Thursday, November 13, 2008


I have taught sign language classes on Friday nights for 13 years. Tomorrow night is the end of those classes. I have mostly loved teaching. Other people's unruly children are not my favorite kind of beings. Since I have one of my own, I really don't have the energy for yours, but thanks anyway. Most of my students are adults. Most of them take one class and then move on. The occasional person will come back sporadically. Some stay with me for years and become my friends. A few have become like family.

I have always stressed that the most important thing to remember when signing is to breathe. Then I would joke about how nobody should be nervous because I hadn't "lost one yet." Of course, when my friend Carol died last year, it was from Cystic Fibrosis, not sign language. Still, I couldn't make that joke anymore. 

On the other side of the life spectrum, I lost count a few years ago of how many babies had been born to my students and former students. It's been a lot of fun to see "my people" become parents for the first time.

I've been teaching at a community center. People come to me for several reasons:
They are curious;
A family member is deaf;
A classmate is Deaf or
They have a strong desire to work with Deaf people.

Sometimes I'm not quite sure why they're there... like the foreign exchange student from New Zealand several years ago or the Korean children who were only in America for a few months last spring... but we had good times together and learned from one another.

When it comes to the business of sign language, about a dozen former students have gone on to complete courses in college. A couple of speech pathologists, several interpreters, and a handful (no pun intended) of teachers started out with me.

Through this position, I was able to spend a few years volunteering with a family, helping them find even a glimmer of communication with an autistic son and brother. He had quite a program going; I have no idea how many people worked with him, but I taught his parents, sister, occupational therapist and grandparents. Sometimes other family members and friends came, too. One day this little boy who had never formed a complete sentence in any language used two to make his first request. He spontaneously and appropriately signed WANT and then very slowly said, "Mom." I thought that it was the most wonderful thing I'd ever heard and was so proud to be part of it.

Sometimes I have been less than successful. (An aside to all the students I taught that first year: I'm sorry. Classes are much more organized, less all-encompassing and frenetic now. You should check them out; you'd be impressed and even have a chance to learn something. I give people the opportunity to ask questions these days.)

Someone has agreed to take over the classes. Sylvia was a student of mine eight years ago. She substitute teaches at a local school for the Deaf and teaches a sign class at a local elementary school. She's going to be great. I know that there is a natural tendency for people to have strong preferences for one teacher or another. Some of "my" students will always love me best. Some will wonder why Sylvia didn't come along sooner to save them.

We'll still be sharing some of the students, because I also have a private signing-only class that gets together on Saturday mornings. Everybody in that class has been part of my Friday night group, too.

Here's where my emotions get a little sticky: For all that I understand human nature... and for all that I am hoping Sylvia does a great job and excites and motivates people to learn and do more... what if?

What if she's better than me?

What if she is one of those "there's only one right way" sort of people?

What if I want to come back?

Speaking of which, why am I leaving in the first place? Well, it was a combination of meeting Madelyn (when she was en utero it was pretty simple to declare that this baby would have to adjust to our lifestyle), having years of bad printer karma (both of my printers have taken long, slow craps and made it hard to put my book together for one class and to print weekly materials for another... then I bought a new printer, but had about six different problems with it in the first night before taking it back... and lastly, I was going to buy a new new printer, but the first new one had maxed out my card and the refund took too long), and the fact that I think I'm done coming up with new ideas for vocabulary for the second class. And no offense meant to Christians, but I have spent at least one-third of my last five or six sessions teaching hymns and prayers. And the last, least important reason is the money. In 13 years of teaching, I have not yet made the equivalent of what I earn in my day job for one year after taxes and tax deductions. Without a working printer, my costs ate up nearly half of the earnings.

It's time for something new... for my students and for me. I was quite misty-eyed about the whole thing three weeks ago. But I had miscalculated and thought that class ended last week. It's amazing what having an additional week did to those almost formed tears, haha. I do wonder how it'll go tomorrow night. Hopefully Sylvia will be there so I can introduce her to everybody and drum up interest in her class. Because if she doesn't end up doing it, or if she decides it's not worth her time, I could totally be persuaded to take it all back.


Lady with a View said...

Shan - it's 7:30 am here and now my mascara is slighly smeared.

I think your contributions are incredible - wow.

As for your concerns about the new girl - just continue being present with your feelings and you'll find that those thoughts will evaporate. You will want what is best for your students - for your family and for you. It's normal to feel this way because society/the world tells us that in order for someone else to be "good", someone else must be less than "good". We are raised to look at life as a zero sum game - for one to win, someone else loses. Instead - I try to look at it with the concept of inifinity. Our human potential has no boundries - except the one we keep putting on ourselves. (I'm not sure I articulated that very well..but, it's 7:30am)

I'm glad you got to spend a few hours with your Mom ~ It must have been the day for it!


Vic said...

What an interesting profession you have. I applaud you for teaching all those years knowing that it's one of the less rentable occupations in the world. You’ll sure be missed by your students!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...