Reflections on my first year as an Itinerant Teacher of the Deaf

There are lots of career paths available to oral/aural TODs (teachers of the deaf) — from early intervention (working with birth to three year olds and their parents) to schools for the deaf to self-contained classrooms and more.

My program at Smith/Clarke was heavily focused on classroom instruction — all except one of our student teaching placements and externships were completed within a classroom setting.  All of the lesson plans I completed, except for speech planning, were for a classroom of students.  Our courses covered all bases from EI (early intervention) to language acquisition and audiology, and everything I learned was applicable to itinerant teaching — but most examples and projects revolved around classroom learning.

After completing the program, I was convinced that I wanted to work in a small classroom at a school for the deaf like the ones I had experienced, studied, and analyzed.  I wanted the sense of belonging to a school community, I wanted a daily relationship and deep understanding of my students, and I wanted a space of my own and a sense of ownership over what my students were learning.  I was convinced that a private, reputable school for the deaf would give me the mentorship and examples of best practice that I needed.

As I hunted for jobs around the country, I discovered that the private schools in locations I was interested in had extremely low turnover because the teachers loved their work.  Also, the private school positions didn’t come up on most search engines, and I had to research locations or look at schools based on professor recommendations.   Finally I found a school that had a great program, supportive staff, and directors who my advisor at Smith knew personally.  Unfortunately, it was in a location I eventually decided I didn’t want to live in.

There are no shortage of jobs in deaf education around the country.  Most of them are itinerant public school positions — jobs that I was wary of, especially as a first year teacher. An itinerant teacher of the deaf is a teacher who has a caseload of students in a district and travels to the different schools as a resource to classroom teachers and a service provider for the student.  Each student has different goals addressing their individual weaknesses, and the itinerant teacher provides instruction and support on these goals — and keeps data showing progress (or lack thereof).

I had been warned by someone that public school itinerant teachers had huge caseloads and stressful lives.  And, as I wrote earlier, I graduated from a program that gave me more experience as a classroom teacher than an itinerant.  But I kept coming across itinerant positions in great locations with seemingly supportive staff and small caseloads.  I took a plunge and decided to sign a year long contract that placed me in a district outside of Atlanta, Georgia.  Here are my thoughts on my itinerant teaching this year:

Positives:

— The one-on-one relationship with the students.  I loved being able to go in and get to know each student — their strengths, weaknesses, interests, quirks.  I found that I greatly prefer talking with students and not at them.

— The driving.  This often comes up as a con for itinerant teachers who don’t like having to drive long distances between schools.  Most of my schools were within 15 minutes of each other (30 at the most), and I enjoyed the time I got to recharge between students.  I didn’t have to stand on my feet all day teaching class after class.

— The different schools.  (This is both a positive and a difficulty, more on that later.)  I enjoyed getting a feel for the culture of each school.  If one school had difficult teachers or limited work space, I only had to be in it for about 45 minutes at a time.  Not being a part of a teacher community in a school meant that I didn’t have the same support or sense of belonging — but I also probably missed a lot of drama.

— No extra duties.  I didn’t have lunch duties or recess duties or after school coaching, etc.  Of course if I had these I would do them cheerfully — but it was nice being able to focus on my lessons.

— On that note: no tests to create (I did make occasional assessments) or homework to grade.

— Freedom.  Itinerant work means a lot of freedom — freedom to move your schedule around, freedom to create your own lessons and worksheets without worrying about being responsible for your students to pass standardized tests, etc.

— Variety.  During my program, my advisor asked which age group I preferred and I told him that I had enjoyed them all.  (Although upon reflection and further experience, I definitely have some preferences.)  Being an itinerant meant that I could go from working with a nonverbal 10 year old to a highly functioning 8th grader.  I had a deaf-blind three year old and a football loving 12 year old.  With some students I was working on getting them to repeat noise patterns, and with others I worked with them on complicated math and science vocabulary.

— Co-workers and supervisor.  I lucked out with my co-workers and supervisor — they were all supportive, fun, thoughtful, professional, and deeply cared about the impact of their work.  My fellow TODs didn’t groan when I repeated questions or made mistakes or texted them about driving my car into a ditch.  They always offered advice without being condescending, they were gracious and helpful, and constructive.

Challenges:

— I came in without any training of the online IEP and data system that the district used; but I got lucky because they were in the process of starting a new system and I received the training with everyone else.

— Different schools.  Being in and out of schools meant that I wasn’t involved in a school enough to always be in the loop on certain events (field trips, testing, talent shows).  I often found out about these when I went to work with a student and he/she wasn’t there.

— Some of the classroom teachers I worked with were so stressed and busy that they rarely replied to emails.  I often had to ask several times for paperwork I needed from them.  (Most of the teachers were great and extremely supportive.)

— Levels of students.  I worked with preschoolers up to a senior in high school.  While this provided variety (which I loved), it also meant a lot more leg work in customizing lessons.

— My personality.  I am laid back and don’t like to ruffle feathers.  I also tend to listen more than speak when I am in meetings or groups that I don’t know.  I had to learn to be assertive (which often felt pushy) to advocate for my students’ needs.

These lists could go on a lot longer, but they do a pretty good job of giving you an idea of my experience as an itinerant teacher of the deaf this year.  I am excited for what next year will bring.

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2 thoughts on “Reflections on my first year as an Itinerant Teacher of the Deaf

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  1. It sounds like you had a really positive experience and found a good position for you. Congrats on finishing your first year!

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  2. It was great, thanks! Looks like you teach a whole range — cued, ASL, oral — that’s awesome. I want to take some ASL classes this summer, but I’m planning a wedding/traveling so it might be pushed back.

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