Five random reflections on deaf life at primary school

I spent most of last week musing on life at primary school. I do love a good amble down memory lane but I had another reason; I had volunteered to give a presentation to parents of deaf children at a National Deaf Children’s Society family weekend. These are weekends for parents to learn more about various issues facing deaf children and to meet other families with the same kind of experiences.

I was mainstream all the way through the system. I loved primary school; I got my education. It’s fair to say I was probably a bit of a swot. I loved getting gold stars and certificates. My best friend now and back then in primary school is the one and same very person and he doesn’t even wonky ears like me. But primary school did come with its challenges and listening to other deaf adults, I get the impression that I wasn’t alone in these kind of experiences.

So without further ado, I present my top five random reflections of times gone by at primary school:

1) Teachers never remembered to turn the microphone on. Every morning I left my microphone on my teacher’s desk. And nearly every morning I would then have to put my hand up as the lesson started to prompt my teacher. Luckily, I was a cocky confident little boy who was happy to do so. And it didn’t stop there; teachers invariably forgot to turn the microphone off. The range on these microphones back then was quite something. I heard all sorts of staff room conversations that I shouldn’t have been listening to. I felt like James Bond Junior sometimes.

2) The Teacher of the Deaf came to visit weekly to check everything was alright. She was great. But she seemed to have an impeccable knack for coming exactly when lessons were getting most interesting. I would always have to sheepishly leave the classroom at inopportune times and then return to loads of questions from my friends as to where I’d been bunking off to.

3) My speech had a bit of work. A lot of work. I didn’t always enjoy it though I think I knew then it was done with good intentions and “for my own good”. But there were times I felt completely demoralised realising again and again that I wasn’t saying something right. And it’s left a legacy of me hating to do any public speaking,  finding myself worrying more about how I’m saying something, rather than what I’m saying and often ending up having a verbal car crash with my words.

4) Break times were sometimes tough. It could be a struggle to work out what my friends were up to. Being spontaneous was a challenge. As a result, I often ended up trying to ‘arrange’ and ‘control’ the fun myself by putting myself in charge. That way I could know what was going on. Unfortunately, it didn’t endear me to my friends and I ended up getting a reputation for being bossy and bolshy.

5) Finally, teachers invariably made assumptions about what I already knew, based on what everyone else already knew. And, invariably, they were mistaken. The classic example on my part is the Lord’s Prayer. I was at a Church of England school so every morning we all had to recite the Lord’s Prayer. For six years I didn’t have a clue what the words were. In fact, it wasn’t until Cliff Richard did that millennium prayer song, that I finally picked it up. Of course, everyone else picked it up just by listening to everyone else. I was too embarrassed to admit I didn’t know. The moral of the story is that gaps in incidental learning means there is loads that deaf children don’t quite pick up. And it turns out apparently that our Farther arts in Heaven, rather than Devon. Who knew?

It’s difficult to be angry or sad about any of the above. Had I not worked through any of the above challenges, I wouldn’t be where I am today. But part of me hope that things are better now, that deaf children are thriving rather than coping.  And that teachers are reading the guidance produced by (shameless plug alert) the National Deaf Children’s Society. I suspect though that there is more work to raise awareness among teachers of the little idiosyncrasies around supporting deaf children in school.



I go where the work takes me. It would be nice if these places were Barcelona or Florence but as I’m the NDCS campaigns officer, yesterday, work took me to Newbury in Berkshire.

Anyhow, the reason I was in Newbury was to meet a young deaf person called Laura (who actually lives in Dorset – a long story). As part of our quest to become a more child-centred organisation, Laura has been recruited to help us with our campaigns work in the future (which you’ll be hearing more about in future blogs) so I went to learn more about her. Immediately, I could see that she would make an excellent role model and spokesperson for deaf children – very intelligent and articulate and very much demonstrates the art of the possible. That deaf children can achieve as well as their hearing peers and prosper if they are given the right support.

I learnt a bit more about her background and we talked for a bit about things that gone less well. She reminded me about something I used to get annoyed about – teachers not being deaf aware. Like me, Laura has had some excellent teachers who’ve gone out of their way to support her. But, also like me, Laura has also had some really patronising teachers who don’t have a clue.

Like the teacher…who…talks…really…slowly…like…you…are…a…five…year…old…or…a…complete dumbo…

Frankly, I would be mortified when anyone spoke like this to me when I was growing up. Now if anyone tries it, I tell them to stop being so silly and to speak normally. I may even slap them if I think I can get away with it. But for a child, it’s not always easy to challenge your teacher and tell them that it’s not necessary to talk so slowly or explain that it really doesn’t help. I imagine that many deaf children suffer the embarassment of being spoken to so patronisingly in the classroom in front of their peers in silence.

Then you have the teachers who just haven’t had the deaf awareness training or they’ve forgotten it. They forget that deaf children lipread and that you need to face them if you’re speaking. They put on DVDs that don’t have subtitles. They tell deaf children off for being lazy when the child is exhausted from having to lipread all day and is struggling to concentate.

This is not an attack on teachers (though I do think, like in any industry, there are some rubbish ones out there and I don’t think anyone should shy away from that). Our campaign report on education calls for improved teacher training so that all teachers working with deaf children have a good understanding of how to work with deaf children effectively. We also call for whole-school training whenever a deaf child enrols at a new school, everyone in the school gets refresher training. I’d also personally like to see deaf children empowered and be invited to give their feedback on teachers and whether they are suitably deaf aware. I don’t get the impression this really happens very much at the moment.

Anyhow, look out for more of Laura soon!