Being a deafened teacher in a mainstream primary school

I was five years old when I decided I wanted to be a teacher. I had all my teddies lined up on the floor of our living room while I took the register (because that’s what being a teacher is, obviously!)

All the educational choices I made from that point on, got me to where I am now – a teacher. However, over the course of my 14 years as a teacher, I’ve gone from a mild, manageable hearing loss to a moderate/severe hearing loss with two hearing aids, and it has changed my whole experience of teaching.

I am very lucky to have been able to afford some very, very good private hearing aids, which can filter sound and give me directional hearing, through separate settings for different situations, which I control with my mobile phone. TLaptop in classroomhanks to these (which I affectionately call Bert and Ernie, because they go everywhere together) my access to sound in the classroom is good. If my class are working in silence, I can hear individual children breathe if I want to, so they have no chance of talking or even whispering! I struggle more when the children are talking to each other about their tasks, and the noise level begins to rise, but I can usually manage this by either turning my hearing aids down or turning the children down!

My school have been amazing through the pandemic, and made allowances or adaptations in regards to masks and visors, so that I can feel comfortable and safe, but still do my job effectively.

I also teach my class, every year, about hearing loss; what I can and can’t hear, how I access sound, how it feels to wear hearing aids and what being part of the deaf community means to me. In my experience, children are incredibly respectful of disabilities, and I find that, once they know, they look after me, consider my hearing loss and are quick to explain my deafness and defend me to other children from other classes. I like to think it helps develop their empathy.

But all this takes energy, and that is the one part of being a deafened teacher in a mainstream school that I would call a down-side. The listening and concentration fatigue involved is immense, and I get far more tired far more quickly than my colleagues. But they are supportive and respect that if, after school, I’ve taken my hearing aids out or turned them off, that they are just going to have to adapt if they want to communicate with me, which they do. I’m so lucky to work with such lovely and understanding people.

An additional, and unexpected, benefit of being a deafened teacher in a mainstream school is that I get to step into the job of ’role model’ for young deaf/Hard-of-hearing children. To be clear, I am not the SENDCo and I do not have any formal qualification in education for special needs children (except that my daughter is autistic), but as a vocal, proud deafened person who talks a lot about hearing loss, staff frequently come to me for support with how best to provide for children in their classes who wear hearing aids or who are deaf/HoH.

At least once a week an adult from somewhere around our huge school will appear at my door with a hearing aid that won’t stop whistling or batteries that have died. Fixing these issues not only gives me chance to talk to the member of staff about what the child experiences as a hearing aid wearer and how they can best support them, but it also gives me chance to talk to the child about how they feel. I have the unique opportunity to show them that deaf children can grow up to be anything they want – just like their hearing friends.

I also get to soothe the worries of the children who start wearing hearing aids for the first time and are dealing with the sensory overload which comes with it. I can answer their questions and reassure them that they are not alone in their experience.

Being a teacher is all about growing the next generation. Not just in how we fill their heads with knowledge and give them the skills listed in the National Curriculum, but in how we help them develop as humans, as individuals, and my hearing loss broadens my remit for that, and helps me grow deaf children into confident deaf adults.

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