Saturday, February 27, 2016

Special Education Classes Foster Immaturity

I have worked for LAUSD since 1993.  I have had the pleasure of working for deaf kids in fully included classrooms as well as in mainstreaming situations where the kids have a DHH (deaf and hard of hearing) classroom as a home base.  Ideally, if a child has no neurological issues that make it impossible for him or her to be able to understand information, it is best for that child to be fully included in the hearing classroom of their grade.  No matter whether we are talking about learning challenged kids or the Deaf, the classes I have been in that are “special ed” have been the worst place for them.  Again, I am speaking about students who are able to function.  I’ve seen a fifteen year old of normal mental functioning get excited over playing with Play-Doh, because he didn’t know it wasn’t the norm for his age group and it was a “free time” treat in his DHH classroom.  I have decided to start publishing what I’ve seen and continue to see.  I have gone and still go to administrators and teachers with information.  These adults have said and say they are there for the children, yet nothing ever changes and school after school, it’s the same.  If you are a parent of a deaf kid, the best thing you can do for him or her is to learn sign language and purposely place information in front of his or her eyes.  As young as 7, a deaf child could understand “pedestrian,” “driver,” “passenger,” “freeway,” and street names.  Most special ed kids have a lot of experience on a bus, so work at opening awareness of what’s around him or her.  As with any child, by the time he or she is 10, have him or her order a meal or whatever.  Just 5 minutes a day working on a concept can make a huge difference.  It may take a week to work on days of the week, but a quick review periodically will help them more than you could ever imagine.  When you’re shopping, teach the signs of at least two produce or products.  Watch one of their TV shows with them and have them recap the story for you.  Get them to express and articulate appropriately for their age group.  I’ve noticed a huge difference between 4 and 5 year old deaf kids.  Be ready when they’re ready to take off.  Have them blow up a balloon, too.  It is appalling when a 17-year-old deaf kid, with no other disabilities, can’t blow up a balloon, tie their shoes, or tell you that 6 is a half dozen.

Be pro-active.  Have surprise visits to the various classrooms to see what’s going on at any given moment.  Make sure that you support the IEP (Individual Education Plan) goals at home.  Most definitely, your child needs to learn to look and receive information without walking away too quickly, or ignoring you.
Of course, if supporting your child in becoming an independently functioning adult is not your goal and you just want a babysitter, then perhaps special ed classes are appropriate for your child.  Here are some of my memories.
Schools are usually grateful to have any human with a degree to be there with special education kids as the teacher.
(From whenever this happened in whatever school it happened since I won’t reveal dates and schools.)
Black History Month was celebrated with drummers and a dancer visiting the school on that Friday.  In spite of this, most classes on campus had various tests throughout the day.  It was a hot morning and the whole school had assembled outside for the performance.  The kids in the DHH room for 2-5 grades were treated to Big Stick popsicles because the teacher was going to give them that treat after lunch and decided that before recess was a good idea.  I informed her that we had 5th grade math in the mainstreaming room most likely continuing since we were interrupted by the assembly.  Popsicles took precedence.  I waited.  They finished their treat.  I asked if I could take them now.  No, because it would be recess in 15 minutes.  They were also rewarded for excellent behavior at the assembly when that hadn’t been my experience of them.  They had been sitting in the front off to the side.  Their backs had been to the performers often as they chatted and such, which is signing.  The dancer had even spoken to one of the deaf kids because he very obviously had been ignoring the performance.  After lunch, they had had more popsicles, with chips, candy, and a movie, The Lion King, which I had to interpret.  The lack of learning is not the worst part of it.  The worst part was when the teacher rewarded them for behaving so well while simply watching a movie.  When they are requested to work, their behavior is atrocious.  The highest reward possible should only be given for amazing initiative or outstanding behavior, yet they received it for sitting back having a grand ole time.  When these kids were out at mainstreaming, they wanted to be back in their DHH room.  One didn’t even want to go to recess, because his room is so much fun.  These same kids got to do art often and would go home at the end of the day with their room in a shambles.  They didn’t learn accountability or responsibility.  No thinking ahead and being sure to have time to clean up.  Very little homework and no bother if it had been completed or not.

I became a sign language interpreter in 1986.  The profession was still very young.  Officials were still coming up with protocols for both interpreters and teachers regarding the language and how it was to be presented in professional and educational settings.  Even now, about every five years, there’s a huge over haul that occurs.  Little changes such as wanting the interpreter to look at his or her hand at the beginning of fingerspelling a word in the near past compared to pointing at the forearm or having the elbow sitting on the other hand in the present have occurred.   Many, many years ago, an interpreter was asked to groan when not actually saying words when speaking for the deaf person.  That has since stopped.  In the past, speaking when the deaf person signed was called “Reversing” and now it’s “Sign to voice” unless there’s a new name. 

Likewise, rules and regulations have changed as well as other protocols.  Yes, ethics such as confidentiality are still the same.  Overall, I have found that when I worked freelance, which means privately contracted to go interpret for any deaf person anywhere in need of an interpreter, I was there to faithfully deliver the message and only to do just that.  Interpreting at two colleges was the same.  Teachers would try to get me to run errands for them, move desks, and to open windows, but a little training went a long way to get them to understand that I was the interpreter and only that.  I signed for the teacher, unless I was interpreting for a deaf teacher, then I was voicing.  I voiced for the deaf student, unless the student was hearing, then I signed.  Some deaf people prefer to voice for themselves and so they do. 

My job description at the thirteen schools I’ve worked in have had a slightly different job description for interpreters.  It’s both unfortunate as well as a blessing.  Basically, when a child is closer to the three-year-old side of the spectrum, the interpreter is not only interpreting, but tutoring, and modeling language.  He or she will be escorting the deaf child to their mainstream classes, asking them if they need to go to the restroom when they start the bathroom squirm, hold their milk as they try to open it, unstick their jammed zipper on their backpack, make up a vocabulary book that supports them with their mainstreaming classes, etc.  The other side of the spectrum, where the child is closer to seventeen, the interpreter is just interpreting.  All the schools where I have worked have had “duties as assigned” on the interpreter job description.  Administrators have used that line to get the interpreter to do yard duty, file papers in the nurse’s office, answer phones, and other mundane jobs.  For instance, if there is only one deaf child at a school and that child is absent, administration uses the line to have the interpreter do what ever they want the interpreter to do.  Interpreters, like any employee, are encouraged, sometimes forced, to be on certain teams that make the school run smoothly.  For example, the Emergency Team.  The interpreter is seen as Classified, even though they are certified in interpreting.  (Teachers are Certified.) They are seen as a staff member, no matter how unique their job is. 

The room of young children where I was assigned in my example was a room where when I had time, I would support the teacher as an aid…That was the “duty as assigned” that I had been given.  I used to ask kids questions as I walked them to their destinations.  Questions like, “Is that a noun or a verb?”  Yes, depending on the child and their grade level, etc, I might just ask, “Noun. Verb. Which?”  I might have the child run through counting by 2’s as we walk.  In contrast, with a deaf adult, we may chat pleasantries or be silent.  It’s up to the client.  (Chatting is nice, because it gets my eyes used to their signing.)

 When I interpret, even if it is for five minutes because that's all the student can handle, I am neutral.  I simply interpret.  When the youngster can't follow the lesson and focuses better and understands more if I point at words in the book and show the signs, then I switch to that.  In my example above, even though I had a child's schedule on my side as well as knowing the principal would have supported the children getting to their mainstream class, I didn't fight it.  I let the DHH teacher do as she pleased, which was more neutral than I would have liked.  As the months went on and the kids' behavior spiraled downwards, I elicited help when I wasn't interpreting, so that certain adults could jump on situations as they unfolded and I could just be there as interpreter.
Some of the special ed kids I mentioned above were hearing kids with other situations like behavior or learning challenged.  In almost all of the special ed classes I have been around in basically 25 years, I'd say that if the child is aware and able to be fully included, it would be a good idea.




  1. a national code of ethics for interpreters in health care...Interpretets are supposed to be neutral. Are you a teacher?

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  3. Kelly, thank-you for taking the time to leave a comment. I have answered it in the text. I hope I have answered it to your satisfaction. Thank-you for helping me to see that I was a bit remiss in offering details. What is your connection to deafness and to sign language interpreting?