With the technology available today, almost all children with hearing loss (83.3%) are being educated in mainstream classes. While mainstream education has significant advantages by providing typical language and academic models and expectations, it also means that additional services will be needed to keep the kids on target. The itinerant teacher is the person who has a lot of that responsibility.
Who is the itinerant teacher?
The itinerant teacher is usually a teacher of the deaf (TOD) but in some districts where there is no TOD it may be a special education teacher. This person is not the general classroom teacher but provides assistance to children on a part time basis. Depending on the child’s needs and the school’s budget, services may be provided once a week or 5 times/week. Since there are seldom enough kids in one school to have a full time TOD, most travel from school to school within a district.
What does the itinerant teacher do?
The job of the itinerant teacher is to help children with hearing loss keep up with what they need to know to learn in the classroom. Services may be provided individually or in small groups such as in a resource room, if there are enough kids in the school who need the services. By providing itinerant services, the TOD takes some of the load off the general education teacher who does not have the time to provide assistance individual kids on a continual basis.
Preview and Review
A major responsibility of the TOD is to be sure the child with hearing loss has the language to learn from the regular classroom teacher. The classroom teacher should provide information to the TOD on a weekly basis about what is going to be covered in the following week. The TOD should then be sure the child has the vocabulary that will come up in classroom discussion so he or she can follow along. The TOD will then review what was discussed to be sure that the child correctly understood the information presented in class. The amount of services a child needs will vary from child to child, and will vary for any particular child over time.
The TOD plays the role of liaison between the child, parents, and the rest of the school team. The TOD meets with the school team regularly to determine what the child needs. The TOD will educate school staff about what is needed to help the child manage well in the classroom, will help the staff use the FM system appropriately (especially of there is no educational audiologist) and observe the child to determine how he or she is managing in the classroom. Very often, classroom teachers do not recognize difficulties a child is having but the TOD will.
An important role of the TOD is to teach children with hearing loss to advocate for themselves. First they need to be able to recognize what they hear and when they are either not hearing or not understanding. They need to recognize when their equipment is not working well. Then they need to be able to speak up and ask for assistance. They need to be able to say “I didn’t hear that” or “I don’t understand what that means” etc. They need to understand that everyone misses things once in awhile, and that it is okay to ask for help.
Helping build social skills
Language is a key component in building social skills. The TOD needs to monitor a child’s language and social skills. If a child is having social issues, the child will not be happy in school. The TOD can often help to make everyone who is there full time aware of the social issues so someone can help facilitate development.
Training itinerant TOD’s
Unfortunately, most programs that train TOD’s are still training them to be teachers in a classroom for children with hearing loss. As the population changes and the needs of children with hearing loss changes, the role of the TOD needs to change. The programs that educate TOD’s need to recognize this change and move with the times.