Helping Mainstream Teachers Manage Kids With Hearing Loss

We all know the advantages of mainstreaming but it is not without it’s problems. Kids with hearing loss constitute about 1% of the school population. Most kids who are mainstreamed are the only child with hearing loss in the classroom, and maybe in the school. One significant problem in managing success is that the teachers who are there to teach them likely have had no experience or training in working with a child with hearing loss. Teachers are not alone. It is likely that the school principal and the speech-language pathologist are in the same position and have not had any experience with children with hearing loss.


Just like many adults, most classroom teachers do not know what to expect from a child with hearing loss. They are likely to have many questions.

  • Will she understand me when I am speaking?
  • Will he be able to talk to answer questions?
  • Do I have to know sign language in order to communicate?
  • What should I expect from her academically?
  • Maybe I should let him work alone so the other kids don’t have to do anything special to communicate
  • How much extra help will she need from me?
  • Who can I go to for help?


To whom can the teacher turn for help? If they do not get help, teachers are not likely to be able to provide what the child with hearing loss needs. With the goal of educating children in “the least restrictive environment” coupled with advances in hearing assistance technology, we expect that more and more children with hearing loss will be in the mainstream and more and more teachers will be faced with not knowing how to manage. Without knowing what a child needs, academic needs are likely to lag farther and farther behind.


What do teachers need to know?

Teachers with no prior experience in teaching students with hearing loss can be very effective in developing and implementing classroom strategies if they have the necessary information. The teacher needs to know the nature of the hearing loss and how it impacts classroom learning. In addition, the teacher needs to have appropriate expectations about what is possible for a child with hearing loss.


How does the student communicate?

Almost all students in mainstream classes communicate using listening and spoken language. That means they listen just like other kids and talk just like other kids. However, how well they listen and talk will differ. Some will be hard to distinguish from peers and others will have more significant problems. The teacher should meet with the student alone and make a judgment about how to communicate with the student. If there are problems, contact the teacher of the deaf, speech-language pathologist or principal.


Some students will use sign language to communicate. Those students will need an interpreter in the classroom. That should certainly have been arranged before the student shows up in the classroom.


Let the student see and hear you

Face the student when you talk. Allow the student to move about the room if you move so that she can be near you. If you write on the board, check that the student heard what you said when you were facing the board.



Students should sit towards one side about 1/3 of the way back so they can face the teacher but also face other students to hear comments from other students. If the room has windows, choose the side of the room where the light shines on the teachers face and the faces of other students. Avoid back lighting because it will make it difficult for the student to see the teacher’s face. Teachers should be educated to use strategies which provide the most access to visual information, not speaking with her back turned, or standing directly in front of the window.


FM systems

FM systems are critical for every student with hearing loss. The teacher should be wearing microphone and should use it when communicating with the student. When students are working in small groups, if the teacher is talking to another student, turn off the microphone. Consider giving the microphone to another student working in a group with the student with hearing loss.


It is important that children with hearing loss hear and participate in classroom discussion. Hopefully there is a pass around mic that can be used by other students in the class. If not, calling out the student’s name will help the student with hearing loss locate the talker quickly. The teacher  will also need to repeat what other students say, into the FM mic that she is wearing so that the child with hearing loss can hear and understand.



They need to understand that children with hearing loss have difficulty hearing when there is competing noise so every effort should be made to keep the classroom quiet. This means only one person speaks at a time, no use of pencil sharpeners etc during instruction. Windows and doors closed. Ideally, all movable chairs and tables should have footies on legs to reduce noise.


Check that the Student understands

Everyone misunderstands occasionally and children with hearing loss need to understand that so that they will not feel badly if they misunderstand. The teacher should check with the student periodically during the day to be sure they are understanding. Asking “do you understand” is not a good method since most children (those with or without hearing loss) are not likely to tell you if they do not understand and some children are very sensitive to being called out. An effective strategy is to make listening and comprehension a focus of the entire classroom. Instead of calling out the student with hearing loss, the teacher might remind the classroom that “it’s difficult to hear when it is noisy“, or “it’s very hard to hear what you are saying from that far away” and “please remember to look at the speakers face when they are talking.”  If there are significant problems understanding, it is possible that the student would benefit from more teacher of the deaf services in which subject matter vocabulary can be previewed before it is taught in class and can be reviewed after it is taught to be sure that the student understood. Another possibility would be that language level is below the level of classroom activities. If that is the case, additional speech-language services will be neded.


What services do students with hearing loss need

Children with hearing loss need a classroom teacher who is optimistic about what the student is capable of. But the classroom teacher is not able to do everything that is needed for most children. An educational audiologist needs to be available to monitor that technology is appropriately set, to monitor FM equipment, and to help classroom teachers use the FM system optimally. A teacher of the deaf (TOD) will be a valuable addition to any child’s program. The TOD will monitor hearing and learning in the classroom, preview and review academic materials, and work on self advocacy skills. Many children with hearing loss also need the assistance of a speech-language pathologist. It is essential that the speech-language pathologist be trained in listening and spoken language (more on this in a future blog.)


Getting help

Teachers need to know where to go for help if problems develop in the classroom. If there are problems with the technology, the teacher should contact the educational audiologist and the teacher of the deaf. If there are academic issues the teacher should contact the teacher of the deaf. If there are speech and language problems, the teacher should contact the speech-language pathologist and the teacher of the deaf. Parents are critical team members and should be contacted early in the school year. If none of these team members are available, contact the director of special education. The team has many players and things work best when roles are clearly defined and there is consistent and effective communication among all team members.


Have high expectations

Classroom teachers have to have high expectations if any kid is to succeed. This is especially true for children with hearing loss. Unfortunately, it seems to me that there are many kids who are not getting all the services they need to succeed. The teacher is the one who is best able to identify that something is wrong and help the special education staff understand that additional help is needed. Have high expectations about what is possible for a child with hearing loss. Don’t accept “good enough”. “Good Enough” won’t do for our kids.

 NOTE: Please share any additional suggestions for classroom teachers and I will collect them for another post.

About Jane Madell

Jane Madell has a consulting practice in pediatric audiology. She is an audiologist, speech-language pathologist, and LSLS auditory verbal therapist, with a BA from Emerson College and an MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin. Her 45+ years experience ranges from Deaf Nursery programs to positions at the League for the Hard of Hearing (Director), Long Island College Hospital, Downstate Medical Center, Beth Israel Medical Center/New York Eye and Ear Infirmary as director of the Hearing and Learning Center and Cochlear Implant Center. Jane has taught at the University of Tennessee, Columbia University, Downstate Medical School, and Albert Einstein Medical School, published 7 books, and written numerous books chapters and journal articles, and is a well known international lecturer.


  1. No mention is seen for Live Captioning in the Classroom. It’s past time that all teachers (and audiologists and families) know about this and use it where it will provide full and “equal communication access.”

    A few other (e.g. Australia) seem to be ahead of the USA in knowing that classroom captioning helps hugely (if the student needs it of course, not if she is a SL user only, yet even here, captioning promotes “bilingualism” that many SL advocates also recommend for many good reasons.

    And it’s been shown that live captioning in class helps hearing students also.

    It costs, and it takes time to arrange the first time, for any school. Yet we are worth it. Schools are for learning, for everyone to reach their best.

    Live Captioning, also called CART. Please learn more from many webpages and local agencies.

  2. Thank you for all you do. I make copies of your info and give to my granddaughter’s teachers (after clearing with her mom, my daughter. It is so impt. and helpful to all.

    As a retired special ed teacher, I value the help you give.

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