Heidi Givens

Heidi Givens

Summer is a time for family fun, travel, and relaxation. Many of us look forward to these months of putting aside all our teaching responsibilities and focusing on our mental rejuvenation.

Sadly, no matter how hard we try to focus on ourselves for a change, summer is also a time for completing professional development (PD) and preparing for the upcoming school year. Most educators are attending school-based or districtwide trainings this summer.  However, for specialty area teachers, their professional growth needs cannot be fully met by merely going to PD offerings in their schools or districts. They often have to search far and wide to receive specialty-specific workshops. Such is the case for teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing (DHH).

Yes, DHH teachers need to participate in PD on the Kentucky Core Academic Standards and districtwide initiatives, but too often we have to take this information and figure out for ourselves how to make it accessible to our students. Finding workshops specifically for teaching DHH students is a challenge. When I moved here in 2003, I had to look under every rock to find PD  to fit my needs, often traveling out of state. Luckily, in 2012 the KY Educators for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (an organization founded just the year before) started an annual summer conference. This past June was the second conference.

Over 50 DHH teachers, about one-third of the total DHH teachers in KY, congregated at the Kentucky School for the Deaf in Danville for two days of presentations geared  to our needs.  Dr. Kristin Di Perri, an expert from Pennsylvania on literacy instruction for DHH students  and my mentor, was our keynote speaker and offered breakout sessions on reading instruction. Representatives from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) offered sessions on the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES) and on the new Lync and Office 365 software. Other KDE staff attended as participants to learn about effective instruction for DHH students. I am very appreciative of Johnny Collett, director of KDE’s Division of Learning Services, for taking time out of his busy schedule to learn more about our students and how they learn.

The majority of the presenters were Kentucky DHH teachers. Learning from colleagues is a wonderful experience. There are so many innovative things being done by so many great teachers in our field  that it is perfect to get together to learn from each other. All the topics were relevant to the population we teach. There were presentations on amplification, auditory development and the IEP, Visual Phonics, literacy, technology, co-teaching, creating DHH academic competitions, and just how to provide success to students.

Teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing know that these children arrive in preschool or kindergarten with very minimal exposure to any language — spoken or signed. Yet we have to teach them content as if they have been successfully understanding and using language since birth. A profound message from Dr. DiPerri’s keynote that resonated with  all of us is worth repeating: “The incredible language work that happens in the birth to 5-year period is critical to the individual’s later literacy development. It cannot simply be dismissed when applied to the deaf child who has not had access during this time. There are things that happen linguistically in that time period that we must replicate in our instructional approach.  Trying to ‘tweak’ existing curriculum designed for hearing children’s English needs ignores the larger linguistic issue.”

I hope that all the teachers and other participants of this conference take Dr. DiPerri’s message back to their district in order to educate the decision makers as to how DHH children learn and how we need to re-examine how we teach this population. Only through continued DHH-specific professional development will teachers be better qualified to make this group of students college- and career-ready. I am already looking forward to Dr. DiPerri’s return to Kentucky and to more PD opportunities for teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing!

Heidi Givens, an itinerant teacher of the deaf and hard-of-hearing in Daviess County schools, was selected as the 2013 Kentucky Elementary School Teacher of the Year on Oct. 17, 2012.  She and Allison Hunt, an AP Human Geography teacher at Manual High School in Jefferson County and the 2013 Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year, are alternating monthly column-writing duties throughout their reigns. Their columns run the last Thursday of the month.