Marie Hodges, Broken Arrow Public School System

My life began 46 years ago as the youngest of 6 children in a hearing family. My father passed away when I was 2 years old, leaving my mother a young widow with 6 small children. She remains a very strong lady who never let hardships stop her from what she needed to do to raise her family. I gained so much strength and wisdom from my mother. This wisdom and strength carried me through several life challenges including the one that defined who I was and what I was to do with my life.

At age 13, I developed life-threatening meningitis which left me profoundly deaf. The year was 1973, and I had just completed the 7th grade. I faced the difficult challenge of completing my education without hearing and without a program to meet my needs. Tulsa, Oklahoma did not have Deaf Education or sign language interpreters. It was a huge challenge to speechread my teachers and try to fit it socially in a mainstream setting.

Those years truly defined my character. I resolved to prevent other deaf children from experiencing similar frustrations in communication and learning. Instead, I determined to provide them with appropriate and challenging academic instruction in their native sign language.

Thankfully, I was blessed to meet a wonderful sign language teacher, mentor and counselor at the University of Tulsa where I received therapy for speech, lip-reading and sign language instruction. My sign language teacher, Jack Foreman, inspired and encouraged me to use my life experiences to help future deaf children have a better educational experience. I made the decision to become a teacher and entered the University of Tulsa Deaf Education program. I remain on fire with enthusiasm for teaching deaf children and have no doubt they can overcome the barriers of deafness and be successful in life. I am presently a teacher of 4th and 5th grade deaf students for the Broken Arrow Public School system in suburban Tulsa, OK.

While I had the benefit of hearing language for 13 years, I understand that many of my students face the challenge of mastering a language they have never heard. To accomplish this, I embrace the strategies I learned in college to create a totally accessible visual environment for learning. Language is best learned through meaningful and natural experiences, supported by instruction in the child’s native sign language.

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