HearingHealthMatters.org features two blogs by teacher Bonnie Stone this week. In Hearing Views, she questions the rationale behind the advice to keep expectations low for the success of her cochlear implant. When you are finished with this article, read her guest blog in the Better Hearing Consumer, where she discusses how the devastation of sudden hearing loss and her ultimate implantation have affected her career as an elementary school teacher.
by Bonnie Stone
So the little steam engines started back to where the train of cars had been standing. Both little steam engines went to the head of the train, one behind the other.
Puff, puff! Chug, choo! Off they started!
Slowly the cars began to move. Slowly they climbed the steep hill. As they climbed, each little steam engine began to sing:
“I-think-I-can! I-think-I-can! I-think-I-can!–”
And they did! Very soon they were over the hill and going down the other side.
As an educator, I have learned many things about expectations and achievement. The effect of student achievement directly correlates to the expectations of both the teacher and the learner. It is called the Pygmalion effect, whereby high expectations lead to an increase in performance and subsequently, an increase in achievement. The opposite, or Golem effect, is where low expectations lead to a decrease in performance. It is well documented that the level of performance and achievement can be positively and negatively influenced by the level of expectation. A “self-fulfilling prophecy” of sorts, these effects are internalized into our subconscious and cause us to behave in ways that fulfill our expectations.
We are all little engines.
There is a phrase in the cochlear implant community that advises recipients to enter into the process with trepidation—carefully holding their expectations and their hopes in check so that they won’t be disappointed when their results are not what they expected or desired. “Keep your expectations low,” new recipients are advised time and time again by well-meaning veteran CI users who’ve quoted it mostly because others had quoted it to them. They are mindlessly repeating a catchphrase without understanding the measure and impact of those words.
It irks me to the core of my soul.
Are we not adults who are well-versed in life’s disappointments? Are we so naïve that we can’t handle our emotions when we are thrown curve balls that surprise us and alter our direction? Are we to avoid or pretend that disappointments are not a part of the process of learning and achieving? Do we not face disappointments regularly with dignity and courage and a mindset that tells us that those disappointments and missteps and failures are often the things that lead to our greatest opportunities for growth? Isn’t life a series of successes and gains and setbacks and disappointments?
“Keep your expectations low”? Not me. I’m a little engine.
I recently had the second anniversary of my activation day—the day my cochlear implant was turned on. It was exciting and frightful as I entered into a new unknown. What would I hear? Would I hear static or beeps or speech? Would I understand speech?
There was no doubt in my mind that I would be successful…eventually. I believe in the Pygmalion effect and I’ve seen it work. It was my expectation. What I feared was the process. How long would it take before I felt normal again? I’m an impatient being.
Suddenly losing my hearing three years ago was one of the most devastating things I’d experienced. To be suddenly rendered deaf and unable to communicate and work tested my resolve to its limits. This cochlear implant was my path back to “normalcy”. It had to be my miracle. The Golem effect would be to remain deaf, and that’s not what I wanted. I was warned by others to keep my expectations low. I was told that I probably wouldn’t be able to make sense of words and sounds for many months, perhaps years. I was advised to expect the worst and hope for the best… so I wouldn’t be disappointed. But I refused to heed those words.
I expected this cochlear implant to be my miracle. And it was.
During activation, the audiologist turned the cochlear implant processor on slowly, giving me time to adjust to the influx of sound. After she had it set, she spoke to me. “Can you hear what I’m saying?” she asked.
Yes. Relief flooded over me. I could hear and understand. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Two years later, I am considered a high-functioning cochlear implant recipient. I continue to teach in a regular-education classroom. Most people aren’t even aware that I am hard of hearing. I worked hard to achieve that—rehabilitating my ear with the highest expectations.
I thought I could. And I did.
*Quote from Watty Piper’s The Little Engine That Could
Image from Vintage Golden Books The Little Engine That Could
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.