Deaf awareness of mainstream teachers

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

When I was younger, a precocious deaf child in a mainstream school, I had some teachers who were great, worked hard to include me in the classroom and also had high expectations of what I could do, always challenging me to work harder. Then there were other teachers who, to put it bluntly, didn’t have a clue. I can remember times where teachers would talk while not facing me, make me listen to radio / TV programmes with no transcript or subtitles, forget to put my microphone on (or leaving it on when they want to the staff room) or telling me off for not doing something, when I hadn’t heard the instruction in the first place. I was a saintly child and obviously never misbehaved. Ahem.

A NDCS survey from last year for the Must do better! campaign found that one in four parents of deaf children didn’t rate the deaf awareness of their child’s teachers which makes me think that not much has changed since I was last at school. With this in mind, we recently sent a paper to the Lamb inquiry into parental confidence in the special educational needs system on this issue – the second paper we’ve sent so far.

The paper specifically calls for more tailored training and support to teachers when a deaf child enters their classroom. This is a slight shift from focusing on initial teacher training. This is obviously important, but in the same way that nobody remembers how to speak French from their French GCSE, it’s unlikely that teachers are going to remember the details of how to include deaf children in the classroom especially when it’s bunched together with training on how to include other children with special educational needs. Given that deafness is a low incidence disability, it may be a few years before the average mainstream teacher encounters a deaf child in the classroom. So a better approach might be to, when a child with special educational needs is themself assessed as needing further support, also assess the teacher for what further training and guidance they need to be able to include the deaf child in their classroom. Kind of like a “teacher’s entitlement” which could be applied to all children with special educational needs.

What do you think of the proposal? What more can be done to improve mainstream teacher training of deaf children?


5 thoughts on “Deaf awareness of mainstream teachers

  1. Ian,

    It’s a good point you make about deafness being a ‘low incidence disability’ and agree that a more focused service of support that follows a deaf child would be far more valuable and cost effective.

    It would be extremely expensive to train every teacher in the land in deaf awareness, and their retention of such knowledge would I agree be too low to have a positive effect as and when they meet a deaf pupil.

    By planning the journey of a childs ‘touch points’ with hearing staff, a training plan could be formulated, identifying all those who should go on the training.

    Moving forward into adult life, this could also be the case where employees/employers of deaf people are identified as requiring training and therefore there is scope for Access to Work funding to train colleagues.

    Many more thoughts, but to whom do we address these ideas Ian?

    Kind regards

  2. My friend Rosie had this comment, made via my facebook account, and copied here for wider publication:

    I think this needs to be placed in the context of the classroom environment…
    Teachers do forget however hard they try – they often face several pupils with different types of SEN and EAL needs. It makes me wonder if we are asking too much of some. Yes, there are clearly some who need a kick up the…. But I think most understand the theory of deaf awareness and the question is how can we promote and maintain day-to-day *practice* and remembering to do this? Suggestions welcome!

    Anecdotal evidence (i.e. my thesis!) suggests that hearing peers often help out alot, such as repeating the teacher’s instructions for their deaf peer. While on the one hand, this could be seen as bad practice, it’s could also be said that it’s good to see others taking a mutual responsibility for communication in the classroom…

    If we are truly to move away from a deficit model of disability where the deaf child becomes dependent on external help/ a CSW, then all children in the classroom need to take responsibilty for the communication in the classroom. Use of an ‘environmental monitor’ i.e. a peer (rotating on a weekly basis) who has responsibility to monitor the acoustics (e.g. shut the door and make sure people are talking one at a time, raise their hand) can be effective for all, not just the deaf person. And reminds the teacher of the needs of his/her class. I think hearing-peer training in deaf awareness is an area we need to research closely – what components in the delivery of peer deaf awareness are more effective? Should sign language be available for all, where appropriate? We should be look at ecological solutions, not placing more responsibility on teachers.

  3. Another friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, made this response via my facebook. Again, copied here for wider publication:

    i also went to mainstream schools – sadly to say at secondary school, i was largely ignored and my teachers told my parents that i wouldnt do very well but i proved them wrong. I was disruptive at times simply cos i didnt get any attention to my needs – they didnt really get or be bothered to appreciate how hard it is for a deaf child and just assumed i should be treated like everyone else – i think other pupils were also as bad – as expected of kids, i felt they were very judgmental when anyone stands out
    however, i didnt help my cause and was a bit contradictory as i was so conscience of being deaf because of being the only one in any of my schools. I therefore hated any attention being made to it and became shy and moody – it turned out before i arrived (i was a late joiner) the head arranged an assembly to announce that i was coming which i was mortified about and consequently, it took me years to accept my disability.
    one positive thing about mainstream schools is that i can speak well which i dont think would happen if i had gone to deaf school.
    i completely endorse any better deaf awareness for mainstream teachers but also pupils and perhaps some kind of personal support for the deaf child.
    i wouldve hoped that 20 years on – this has improved as attitudes relax more and would be very disappointed if you are saying that it hasnt.

    • I agree that puplils /students should have a class on deaf awareness. I am a student nurse who trying to put a class together for students on deaf awareness i would be very grateful of any help from anyone in the birmingham area ?

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