Classroom Interpreting

Parents - Case Studies: Exploring Different Perspectives on Educational Interpreting

What’s Missing in the Mainstream?
By Leeanne Seaver

When our son was fully mainstreamed in the fifth grade, we were thrilled that his school had finally made a commitment to providing him with access to the same curriculum that his hearing peers were taught. What really surprised us was what else he learned from being in that setting! About two weeks into the semester, Dane came home with a look of smug satisfaction on his face. When we asked him about his school day, he informed us with a surprised air of superiority that a hearing boy had gotten into trouble--and did we know that hearing kids actually made mistakes, too?!

It was hard to know how to respond. How in the world had our son missed that hearing kids got into trouble? Was it from the isolation of being in a deaf ed classroom with other deaf/hard of hearing peers only (except for gym and art) since he was in second grade? Was it that when he was mainstreamed into those “specials,” no one had bothered to convey all the communication that was going on in the room? Apparently, non-instructional details like punitive or social messages had been dismissed as unimportant. Lacking exposure to exchanges of this kind had created a seriously flawed perception of the world for Dane. We quickly overreacted with LOTS of stories of bad, bad hearing children—feeling like the “Parents Grimm,” and knowing that this wasn’t the answer. More intentional and effective communication access was.

What was missing from the mainstream for Dane was authentic access to it. He had a right to get all communication—the good, the bad and the ugly. Just sitting a dhh child in a classroom with an ineffective accommodation for access is unconscionable. If we don’t attend to this as parents, teachers and interpreters, we can do serious harm to our deaf or hard of hearing children and students. We were horrified to think that somehow our son had internalized a message that only deaf children were naughty enough to get in trouble, and we worried about the impact of that belief on his self-esteem. We had arrived a bit late to the awareness of the effects of compromised communication access, but the lesson wasn’t lost on us.

I’ll always be grateful for the wisdom gained from a fifth grade class I never sat through. It taught me to constantly consider life from Dane’s point of view, always testing for how the messages will get through, and to fill in the gaps along his path so he’ll have the right foundation on which to continue the journey on his own.