I went snowboarding over the weekend. When it was time for lunch, I went into the lodge and pulled out my bright green Phonak lunchbox from a past Clarke Mainstream Conference that proudly announces to the world that I work with, “…students with hearing loss in mainstream educational settings.”
A nearby teenager seemed to be watching me. After a few minutes, he came over and started chatting with people at our table and I noticed him eying my lunchbox. It wasn’t long before he started talking to me. I said something and he replied, “Oh, what was that? I’m deaf in this ear.” Now I understood the interest!
Students with hearing loss find us. They find us in schools, even if they’re not on our caseload, they find us in the community, and they find us out in public at ski resorts. Nobody wants to feel different and for students with hearing loss, it’s that connection to someone who understands them that they so desperately want.
When we work with the students on our caseloads, we’re supporting their academics, we’re fixing their equipment and we’re collaborating with their teachers… but there’s so much more. We’re helping students to connect to other people. We’re assuring them that they’re ok. We’re problem solving tricky social situations. We’re lending an ear when they need to vent or a shoulder when they need to cry. We understand their challenges and celebrate their achievements. I have a seventh grade student whom I consult with once a month and each time I arrive, she announces, “It’s my special person!” with a huge grin.
Schools often want to reduce TOD/HOH (teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing) services. It’s expensive. It may not look all that different from what an SLP or special education teacher can do. The difference is in the level of understanding that we have as TODs. Even though I only see my seventh grader once a month, this time is invaluable to her. We talk about her classes, her friends, her amplification and we problem solve situations that are not working for her. I know what questions to ask because I’ve had experience with so many students in so many schools. As a result, she’s confident and quirky and an active member of her school community.
As for my new friend at the ski lodge? We didn’t talk much about his hearing but the fact that he came over to me after reading my lunch box speaks volumes. He’d never heard of a TOD but thought it was a “pretty cool job.” I may never get the chance to work with him, but he inspired me nonetheless. It goes to show that as TODs, our work is never done!