Earlier this week I was teaching a typical high school Senior 1 class. We were learning how to give directions, and I gave them a map activity to do in pairs. While I wandered through the desks observing the students, I happened to notice that two girls weren’t doing the activity. I walked over to see if they needed some help or encouragement, and gently pointed to the map.
“Okay, so we’re at Parkville High School, where do we want to go?”
“So.. how about we go to the Museum. How do we get there from here?”
“So we walk out onto….”, and I pointed to ‘2nd street’ on the map.
No response. She wouldn’t even look at me.
“What street is this??”, I said, pointing to 2nd street.
The girl turned, and looked at me with a blank expression. I pointed to the map again, “What street is this?”, I asked.
“Can you say second street?”
“This is oral English class. We have to speak in oral English class. Can you say second street?”
“She can’t hear you”, piped another boy at the table.
“What do you mean she can’t hear me?”, I asked.
“She can’t hear. You have to speak really loud”
I had noticed the girl’s hearing aid, but I didn’t think anything of it.
I leaned in close and spoke louder. “Can you hear me?” I asked loudly.
No response. The girl stared at me with a blank expression on her face. She didn’t look at me in frustration or confusion, just a complete blank expression.
The bell rang, and I dismissed the class. I gathered my things and walked out of the classroom confused. If the girl is really deaf, then why is she here? She can’t actually be deaf…
I walked to the office, where I found the head English teacher. I explained to her what had happened, and asked if she knew anything about it.
“Oh yes”, she responded “one of the other teachers told me about this issue. But she can’t be deaf, otherwise why would she be here? She probably was nervous and didn’t want to speak in class.”
I agreed, and asked if she knew who taught 110. “Oh, that is Ms. Xiong. She isn’t here right now, but I’ll ask her to speak with you.”
The next day I found Ms. Xiong at her desk and asked her about the girl.
“Her written English is okay, but I have never heard her speak English”, she replied. “Every time I try to get her to speak, she refuses.”
“So… Can she hear anything?”, I asked.
“I don’t think so”, Ms. Xiong replied. “She learns through reading”
“So… she can’t hear at all? Not even her Chinese teachers?”
“No.” Ms. Xiong replied, “But she can read the board and her books.”
“Are there schools for deaf people in China??”, I asked.
“Yes, we have those.”
“Are they free?”, I asked, thinking that maybe her parents couldn’t afford it.
“Yes, they are free.”
“So… why isn’t she at a deaf school.”
“I don’t know”, Ms. Xiong replied. “Her parents chose to send her here. Maybe they think she will get a better education here.”
“Has anyone talked to her parents? We just had parent-teacher conferences a month ago.”
“Oh yes, well the head teacher spoke for so long that we didn’t get to talk to any of the parents.”
“What do you mean? Isn’t that the point of parent-teacher conferences?”
“Well the head teacher of class 110 had a very long speech, so we didn’t get any time to speak with the parents.”
“You said she can read and write in English, but does she know what it sounds like? Can she speak it?”
“I don’t know, Maybe. She is very self-pitying so maybe she can but she won’t try”.
“How am I supposed to give her an oral English final if she can’t speak English?”
“Maybe she can have a written final?”
Eventually, I got Ms. Xiong to agree to talk to the girl and see if she would be able to write a paragraph about herself in English, memorize it, and say it to me individually.
The next day Ms. Xiong told me that the girl could say a few sentences in English, but that I may not be able to understand it. I told her that as long as the girl actually did the assignment, I would give her an A in the class.
Overall, I’m just shocked. I’m stunned that I had a deaf girl in my class and A) no one told me, B) It took me three months to notice because I have 900 students, and C) no one seems to care. If I were her English teacher, I would have sought out those parents or sent a letter home asking them to meet with me. There’s just this pervasive mentality that it’s not up to us to make decisions for the child or take action, the parents chose to send her here, therefore, it’s up to us to educate her the best we can.
I’m still not sure how I feel about the whole situation. Are deaf schools really that bad that her parents would want to send her to a normal public school, or do they just want to give her a normal childhood? Feel free to comment below, I’d love to hear what you think.