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:
— 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.
— 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.