A brief(!) summary of advice points for deaf trainee teachers
1) Preparation is key. Essential. Just like any other hearing teacher trainee, find out all the information you can about your course, what you’re going to need (materials).
2) Make contact with your DSA (Disability Student Allowance) at your University ASAP. With 1. you’ll have all the information on your course when contacting the DSA team that they need to know. If you’re starting in September/ October, ideally, meet with your DSA team as early as March onwards. The reason for this is simply because of logisitics.
They do an assessment on your needs (what you need, computer, interpreters, notetakers, radio aids etc) and then this order gets placed, but often the application process for the DSA and the ordering process just takes FOREVER. In my case, I only had the assessment in September prior to starting in October, even though I put the application in as early as March/April (there was a hold up with the application because of my irish passport, even though I’ve studied at the University before!). So I didn’t get the radio aids until after Christmas, when 70% of the lectures/seminar for the whole year was completed!
3) Know what your needs are. I’m profoundly deaf, but wear a cochlear implant (5 years since switch on) so I was aware my listening had greatly improved to that of a mildly deaf person (but I still need ‘training’ as this level of hearing is still new to me) so I didn’t use an interpreter for my lectures or seminars because I strongly felt confident I could follow (seminars were slightly difficult when there were contributions from coursemates), and had a notetaker. I had an interpreter on Friday afternoons for my English seminars because the tutors were interchangeable, and by the end of the week my listening abilities were shot to pieces! Seminars would last 3 hours (and I had about 4 a week) on top of lectures.
Notetaking: My notetaker was a girl on the PGCE who was already taking notes, so it was ideal she did my notes. All she had to do was continue with her normal notes (and include information that was spoken that was important to remember as well as contributions from coursemates during seminars) and just photocopy them for me, and get paid.
This arrangement came by chance though, because the freelance notetakers I had were just a bit ‘lost’ on the course, and weren’t sure what to write, and I found that it was timewasting explaining what was needed and giving feedback; I only have 9 months on this course, and each lecture/seminar is important. Some notetakers writing wasn’t very clear to read either. So I spent the first 3 weeks of the course getting notes that I couldn’t always read, and one of my friends on the course suggested she do my notes, and we went from there. I agreed quickly because I knew her notes were good + her writing was clear (it has to be if you’re going to be a Primary teacher!). I suggest getting a freelance notetaker but keeping an eye out to who on your course does good notes + approaching them to do them for you professionally after the initial few weeks (or keep your freelance notetaker if they work for you- as I said; know your needs).
Obviously, you don’t want anyone to do notes that they don’t do normally anyway, because they are on the course as well as you.
Interpreters: if you need interpreters for the majority of your commuication, get them booked in ASAP. I decided early on from past experience at the the University, I would not rely on them to get me interpreters and I stated this on my assessment. They have to agree, because the budget is for a fully qualified MRSLI interpreter (and you need to state this as well). I had a list of interpreters I was going to use, and it was a case of emailing / texting to see who was free, and then let the DSA team know who I booked, and letting the interpreter know who to send the invoice to. Later in the year, Remark! sent me a few interpreters (I have a friend who is in charge of the interpreting team at Remark! and I know the company well) who I have not used before, but were but were very good.
It re-affirmed my belief- stick with interpreters you know and stick with companies you know + don’t let the DSA persuade you that they will take the weight off you to sort it out- because you could end up with no interpreter , or worse, very frustrated and having to deal with the after effects of a ill qualified interpreter! My course leader was also excellent in chasing up the DSA team by email or phone for delaying payment of invoices as I didn’t really have time to chase them up.
Radio Aids: an absolute godsend for someone who relies on listening. It meant I could ‘relax’ more in the seminars and the lectures and process the information in more depth while listening. Get this if you are a listening lover like me. I once told my History tutor who asked how helpful the radio aid was that it was so good I didn’t have to constantly look at him anymore, to which he thought, “thanks!” but he got what I meant. Opps!
3) Meet with your course leader prior to starting the course: either email as early as June to meet before the Summer, or meet a couple of weeks before the course. It is good for them to get to know you personally, as well as find out what your ‘basic’ needs are. Mine from the start was that tutors were aware they had a deaf person in the class and to speak clearly (they should already be doing this), staying up at the front and not wandering about, as well as repeating contributions from the class so that I could follow 100%. My course leader was great with this, and in every new seminar / lecture I was in, I would make myself known so they knew they had a deaf person, and I always got the impression they were ‘prepared’ for me, and not suddenly going into a cold sweat! A really excellent thing my course leader did was get in touch with Deafworks, who provided a ‘consultation/advice’ for her in dealing with deaf students like me. The irony was that I had been doing part-time work for Deafworks all year! Talk about a small world. So I recommend course leaders getting in touch with Deafworks, simply because it takes a load of the deaf student who is there for an intense 9 month course.
Meeting with your course leader gives you both the chance to sing from the same hymn sheet. I felt very comfortable approaching her about ‘deaf’ niggles to do with the seminars/lectures (even as small as to remind tutors about repeating what classmates contribute) and she would immediately deal with this. She was so good that I actually felt the majority of my PGCE was all about me as a teacher, and developing my skills in this area, and not me as a deaf teacher.
4) ENJOY!! It is going to be sheer hard work. You can say goodbye to the following; your social life, the idea that teaching is a relatively easy job with nice holidays and having a nice lie in at the weekends / holidays because your body clock adjusts to waking up at 6am to get in early! But nothing, I repeat, nothing is a sweeter feeling than completing the course and saying you are now a teacher, with new skills, knowledge and experience as well as making new friends for life. Many of mine want / are learning British Sign Language because of me and I embrace my deaf identity around them.
Take it ONE week at a time. Have a diary to hand with plenty of room to write a weekly / daily “to-do” list and tick them off. Have treats and mini celebrations for every little milestone.