On teaching the deaf

Sir Jeff (left in brown shirt) and his deaf class

A school for the deaf is unlike any other regular school. You can compare them based on many aspects. Even schools for the deaf also have varying degrees of difference.

One basic distinction is its class size. Hearing schools in the Philippines normally have a population of 50 or more per class, depending on how depressed the surrounding community is. Schools for the deaf rarely reach a number greater than fifteen. Philippine School for the Deaf, the largest and oldest public residential school for the deaf in Asia has a total population of more than 700 students from pre-school to high school. However, their class size never reaches 20.

Another difference is the mode of communication. Regular schools obviously employ speech as a form of interaction. Some deaf oral schools also use it but generally, the teacher transfers learning through sign language. In our school, Filipino Sign Language is the medium of instruction although we often emphasize that English must be used in any written format. Our basic policy is that students can sign whatever method or approach they like. They can use Signing Exact English, Pidgin Sign English, Manually Coded English, etc. Although I haven’t seen anyone using cued speech that doesn’t mean it’s not being used. However, I doubt it will prosper unless someone invents a special hand code for every Tagalog phonology.

These two differences greatly affect how we handle our deaf class. At MCCID, we have seasoned deaf teachers like Sir Ervin Reyes who won numerous awards in computer contests both locally and internationally and Sir Oscar Purificacion who also works as a commercial billboard artist in another company. Since the subjects they teach were mainly skills building; computers, the Internet, multimedia projector and other teaching implements greatly help them in conveying information. We are truly blessed by their dedication and in constantly improving their craft. They serve as good role models to their students.

There are only two of us who are hearing teachers; Sir Jefferson Cortez and I. Even after being with the deaf for almost half my life, my sign language ability is nothing compared with what he has experienced. You see, Jeff is the eldest child of deaf parents. He practically lives in a deaf world. That’s why I salute him for embracing a wonderful culture that many skeptics still deny that it even exists.

According to his blog, Meet the Stranger, he always exhausts ways in order to connect with his deaf students. He said,

Isn’t it right that being a good teacher depends on his/her student’s mood? I guess that it’s true based on my experience. One thing I always keep in mind is how can I handle them or even encourage them to study their lessons very well even though they found the books tiresome, unexciting and boring to read.

He also noticed that deaf students get bored reading books. Printed there are just a bunch of words with worthless meanings. However, they began to appreciate reading them through their interpreter. He explained,

But hey, do you believe that they love reading books through their interpreter? Whenever I gave them an assignment or homework about some sort of stories. Most of them loves “copy-paste” from the book they are searching about. When it comes searching their assignment through internet, all they have to do is to highlight what they are looking for then copy then paste it on Microsoft Word then afterwards, here comes the printer. When it comes to understanding their assignment, most of them comprehend on that picture instead of the information.

As an instructor, he has to explain every detail of their assignments and homework through Sign Language. They found their stories very exciting and fascinating. Their attention was aroused based on the many questions they throw on him. He finds them all friendly, loving and always had their warm-hearted and that is what he really likes about them. So no matter what lessons you deliver, it’s how you deliver them that is important and the right attitude that you impart on them.

Mabuhay ka Sir Jeff! We are truly blessed having you onboard MCCID. To all the teachers for the deaf worldwide, this blogger salutes you. 🙂

You may find other stories about his experiences through his WordPress blog.

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Do hearing children need to interpret for their parents?

Awhile back, I commented on a blog of a CODA (Child of a Deaf Adult) regarding her topic on NOT wanting to interpret for her deaf parents.

For the benefit of my blog readers who are unfamiliar with the term, Wikipedia defines CODA as:

a hearing person who was raised by a Deaf parent or guardian. Many CODAs identify with Deaf and hearing cultures.

Wikipedia further explains that:

because CODAs are hearing, but are raised in visual signing environments, some face difficulty with social and cultural norms that differ from the norms within their deaf community. Some CODAs receive enough exposure to spoken language models through extended family members, neighbors, and television.

In my more than 15 years of living with the deaf community in the Philippines, I have witnessed many deaf parents who have hearing children. Some of them even chose me to be the godfather of their children, especially those families who are close to me and ehem, I’m responsible in matchmaking their deaf parents. 🙂

It’s sad to note that as I observed some of their children grow, quite a lot of them are not proficient in sign language. Worst, a few bunch seem so detached with their deaf parents while they became more close to the hearing members of the household. How do we expect them to interpret for their parents if they don’t even know how to sign?

I’m not a CODA so I belong to those who are “not-in-authority-because-I-have-not-experienced-it” group. Nor will I admit that whatever I say is a gospel truth. However, let’s dissect some of their grounds why they don’t want to interpret for their parents.

  • CODAs are compelled to “tweak” what their deaf parents say in order to make them “look good”. – I don’t see anything wrong with that. I even think it’s cool! Let’s face it, deaf people, no matter how intellectually capable they are or how high their educational attainments are, still lack tons of information that can be acquired through the ears. Biology taught us that 13% of what we learn came from our ability to hear. We can’t do anything about it. What we can do is make our parents “look and feel good”.
  • CODAs might expose the ignorance of their parents. – So what! The world understands their inability. Every time I interpret in the hospital, I always assume that I don’t know most of the medical terms. So exposing my ignorance provides more chances for the doctors to explain further everything in plain and simple language. That way, I can interpret clearly.

Every time I meet CODAs, I encourage especially those younger ones to be proud of their roots and help their parents by interpreting for them. I feel so blessed if I find CODAs that took the path and mission of sign language interpreting like my new found friend Jeff.

I interpret for the deaf most often because I have no choice and nobody is available unlike in other developed countries where there are roster of interpreters on call and their disability rights are very strong. In my country, interpreters are in great scarcity. Most of us do multitasking. Many are teachers for the deaf by profession so they cannot just be called to interpret on short notice. A great number of them are even lured and migrated to the US where pay is very good. 😦

I forgot about the exact figure but when I attended a conference in 2007, I learned that an independent study here says that there is roughly a ratio of one interpreter for every 5,000 deaf persons. You could just imagine that even those who only know fingerspelling are tapped to interpret. In other words, interpreting is a luxury here. Even if a Deaf can afford an interpreter, there is not much around.

If we are too “strict” with the legalese on interpreting ethics, then, I believe, we cannot live in a social world. Besides, you are not interpreting just for anybody. They are your parents. You are not even paid to interpret for them. You do it because you love them. You help them because you care for them. You protect them against unscrupulous people who are out to take advantage of their disability.

I believe personal emotions and inhibitions must be set aside in order to obtain our common goal of giving them their rights to know and be heard.

So to answer my topic question, I don’t think so. Nobody can compel you to do things you don’t want. However, I simply appeal to the children of deaf parents to continue interpreting for them. It’s one blessed way of honoring your parents. (Exodus 20:12) 🙂

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