“It’s not about you.” This is becoming a familiar refrain for me when I talk to other teachers who work with DHH students. When I am speaking from my better self, I can say it in a gentle tone, otherwise, I speak out of exasperation, and at times, out of anger. I need to get better at consoling hearing people when they get angry about not being able to meet DHH students’ needs. It’s a convoluted sort of audism when they say things like, “I know that the DHH student smiles a lot in my classroom even if she doesn’t understand anything. Don’t you think she is better off staying in my room?” Or, “That DHH student came to see me once and then gave up. He never came again. He never gave me a chance.”
It wouldn’t matter if I explained how boring and frustrating it is to participate in a group setting when you have no idea what is going on. Or the avalanche of shame when you try to do something in front of people and you realize you got it all wrong. Not that hearing people haven’t been wrong before, but DHH people are wrong too many times in an environment where they can’t lipread, or hear or have access to an interpreter. I just become floored when the teacher blames the student for not succeeding: “well, she seems happy and that’s good enough”; “he gave up too quickly”, “he’s not paying attention”, “he should try harder to read my lips”, “he needs to make better use of his cochlear implants”, “well, he got enough from looking at the pictures from the uncaptioned video”, or “he should realize how much we helped him”. This is a convoluted form of audism.
For the first time, I am beginning to sense the genuine hurt, the pain and anger coming from hearing people who genuinely want to help but really don’t know what to do. Or understand what is really going on with the DHH kid. Or the sense of puzzlement at how their efforts backfired. Or in some cases, they don’t like being made to look incompetent in their dealing with the DHH student. So of course, it is the DHH student’s fault. But I need to get at that fear, the anxiety and the hurt that is behind the audism.
Otherwise I am stuck with my own judgements. Otherwise, I can’t stop thinking it is a kind of moral laziness that renders DHH students as non persons. It is as DHH people don’t really exist. Their own d/Deaf experience is invisible and every they say and do is interpreted through the hearing perspective, that is, from audiocentric privilege. This is why I keep repeating, “it’s not about you, think about what they might be feeling and thinking. Think about what you would do if you were repeatedly thrust into situations you couldn’t understand or control?”
The deficit thinking about DHH children and youth, and other marginalized, racialized peoples and First Nations peoples is a moral laziness. It’s hard work to be wondering, questioning, and thinking about what is really going on in the lives of the Othered. It is difficult to find the courage to set aside the ego and realize, “it’s not about me.”
After that, the best part is yet to come. This is what I need to talk to the hearing teachers about. That is, the joy of getting it right, of setting things up, of teaching in a way that truly feeds and nurtures marginalized students. It is very hard work, but I am beginning to shut the lights off in my classroom, knowing that my students took another step that was meaningful and fought for with their own selves. Not with our excessive enabling, patronizing, and interventions. I need to remind hearing teachers that this is what we all signed up for.