I am a Teacher with Hearing Loss

Editor’s Note:  HearingHealthMatters.org is pleased to feature two related articles by teacher Bonnie Stone this week.  In the Better Hearing Consumer, she discusses how a devastating sudden hearing loss and subsequent cochlear implantation have affected her career as an elementary school teacher.  When you are finished this article, visit Hearing Views, where she questions the rationale of advising CI candidates to keep expectations low for the success of their implants.

 

By Bonnie Stone

 

I am a teacher.

Over the past 25 years, I’ve taught all grades in the elementary school, as well as serving my large, urban district as a literacy coach. Currently, my classroom is full of fresh-faced first graders.

I am deaf.

Three years ago, I lost my hearing in what my otologist deemed to be idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL).  It was quite a blow. Having been a “normal” hearing person until that moment, experiencing a sudden and dramatic hearing loss was overwhelming. Indeed, my first thoughts were of my students. When my doctor delivered the bad news, I cried out that I had 28 students coming to my room the next day—the first day of school.

I’m not going to lie. It took every ounce of resolve I had to walk into my classroom that morning knowing that I was virtually deaf. The SSHL had rendered my left ear deaf and stolen more than 60 decibels from my right ear. My middle and high frequencies suffered the greatest loss—and I knew those little voices fell within those frequencies. It would take several weeks before I could get a hearing aid. Today, I am bimodal—sporting a hearing aid in my right ear and a cochlear implant in my left.

Schools are very noisy places and being able to hear children is very important. With the help of my school district’s audiologist, I found a multitude of technological devices to help me in my classroom, from amplification and FM devices to strobes in my classroom to alert me when alarms are sounded. Though there are still challenges I face each day, I found that losing my hearing did not mean losing my career.

Children are very forgiving and understanding of their teachers’ shortcomings. I begin each year explaining what that little thing behind my ear is. I have a plastic model of a cochlear implant and I let each of my students touch it, try it on, and ask me questions. I teach them how to speak loud and clear when addressing me. “Look right at me,” I remind them. And I teach them to work quietly – especially when I am working with small groups. They know that my hearing devices pick up every noise they make, and background noise is the enemy!

I admit that I don’t understand a great deal of what they tell me. I can hear pretty much everything they say. It’s the understanding that remains the biggest problem. The redeeming thing is that first graders just like to tell stories. Often I can simply say, “Thank you for telling me that” and they walk away happy and smiling. Inside, I am hoping they aren’t telling me something like “Your hair is on fire.”

I am the only teacher in my school district with a cochlear implant, so I am somewhat of a novelty. People are always curious and sometimes they have misconceptions. A parent once complained that “the teacher with the Bluetooth” needed to pay attention to the crosswalk instead of talking on her phone! My principal politely explained that it wasn’t a phone!

I’ve also become a hearing advocate. Because I wear my cochlear implant prominently, I field many questions and hearing concerns from others. Nearly all of my students receive the voluntary hearing screening our school provides because their parents can hear and see my testimony.

Since I lost my hearing, I’ve had three students with hearing loss. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. One student had been mistakenly identified as an English Language Learner and was slipping between the cracks. I noticed he could not hear and he was eventually diagnosed with a profound hearing loss and placed in our district’s deaf education classroom. Some people said I saved that boy’s life. I was just doing my job.

That same year, another student was fitted with a hearing aid. His mom told me that he was excited to be wearing it.  “I look like Mrs. Stone,” he said. Indeed, it was rather prestigious for him to wear it in class!  Even though he’s not in my class this year, he still waves as he passes me in the hall, pointing at his ear and smiling sheepishly.

Teaching is hard. Being a deaf/hard of hearing teacher is hard, too. But it’s not impossible, as I once feared. There are blessings to be found.

 

Bonnie Stone is a wife, mother, and teacher. She blogs about her experience as she lives with hearing loss, finding humor, strength, and resiliency along the way.

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

18 Comments

  1. Hi, i am currently in UK high school in year 11 (10th grade) and my next step is to go into college. i have no idea what i want to be. i’ve always been put off doing teaching because of my speech and hearing. i was worried in case my future students will get frustrated or wouldn’t understand what i am saying. I am hearing impaired so i can hear them but my speech has never been like the others. People ‘love’ the way i talk because i dont say it like them.
    I was wondering, do the kids sometimes make fun of you or not? Or is it just the parents now and then? I would love it if you could reply. Thanks for reading xxx

    1. Rihanna, hurray for you! Don’t shy away from teaching because you are afraid kids will make fun of you! There are so many more opportunities in teaching that can accommodate you. I only lost my hearing about 6 years ago, so my speech patterns are “normal” except for my Oklahoma drawl, haha! Students are very resilient and do well with many different language accents and dialects, so I don’t know why they would have specific problems understanding you! Keep working with your speech therapist and continue improving. Or look into special education where you would have smaller classes or groups of children. Best wishes!

  2. Bonnie…I was so glad to find your post. I have been searching online “how to teach with cochlear implants” I have SSHL….same story. I went completely deaf in both ears on Nov. 20, 2016. I did not have any hearing left at all. I teach 7/8 grade. Middle school students have a hard time looking up and speaking up! I am looking for some technology to put in my room to help me hear. My classroom is a large computer lab and I have 31 students. The acoustics and background noise are terrible. What are you using to help you? Please email any advice amyheffernan4@gmail.com thank you!!!!

    1. Oh, Amy! I don’t get notifications of comments and just saw this! My advice would be to engage your school district in helping you reduce sound reverberation by I stalling some sound absorbing panels in your room. My district found some old band room acoustic tiles lying around the warehouse and used Command strips to put them around the top of the walls. I also covered as many bookcases, tables, bulletin boards, windows, and cabinets with remnant fabric. My district also installed carpet in my room. All of these things helped tremendously. Ask them for help.

  3. Thank you, Bonnie, and all of those who have commented. I’m a teacher in the UK with a sudden profound hearing loss in both ears. Every day is a struggle. I work in a secondary school where I would say that students are a lot less forgiving and some seem to feel entitled to a ‘fully functional’ teacher. Everyday I think should quit but I am so desperate to find a way to continue in I the job that I love. Thank you for your inspiring story.

    1. Thank you Bonnie and Amy! I was very happy when I saw these posts. Your posts are awesome! You have inspired me! I have a hearing loss, and was born this way. I became a certified DHH teacher this past August, and I’m excited. I’m the first hard of hearing teacher within my district. I am teaching at a high school in a co-taught classroom and it’s my second year. Honestly, it’s been challenging but also rewarding. I also have a language barrier to some extent because I was born deaf and I missed out a lot over the years. I have a wonderful relationship with my high school DHH students but I’m still trying to find ways to bond with more of my regular students with normal hearing. I did not have much problems with them last year because the co-teacher I worked with was strict, and the students knew better. However, I’m working with a different co-teacher who is more lenient this year. Unfortunately, I had a couple of students laughing at the way I talk in her classes. I had a talk with them by telling them we should respect our differences, etc. But because I am very sensitive, it has hurt my confidence a little. I’m trying to find a way to become a more successful teacher and build relationships with the hearing students in a better way. Like you, I’ve been wanting to quit every day lately but I have been tenacious and trying to focus on the positive side. I’ve been experiencing a lot of anxieties, too. I think if I have more support from the admin when it comes to disciplining the students, things would be less stressful. I love working with different students and helping them to become successful. If you have any suggestions on how to build relationships with the regular students effectively, please feel free to share it with me.

      1. Hey I am hard of hearing and I want to be a history teacher more than anything. Growing up my hearing doctor told me I couldn’t do all of the things I wanted to do because of my hearing problem. On top of that I was bullied and made fun of throughout school to a point that I refused to wear hearing aids and still refuse to tell people of my hearing problem till this day. I wanted to join the military…couldnt pass the hearing test, wanted to be a cop…same thing…cant pass the hearing test. Finally I found something I love and its history, I mean what job is cooler then telling stories of true things that actually happened in a way so you can educate them or even better, inspire them. Suddenly I question my hearing and if its even possible. Is teaching with a hearing disability really that impossible as to what everyone makes it out to seem? How did you guys all do it? Any tips?

  4. Bonnie, yours is a lovely story. You are absolutely correct that young children are quite resilient and easy going around adults with disabilities. Additionally, it is healthy for them to see that not everyone is perfect and can work around obstacles. I have been, and still am, totally deaf since birth and am a literacy specialist for a diverse public school district as well as an author of Reading Upside Down: Identifying and Addressing Opportunity Gaps in Literacy Instruction. I’m happy to chat with you about strategies for teaching with a hearing loss too. Here is a link to my website and contact information: https://readingupsidedown.wordpress.com/

  5. Bonnie, what an inspirational story! I am a former teacher of 2nd and 3rd grade and I understand how difficult teaching can be when you’re able to hear! I also had a sudden, unexplained hearing loss about 7 yrs ago and every day is a challenge! I very much admire and respect that you have continued to teach. Your students are learning such a valuable lesson by your example and I do hope they will do all they can to protect their hearing! Thanks for sharing your story!

  6. Thank you for writing this wonderful story about your hearing loss. By continuing your teaching career you are bringing the invisible disability of hearing loss out of the dark ages. Some of the teachers I know retired on disability when they loss some of their hearing.

  7. What a wonderful and inspiring story! You are setting such a wonderful example for these students about the importance of perseverance as well as building awareness about hearing loss and its consequences. These young minds will grow up valuing their hearing based on their exposure to you.

  8. I was an elementary principal for 20 years when I too had an abrupt hearing loss without any identified cause. Interaction with teachers, students, and parents is an integral part of the job. I realized first that I had to be upfront about it. If I misunderstood, people had to be free to help me. I learned that people will help you. Hearing aides helped, but a cochlear implant was a giant step forward and I was able to continue my work for many years. After having a cochlear implant surgery, I was chatting with a grandmother as we waited for the buses to load. Wanting to make her comfortable, I told her I had had this surgery. She said, “Law, honey. I know all about it. The lady on the Guiding Light had one.”

  9. Amazing! I also lost my hearing three years ago due to bacterial meningitis. I was a teacher of gifted students with a hearing aid in one ear and cochlear in the other. After moving to a different state the third year I started searching for teachers who are deaf and teach elementary school. Finally, someone I can relate too! You have just inspired me to reconsider the elementary classroom again! Thank you! I’d love to hear more!!!

  10. Bonnie, What a wonderful story! I know the challenges of teaching with a hearing loss. Before computers,
    closed captioning, great hearing aids and cochlear implants I taught 4th through 8th grade in a “special school”
    within a public school. After 6 years I resigned to get married and live in another state. Before I left, the
    school board asked me to take a regular 2nd. grade classroom. I am 82 years old and to be asked to
    take a regular 2nd grade classroom was one of the greatest events of my life. Thank you for sharing. I am
    so thankful that we have all the technology to assist hard of hearing teachers.

  11. I love hearing cochlear implant success stories and I love hearing stories that reinforce the dedication that most of our teachers feel towards their students and their jobs. Thank you.

  12. It certainly can be challenging being a teacher with a hearing loss. I know where you are coming from as I have a hearing loss too. I love your story about the little boy who was excited he could be more like you. I have chosen to be a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing. I role model for my students every day of the week. I find little ones often want to see my cochlear implant and hearing aid just to check that it’s still there. Without a word I’m teaching all my students so many things. I LOVE my job. Kudos to you for sticking with it and figuring out how to make it work for you.

  13. Bonnie. Oh, wow! Beautifully-written. Not only did you save the quality of life for those kids, but your students may grow up to have extraordinary communication skills (looking us in the eye, listening closely, not interrupting). I stand here applauding you!

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