From the Teacher Archives: The Value of Relationship Building!

I recently came across a memory on Facebook:

“Started with a student in (hysterical) tears…ended with me in (happy) tears.”

Normally when I look back on non-specific Facebook memories I can’t remember what situation I was referring to, but not this one. After 7 years, I still know exactly what day this was.

I had a student who had a severe hearing loss. She used both speech and sign receptively, but expressively she primarily used spoken English. She did have a “deaf voice”, but that didn’t hold her back at all. She was completely comfortable talking about her hearing aids and using an FM system in the classroom (my only high schooler who would use one). She was the model of self-confidence, had many friends, and had no issues doing group work. All of that confidence came to a screeching halt, however, when she was tasked with giving a presentation in front of class.

She was in high school, but had only been in our school district for a year. Apparently in her former schools, whenever she had to give a presentation she just got her mom to write a note saying she didn’t have to. Teachers who likely had very little experience with deaf and hard of hearing students just assumed that this was OK or took pity on her and shuffled her along. I assume this also happened her first year with us, and the other teachers just didn’t think to ask me, as the teacher of the deaf, if that was OK. One of the major downsides of being an itinerant teacher serving multiple schools is that people don’t always think to use us because we’re not always there. But this time, things were different.

This year, I provided services for the student in her science class three days a week. As a result, her science teacher got to know me and what services I could provide. When the teacher assigned the presentation, the student told her that she was exempt, so the teacher called me. If that was an accommodation in the IEP, or a common exemption for deaf students, she wanted to respect that, but if not, she wanted this student to give her presentation just like everyone else. I explained that it was not in her IEP, nor was it a standard or acceptable exemption just because of her hearing loss, so I called her mom. Her mom did not have a problem with her giving a presentation, she just didn’t like how anxious it made her and assumed that it was a common accommodation.

For the next week I helped her prepare her presentation and we compromised that if she gave this presentation she wouldn’t have to do any more for the rest of the semester, unless she wanted to. Then the day of the presentation came and she had a full-blown panic attack. I took her out of class, which means that she missed all of her classmates presentations, but the lesson that day was never going to be about biology.

First, we went to a small empty room so she could work through her emotions and feel safe. Then I had her practice her in front of me. Then the SLP was walking past with one of her friends, so we invited them in and she practiced her presentation in front of them. Then we went to the SPED teacher’s office and she practiced in front of the handful of teachers who had their planning period. Finally we made it back to class, and I gave the biology teacher a look that said, “She’s ready to go so let her go next otherwise we may never get another chance”, and she gave me a look that said, “I’ve threatened the rest of these kids within an inch of their lives if they make fun of her and they understand” (it’s amazing the amount of information you can pass with a glance).

She was still nervous, read directly off her paper, and never looked up, but she did it. At the end, her classmates clapped, and she looked at me and smiled, which is when I started crying my happy tears.

This proud teacher moment was made possible because of relationships. The science teacher and I had a relationship that made her comfortable asking for my help. I had a relationship with the mom which made her comfortable letting us work on this goal with her daughter. I had a relationship with the SLP and the SPED teachers which made them willing to give up part of their precious planning time to help this student. The science teacher had a good relationship with the rest of the students (she was actually the teacher of the year in the district that school year) which is why they listened when she told them to be respectful of their classmate. Most importantly, we all had strong relationships with the student so that she felt safe. She was nervous, but got through it because she knew that we were all there to support her.

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