of this study suggest that the majority of general education teachers experience some initial anxiety when they learn that a hearing impaired student will be in their classrooms. Some of the most common concerns reported were inadequacy, lack of communication between student and teacher, and the ability to meet the studentís needs. Overall, teachers felt that the experience was very positive, and believed that the experience also benefited everyone involved. All of the teachers who experienced initial anxiety reported that their feelings had changed once they realized the similarities between the hearing impaired student and his/her hearing counterparts.

This study supports the need for further research to take place in a variety of areas.More thorough studies on the attitudes of general education teachers concerning the mainstreaming of hearing impaired students should be conducted. An interesting finding that emerged from this study is the importance of a competent interpreter and its relation to the studentís success in the public school classroom. Also, research conducted on the hearing studentsí attitudes toward a hearing impaired classmate and/or his/her interpreter would be an interesting study. Finally, a fascinating theory emerged from this study that the researcher feels should be given further attention. It was theorized by a participant that hearing impaired students whose parents regularly meet with the childís teacher perform better than the hearing impaired student whose parent(s) never meets his/her childís teacher. This theory and others mentioned raise many unanswered questions about mainstreaming that need to be addressed in future research.


The literature concerning teachersí attitudes towards hearing impaired students in their regular education classrooms suggests that teachers experience anxiety when they learn they will have a hearing impaired student in their classrooms(Chorost 1988). The data from this study also suggest that the majority of the participants experiences some of the same anxieties such as fear, uncertainty, and inadequacy. The ability to teach and communicate effectively with the hearing impaired student were the main concerns of the teachers surveyed in this study.

The extra time needed to assist the hearing impaired student was generally minimal. All participants agreed that any extra time that was needed was not viewed as negative. In this particular study, the fact that extra time was not viewed as negative may indicate that each of the teachers accepts extra time as a "given" in an educational setting. These participants may see extra time as a requirement of their job as educators.

The majority of the participants rated their experience with a hearing impaired student as "very positive." This can be attributed to a number of factors. One possible reason is the fact that four of the seven participants knew someone who was hearing impaired, and therefore felt more at ease around the hearing impaired student in their classrooms.

Another reason involves the agreement by all participants that the hearing impaired student was appropriately placed in his/her classroom. Because the student was capable of mastering the tasks at the same level as his/her hearing counterparts in the class, it made the job of the teacher easier. If the student had constant difficulties and was not able to succeed in the class, the experience may have been viewed differently by the participants in this study.

Finally, the importance of the interpreterís relationship with both the student and the teacher was mentioned numerous times by the teachers. The experience may be viewed differently if the teacher did not have a good relationship with the interpreter, or if the interpreter was not competent enough to interpret effectively what is being said. The competency of the interpreter may be directly related to the success of the student as well. These potential situations may cause problems, which may change the teacherís view of the experience. According to the participants, other potential problems may emerge as a result of "the interpreter stepping into the teacher role in the classroom or criticizing the teacher outside the classroom." If they occur, both of these problems could also change the attitude of the teacher.

The importance of support services was mentioned by several studies found in the literature(Chorost, 1988; Davis et al, 1981; Berrigan, 1982). Consultations with the deaf education teacher, inservice training, reduced class size, and adaptations in the curriculum for the hearing impaired students were just a few of the suggestions offered by regular education teachers. In contrast to the literature, the participants in this study felt that the interpreter was the most helpful service available to them, along with some help from the deaf education teacher. No other service was mentioned as being needed by the participants. All of the teachers in this study felt these two sources were sufficient to assist the regular education teacher. This satisfaction with the available services may be attributed, again, to the fact that many of the participants had previous experience with or knowledge about the hearing impaired. It may also be attributed to the fact that the hearing impaired student was well-behaved and met the same expectations the teacher had for the hearing students, assuming that constitutes part of the teacherís definition of appropriate placement in his/her classroom.





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