By Lauren McGrath
The clock moves toward 9:00 AM as two teachers oversee the listening check with their preschool students, ages four to five, to verify that their hearing devices are operating properly. A critical test for children with hearing loss, the check is step one each day for colleagues Ms. Kathryn Smith, Teacher of the Deaf, and Ms. Tiana Brown, Assistant Teacher at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech in New York.
Assured that all devices allow optimal access to sound, Ms. Kathryn and Ms. Tiana are ready to begin a busy day in the classroom. Beyond following a typical preschool curriculum with pre-reading, pre-academics, math, science, art, music, and language, the two teachers lead social and emotional development and self-help instruction. Throughout the day, Ms. Kathryn and Ms. Tiana track students’ progress toward goals they've defined as part of each child’s professional team. Each team is comprised of a unique set of professionals, based on individual students' strengths and needs.
Both Ms. Kathryn and Ms. Tiana have long been passionate about working with children. Ms. Tiana takes pride in being an advocate who can provide emotional support to kids and Ms. Kathryn feels fortunate to spend her career working with young people who are full of wonder and excitement.
Ms. Kathryn holds a Bachelor's in Communication Disorders with a minor in Deaf Studies from SUNY New Paltz and a Master’s in Deaf Education from Hunter College. Ms. Tiana completed her Bachelor’s in Communication Disorders at St. John’s University. After developing interests in aural rehabilitation in school, working with children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing—where they can contribute to the success of many children with unique perspectives and experiences—was a natural career choice for both Ms. Kathryn and Ms. Tiana.
The progress that Clarke students make, despite not having the same abilities as their typical-hearing peers, impresses the teachers. Though the children have an “added challenge at the starting line,” they experience tremendous growth as a result of their efforts made both independently and in collaboration with their families and professionals, says Ms. Kathryn. She recalls a few of her classroom’s latest accomplishments. One child is celebrating her newfound ability to put her FM system on all by herself. Another student who recently received a cochlear implant is regularly responsive to the sound of his name in the noisy classroom.
Ms. Tiana reflects on positive experiences outside the classroom, such as daily trips to the park, which she particularly enjoys. “As soon as we step outside, a whole new world opens up for them. They tell me about the sounds they hear and the sights they observe—and I know they’re not missing out on a single piece of life.” She feels most rewarded at work when a student expresses gratitude for help she provided.
At 2:30 PM, the Clarke students make their way out of school and home to their families. As staff, Ms. Kathryn and Ms. Tiana also build relationships with the school’s families who, like the students, greatly admire the teachers and look to them for guidance. Ms. Kathryn reminds parents and families not to lose sight of their child in the diagnosis. “Your child has a hearing loss, but it is not all of them. Your hopes and dreams for your child can still be achieved; they may just take a different route.”