Georgia on my mind

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The skies are big here, and if that sounds redundant or cliche, you are right.  But you are also wrong.  Because “big” is the best way to describe them — no need for gaudy language like “vast” “endless” “immense” — these are Georgian, straightforward, you’re-in-the-south, big skies.  It’s something I had stopped thinking about, the sky, something that had been pushed to the periphery of my thoughts.  But when it’s big, and cloudy, and changing colors and textures in front of you, you start to notice.

**

“When you said ‘Georgia,’ I wasn’t sure you meant the state.  For all I knew it was the country,” he says and laughs.  It’s true.  I’ve been bouncing between states and countries since college — and before college — and Georgia the country was equally likely, if not more likely than Georgia the state.

“What brought you here,” I am asked, quite frequently.  That or, “Where’s your accent from?” I think of my accent as a sort of pan-American affair with a dash of California and Connecticut.  Newcastory.  The occasional British lilt or expressions have mostly disappeared, though I did disturb my sister-in-law with my pronunciation of “basil” (“a” as in cat) this summer, and I can’t quite bring myself to say “foy-er.

It’s a little strange though, planting myself in the South after a year in New England, a year in Korea, and a couple years in Europe.  I wanted warm weather, friendly faces, hearty food, and, yes, big skies.  I got all of these, along with some minor culture shock: different grocery stores, different values, lots of college football talk, greeting cards that unironically praise George Bush.  Nothing too unexpected (I’m a little Texan), but I didn’t realize that people actually carry guns on them.  There’s a weird comfort in knowing that I can have Chick-fil-a any time I want — it’s like a blanket wrapped around my shoulders when I didn’t know I was cold.

**

During a couple of my preteen years, we spent our summer in North Carolina, hiking up mountains and surveying the broccoli trees that covered the hilly surfaces.  It was warm, but we still had a jacuzzi, which was, and is, the height of human brilliance.  (A huge bathtub with bubbles that you can share with friends?  Yes, please.)  We would drive into Georgia for the cheaper gas.  That was my only interaction with the state until this year.  That and becoming a secondhand Braves fan through my little brother, Lord knows how he found them — the Braves seem to have that effect on people.

**

There are Southern phrases that I can’t say in my accent.  They just don’t sound right.  Are you from not-a-southern-American-state?  Say “Bless your heart.”  See?  “Heart” has to be soft and drawn out, not the “ar” in a pirate “argh.”  Same goes with the name “Peyton.”  I can’t say it.  For some reason I manage “y’all” just fine, probably because I believe very strongly in the need for second person plurals.

I’m just enough out of Atlanta (40 minutes) to where the accents have a decent oomph to them.  One lady with a drawl said that she had traveled to a vacation spot in Maine, and a local had been so excited about her accent that he took her by the hand and walked her around, having her speak to people.

**

All of that to say — I’ve moved to Georgia.  I’m working as an itinerant teacher of the deaf which is crazy awesome and intense.

A world without deaf people?

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“So…do you think with the increases in technology that we’re heading towards a world without deaf people?”

He phrased the question slowly, thoughtfully, with genuine interest written on his face.

I looked at the girls sitting next to me; two of my housemates who have been with me in the MED program for almost a year.  One of them, K, is profoundly deaf — she has a CI and communicates orally, but she is also fluent in ASL(American Sign Language)/SEE(Signed Exact English).  We exchanged glances, and then launched into a flurry of explanations and corrections.

Why there isn’t a solution for Hearing Loss

- There is no “cure” for deafness.  When a deaf person removes his device, he can’t hear anything.

-The etiology (cause) of deafness varies, but there will never be a world where these don’t exist, unless it is a world without illness, genetics, and — let’s be real — humans.

- Hearing with a device (Cochlear Implant or Hearing Aid), is not “normal” hearing.  It is using 4-22 electrodes to replace tens of thousands of hair cells.  The quality and clarity of sound is different, as is the access to sound.  A deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) person who is aural/oral will struggle with listening in background noise, will deal with auditory fatigue, and will not always have access to every frequency.  (Certain speech sounds are in higher frequencies, like “s”.  If you can’t hear a sound, it will be difficult to produce.)

- Not everyone is a candidate for cochlear implants.  Whether it’s biology (absence of auditory nerve), neural capability, or not a significant enough loss (severe to profound).  Also, even if a person is a candidate, there’s no real way to know how she will do.  There are predictors and factors, but there are no guarantees.

Change the question

Asking about a world without deaf people is, to put it bluntly, considered offensive.  You can ask about improving technology, improving sound access, improving services and educational opportunities for DHH students.  But don’t ask about life without deaf people — there is nothing wrong with being deaf.  In fact, there is a Deaf community with traditions, culture, and values, who sign and value their identity as deaf individuals.

Many people in the Deaf (capitalizing the “D” refers to culturally deaf people)  community resent the field aural/oral deaf education because they see it as an attempt to “fix” something that’s not broken.  The oral approach is also threatening because it takes away the future members of their small community.

Awareness

After explaining these ideas, and dialoguing about our classes and the various methods needed to teach DHH students, my roommates and I walked back to the car.  It felt like our first opportunity to educate someone about deaf education, using all the information we had learned this year.  (Undoubtedly K has spent her entire life educating people about hearing loss, but it was even a first for her in regards to the amount of knowledge we’ve acquired over this year.)

What is a TOD?

I’ve learned a lot this year.  An unbelievable amount, really.  Naturally, it’s the tip of the iceberg — but it’s a sizable tip, and a great starting point for continuing my foray into the field of deaf education and the trenches of teaching.  I still have questions every day.  Every. Single. Day.  Like, a million.  Like, an annoy-my-teacher-and-classmates-because-my-hand-is-perpetually-stuck-in-the-air amount.

Deaf education is anything and everything but static.  It is a world of fluidity, of nuances, of “it depends on the student”s and “it depends on the circumstances”s.  Because, when it comes down to it, no two cases are the same.  The loss is different, the family is different, the resources are different, the neurological makeup is different, the IQ and aptitude are different, the district is different — everything needs to be tailored for each student.

And so, we are jugglers.  We are teachers of language, advocacy, academics, social skills.  We are educators, advocates, role models, referrers.  We are invested.  In the child, in his future, in her hobbies, in his social life, in her college dreams.

And, on a vaguely related note, we are pushers.

On Lent, Facebook, and Bill Watterson

I gave up Facebook for Lent.  I’ve done this for a few years now — I wonder what sort of dip in site usage Facebook sees over these forty days.  I wonder if whoever is in charge of retention at Facebook finds it worrisome that some users consider it as a vice on par with smoking or fatty foods.  Or maybe they are pleased at the idea of Facebook being an uncontrollable urge which, naturally, will be returned to after the forty days.

I enjoy Facebook.  I like sharing and interacting and having access to friends and family across the world.  But when I think about my values, about the type of relationships I would like to cultivate, the type of interests I want to pursue — Facebook is at best a neutral addition to my life.  At worst, it is a distraction from all of these areas.  I think Matt Steele discusses its potential for inauthenticity pretty well — “I can carefully curate my life to look like a shimmering stream of Hallmark moments.”

So I gave it up for forty days.  Because it was a distraction to school, to work, and to real life.  Because I have more meaningful ways to spend my time.  And on a similar/unrelated note (can we create a word for that?), I’m leaving some thoughts from Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes:

“Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.
You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”

And, if you have time, check out JK Rowling’s 2008 Harvard Commencement speech:

Teaching the Deaf — The deal with language

“Oh wow, that sounds rewarding.”

“Do you know sign language?”

“Ohh deaf education.  I thought you said “death” education.”

These are the three most common replies I encounter when telling someone about my current studies.  The third one is actually the most common, and usually followed by the first — apparently educating people about death is currently on the forefront of the public consciousness.

I’ve already semi-answered the “Do you know sign language” question in another post, but I’d like to answer it more fully now.

No, I don’t know sign language, but I’m (very slowly) working on it.  Earlier this month, in a fit of zealous optimism (the only way I can describe making February resolutions), I decided to learn one sign a day.  Which, living with a native signer, is hardly a difficult task.  I’ve learned some basic words so far, most of which can be used in polite company, and hope to get a few more down before summer.  The beauty of sign language is that a) it’s sort of sloppy, so sometimes messing up a sign almost makes you look more fluent and b) if you can’t remember a sign you can make something up and have a good shot at guessing it correctly.  Kind of like guessing Swedish words by using an English word with a weird vowel stress.

I’m currently reading “The Miracle of Language” by Richard Lederer, which is thus far a lovely read, if only because he references Roald Dahl and Lewis Carrol.  Language has always fascinated me — the philosophical idea of language constructing our reality, and the consistently mind-boggling realization that it truly separates us from animals.  I am blessed with the combination of having a terrible memory and being easily enthused about concepts and ideas.  This means that I am able to rediscover old thoughts and get equally excited about them every time.  Basically: every time I pause and consider the implications of language and the beauty and detail of our communication, I get excited.

**

The sign for “Thank you” is taking your hand, keeping it flat, and bringing it up to your lips and then moving it down away from you.  The sign for “Good” is essentially the same.  I learned these two this summer because most of the girls in my program have a signing background, and “Thank you” and “Good” happen to come up quite frequently.

All of this to say: though our program is oral, none of us are “anti-signing”.  We are being trained to teach students to listen and talk, but we still respect parents who choose sign for their children.  And our cohort is required to take a signing class from a Deaf teacher in order to graduate.

When I first started the program, I was easily distracted during lectures because my roommate (who is in the program) had interpreters in some of the classes and I would stare at them as they signed to her.  I was captivated by the expressive movements, the fluid hands, the theatrical faces; there is so much beauty captured in the physical expression of language.  One of the interpreters had actually become an interpreter because he had been in a class with a deaf student and was mesmerized by the sign interpretation.

**

I like words.  I like to play with them, toss them, use them to evoke thoughts, create images, guide minds, share ideas.  Yet it has only been during this semester that I have realized that I have stumbled from one wordsy profession (journalism) to another.  Basically: I’m being trained to be a teacher of language.

“A Teacher of the Deaf is a Teacher of Language.” One of my professors said this (about seven times for good measure), and I immediately recognized it as the crux of my studies that I had previously left unlabeled.  We talk about access, about speech, about acoustics and audiology and visual aids and vocabulary gaps — but what we’re really talking about is language.  Communication.  How can I — as a being sharing space with you — share with you how I feel?  I am hot, I am hungry, I have memories from after the age of four (but not before), I believe in souls, I like your hair, I shrink clothes in the dryer, I think about life too much or not enough or just the right amount.

Most of our relating — from the most banal to the deeply profound — is done through language.  And to most of us, it’s breathing.  We don’t notice it unless there is an interference (ie. navigating a foreign country).  Furthermore, to most of us, acquiring it is also breathing.  It’s instinctive, almost automatic: we hear language and eventually start repeating it and develop a natural fluency.

But deaf children — even ones with aids or implants — don’t have full access to sound, and therefore, language.  Depending on their hearing loss, they miss different frequencies (which means missing different sounds because each phoneme/letter falls under a frequency), and therefore their production of speech is altered.  They struggle to create sounds they can’t hear, or can only hear occasionally or fuzzily.  They miss incidental language, which is the language that surrounds us that hearing people internalize automatically.  Instead of having this automatic language stored, they miss it and develop gaps in vocabulary, in grammar.

Our professor told us about an 11-year-old boy she had to teach the word “fart” to.  He would say “excuse me, I passed gas,” which she said she appreciated for its politeness. However, as she told it, he was on a baseball team and there was no way she was going to let him go into the dugout and say “I passed gas” to a bunch of 11-year-old boys.

**

I did a three week externship at a school for the deaf in Seattle.  Like many oral-auditory schools, most of the classes had a couple of hearing peers.  While I was there, NBC Nightly came to interview the students about meeting Derrick Coleman, a member of the Seahawks, and the only deaf NFL player.  The students were all brought into a classroom and played with toys at various stations as the camera crew scanned the room and picked out children to interview.

The reporter, brown hair, big encouraging eyes, sat down and talked to several of the children.  The first few were shy and mumbly, and answered questions about Derrick Coleman’s profession with answers like “baseball?”  Then the reporter came to a table with kids playing around it.  He started talking to a little boy with mussed brown hair and an eager smile. The boy answered his questions articulately and clearly, so the reporter kept talking to him, asking him his thoughts.  And then:

“How do you feel, knowing that Derrick Coleman is a professional football player?”

The boy shrugged. “Good, I guess.”

“Does it make you feel like you can do anything?”

“Sure.”

The boy, of course, was one of the typical hearing students.  Derrick Coleman’s success as a deaf football player had no personal relevance on his career goals.

When I tell this story, I laugh at the humor of the situation. But I also think of how eager the reporter was to talk to the boy after less articulate interviews.  How, even as he created a piece about deaf children, he unknowingly missed most of the deaf children in the room and talked to a hearing child.

That’s the thing about language.  It often means inclusion or exclusion.  I know which I want for my students — I just don’t always know how to get there.

In the meantime, attempting to sign language is a good reminder to myself of how hard it can be to learn a language for the first time.

On seasons.

I fell in love with The Fantasticks the first time I saw it performed by a nearby high school.  I was in high school myself, and it appealed to my notions of romance vs. cynicism.  Particularly the romance — and I don’t mean just the boy-girl stuff (though that was there too).

Try to remember when life was so tender
That dreams were kept beside your pillow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
That love was an ember about to billow.
Try to remember, and if you remember,
Then follow.

**

Remembering September in the deep of December.  This song; the ideas, the seasons of weather and life — they seem to surround me now, like when you learn a new word and then suddenly see it everywhere.

I know we aren’t in December.  But I feel it.  I feel it coming and I get anxious about it on a visceral level that surprises me because I am not an anxious person.  Not usually.  But there’s something about winter, about the dark and the cold and the long months after Christmas that bring out my materialistic side and make me wish for resources to spend half a year in the other hemisphere.

Fall is short.  It always feels rushed to me; one day the leaves are green on the trees, the next they are a million vibrant colors, the next they are lying brown on the ground.  I think it feels short because I love it.  And because darkness is around the corner.

**

I am a Sun Baby, I tell my boyfriend and he rolls his eyes.  Eye roll = truth.  Maybe it’s more than sun for me.  Maybe the warmth is home — my entire childhood spent happily sweating in deserts, squinting in the brightness, watching glasses fog up stepping in and out of the AC.  The heat an ever present backdrop to our treks around the Middle East, a comforting blanket at night, a blazing force by day.

There are hot and cold climate cultures, my friend tells me.  She explains some of the attributes of each, and it makes sense.  She is another Third Culture Kid, of Thailand, and she is perpetually cold, even during mild California evenings. I used to tease her about it, but now I’m right there with her, missing my sandy homes, my warm nights and toasty ocean swims.

**

This whole weather thing is, of course, one of those metaphors that I could take an extended dive into.  When going through a heavy workload or a difficult time, it’s important to look to Spring, and — if that’s not possible — use memories of September to get you through.  Before there can be rebirth, there must be death.  Winter isn’t so awful if you dress properly and have a positive mindset.  (Grad school isn’t so bad if you study and smile.)  There is great beauty to be found in Winter…

**

There is more to The Fantasticks than a nostalgic song and a young couple falling in love.  It follows the young love through testing experiences and captures a wider angle on the ups and downs of life.  The full picture; all four seasons.  A time and place for each event.

Interesting.

 

“Rodents of unusual sizes? I don’t think they exist.”

The building that houses my Teaching to Read class.

I go to class in this building once a week.                                        Copyright, Siobhan Stewart 2013.

Sadly, this post will not be any sort of Princess Bride tribute, though the movie deserves every accolade it receives.  Mostly I didn’t want to have another “I’m sorry I never post” blog title.  Umm…but yes, I’m here to acknowledge my extremely inconsistent posting as of late.  And to offer many, many excuses.  In the form of “A Day in the life of a Smith College MED student.”

A Day in the Life of a Smith College M.E.D. student

A note, if you haven’t been following my blog: MED stands for Master of the Education of the Deaf.  As much as I would enjoy being considered a talented, brainiac medical student, I discovered at a fairly young age that my clumsiness and lack of precision created more medical problems than they would ever prevent.  (Case in point: the accidental black eye I gave to my older brother when I was four.  Or seven.  One of those young ages.)

A second note: The following entry will be more detailed about my life than anyone except my mama will want to read.  Skim accordingly.  Skimming is a grad school skill — we just call it scanning to be fancy.

7:30. Alarm rings.  After a few snoozes, I roll out of bed, throw together the lunch that I forget to prepare the night before, and get out the door by 8:05.

8:15. Arrive at the preschool, where I help with last minute needs, and talk to my co-operating teachers.

8:25. Head outside to the bus drop off zone to remove half-asleep three year olds from their booster chairs.  Make sure nobody’s hearing aid/baha (bone anchored hearing aid) has fallen onto a seat.

8:25-11:30. Assist, teach, and interact with preschoolers.  We start with listening checks to make sure they have access to sound.  A listening check involves listening to their device (aid/implant/baha), remembering that their hearing is way different than yours (less distinct), and then saying sounds for them to repeat.  These include the six Ling sounds “ah, oo, ee, sh, s, m” and a few others.

Teaching involves sitting in front of the children at the group area (carpet, mats, etc.) and teaching them a 5-10  minute lesson on sharing or a Fall song, or how we can eat real food, but not fake food (Yuck!).

The children are sent to find “work” which basically means finding something they want to play with for their 5-10 minute attention spans.  (Which become remarkably longer when trucks or dirt is involved).  It also usually means finding something somebody else has already decided to play with, because really, grabbing is very satisfying.

Our interactions generally consist of playing with the children and helping them use their language.  We are trying to teach them that language is empowering, and that instead of pointing/grabbing/making loud noises, using their words will produce a much better effect.  It’s slow going, but it’s incredibly rewarding to see the progress they’re making.  Highlights of the day include things like a child stringing two words together, or another one initiating a conversation.

11:30-2:15. I head upstairs to the storage unit I call my office.  OK, it’s actually an office, but it’s filled with boxes that define the word miscellaneous (and possibly detritus.).  Basically the school used to have more separate office buildings, but they sold those and consolidated into the preschool building (which used to be a boarding school back when you sent your children away if they had a problem).  All of the items from the move that didn’t have a home ended up in what is now my office.  These include boxes and boxes of: video cassettes and video reels of the school going way back; boxes of annual reports that date back to the 1860’s; unsold auction items, an ancient typewriter, a box of old foreign coins, and more.

I spend my time clearing out and organizing this office — which, no joke, I have been approached about by the wife of a hoarding expert.  He’s heard of it and wants to come check it out.  I have lots of fun nerding out over the random discoveries I find, and imagining who was holding the annual reports in the 1860’s and how they felt about living through the civil war, and what they thought about the place of women: and of course, they all have excellent British accents, because my literature from that period is all Austen, and my show is Downton Abbey.

I also get to do stuff for the development office, which includes writing Press Releases, Facebook content, and gathering items for an upcoming fair we’re hosting.

3:30-5:30 (or 1:00-4:00, depending on the day).  Class.  I talked a bit before about what I’m studying, so I won’t go into detail here.  It’s pretty awesome to have teachers who are working professionals and can give us practical advice along with all the theory.

5:45. Home.  And dinner.  (I also babysit three-year-old twins for four to eight hours every week.)

7:00-10:00. Homework, chilling with roommates, skyping with my fellow, shooting videos.

10:00-11:00. My ideal sleep time is 10:30.  I like my 9 hours.  I usually don’t get my nine.

**

So: pretty busy load. Blogging hasn’t been at the top of my priority list, but I do hope to start up again.

Peace.