The Kentucky Educators for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (KYEDHH) has established an Educator Spotlight as a way to recognize educators for their dedication and professionalism. KYEDHH members have an opportunity to nominate an outstanding educator for his or her special contributions to students who are deaf and hard of hearing.

The KYEDHH Educator Spotlight will run throughout the school year. Each month, at least one educator will be selected from those nominated. The spotlight will be a regular feature on Kentucky Teacher.

Carla Lewis

Carla Lewis

Carla Lewis, a 1st-grade teacher at the Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD), is the focus of for the October Educator Spotlight.

“Carla has spent her career as an educator of students who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH),” said Elizabeth Ward, a teacher in the Madison County school district who nominated Lewis for the award. “Carla has worked to further her knowledge in the area of DHH by attending the SKI-HI Institute and an extended learning program related to cochlear implants. She regularly participates in the annual Kentucky Chapter of the Council for Exceptional Children meeting each November, and she has been active in the SouthEast SouthCentral DHH cadre.

“Carla has a love for her students and continues to learn about her profession. She always has a smile, a kind word and a continuous positive attitude.”

Lewis is shaking things up this year as she picks up her roots and begins teaching 1st grade at KSD. In addition to her dedicated teaching career, she has volunteered countless hours over several years to the Clay County Relay for Life. Her organization and tireless efforts have helped raise generous funds for this worthy cause.

To learn more about Lewis and her accomplishments, KYEDHH asked her some questions.

What inspired you to become an educator?

“Since I am the fifth-generation teacher in my family, teaching is just in my blood. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. But when I attended Lexington Community College as a freshman straight out of high school, I took a sign language class as an elective. I loved it. So I began reading every book that I could find about the education of the deaf and sign language. This wasn’t as easy back then as it is now because we didn’t have the Internet at our fingertips like we do now.

“I transferred to Eastern Kentucky University after my first year of basics and began studying to be a teacher for the deaf. I fell in love with the whole idea of being a teacher for the deaf. Right after graduation, I started working at Clay County public school district, where I worked for 23 years.

“I wouldn’t change anything about my teaching career. I have met some awesome students and awesome families. I have been teaching long enough that I am seeing some of my first students become adults, start their careers and raise their own families and that, in itself, is amazing to witness. If anyone is thinking about becoming a teacher for the deaf or hard of hearing, I would encourage them to take that path because it’s a very rewarding and satisfying career.”

What is most rewarding about teaching and working with deaf and hard-of-hearing students?

“I really enjoy working with the younger students. When they come to me with no language and they begin to understand that they can use their signs to communicate, well, that’s the best feeling in the world. To see a young language learner begin to communicate with his family and peers is an indescribable feeling!

“I also enjoy when a student grasps a concept that we have been working on for a long time. I love to see the pride that they have in themselves. Those moments make all the hard work worthwhile, because that’s what it’s really all about!”

Do you have any observations about how education of the deaf and hard of hearing has changed over the years?

I have been teaching for 23-1/2 years and there have been so many changes in the education of our deaf and hard-of-hearing students. When I began teaching, Signed English was really big. Throughout the years, the education of our deaf students have made the change to American Sign Language (ASL). As anyone who works with deaf or hard-of-hearing students know, ASL is the best choice for the education of our students. It’s their natural language and it makes perfect sense.

“Here at KSD, we use the Bilingual Method to teach writing to our deaf students, using both ASL and English to teach our students to write. It’s hard for teachers that teach in mainstream settings and terribly hard for our students to be able to use ASL because they are so isolated, but here at KSD it’s a perfect match! It’s working beautifully for our teachers as well as our students.”