Third Grade Kids are Deaf Defying!
Third Grade Class Visit
Last year around this time, I visited a third grade classroom because the kids wanted to meet a deaf person and demonstrate their newly learned American Sign Language (ASL) skills. The experience was remarkable, and I was invited back again this year.
From the beginning of the school year, the teacher weaves a little sign language into each class day. The eight-year-olds took to ASL with considerable enthusiasm, and now yearned to show off their skills to a person who would surely appreciate it. (Read: me.)
I walk into the classroom. Twenty-nine third-graders look up excitedly and “salute” me in unison (that’s the “hello” greeting in ASL) and I sign “hi” back. My mood is buoyed immediately. The teacher directs me front and center, where I assume the “reading chair.” The children are eagerly gathered all around on the floor. I felt like a celebrity. Fifty-eight little eyes were gazing at me with childish wonder, staring as if in awe—Wow, a real, live deaf guy! They looked mesmerized. And I hadn’t even said anything yet! Kids are easy that way. Awesome too.
Q and A
I give this teacher a lot of credit. The children had obviously practiced using ASL to introduce themselves (including finger-spelling their name). Each child prepared in advance to ask me a specific question. They were good questions too:
Q: How do I know someone is at the door?
A: A light flashes when people knock.
Q: How long have I been deaf?
A: One year, 5 months.
Q: How did I go deaf?
A: My ears got sick, then went kaput.
Q: How do I watch TV?
A: Closed caption.
Q: Can I hear my own voice?
A: No, and it feels weird.
Q: Can I read lips?
A: No. But if I anticipate what you may say, then you say it, I can.
And so it went. Many questions were about my favorite things—foods/sports/animals/etc.—all signed to me in ASL. I understood nearly all of it too, which was better than my ASL “listening” abilities last year.
One Little Girl
One precious little girl was unforgettable. She has Down Syndrome and spends a portion of her day supported within the regular education classroom. Eager to participate, she raised her hand wildly. When I called on her, she stood proudly and mustered her considerable energy to sign the word “How” all by herself. All the kids burst into applause at her ASL-savvy!
It was a touching moment. This exceptional child looked overjoyed in those precious seconds when she offered her best ASL as her class cheered her on. It was a small but profound, inspiring demonstration of the goodness in the hearts of children.
Deaf Technology Tour
A student asked me how I use a telephone. I was ready for that one. I opened my backpack and pulled out my Captel Phone and laptop computer and asked for two volunteers. One little girl pretended to call me as I feigned to answer the Captel Phone. A boy stood between us as if typing on my laptop. I explained that the boy in the middle was called a “Captionist” who listens in on the call and types what the other party was saying to me. Then the words appear on my phone display. The children thought it was pretty neat. (Yes it is!)
My next demonstration really blew them away. The question was, “How do I understand people in face-to-face conversation who don’t know ASL?” I reached for my iPhone and opened my Dragon Dictation application. Then I spoke into the mic and, within seconds, my words appeared on the iPhone screen exactly as stated. Even the teacher was impressed with that!
I asked for a volunteer and every hand went up. A boy—apparently with the reputation for having the loudest voice in the class—gave it a go. When his spoken words appeared on the iPhone screen, you would have thought the class witnessed a miracle! They marked it awesome. Me too!
My visit ended with the children waving goodbye and signing “thank you” to me. What a terrific experience. A few days later I received a bulky package in the mail. Inside was a stack of amazing “Thank You” cards created from scratch by each child. I can’t do the children justice in a blog post, but here’s a sampling of their eight-year-old insights:
“Dear Brian, This is the first time I met someone who was deaf. It sure looks hard. But at least there are ways you can communicate with other people. ASL Rocks!”
“Dear Brian: Thank you for visiting and I hope you had fun. I really liked your phone. It’s really cool. You will get better at sign. Keep trying!”
“Thank you for coming Mr. Jensen. I am sorry you are deaf. I am so happy you can talk! Have a nice week.”
“Hi Mr. Brian Jensen. I hope you liked coming to our class. You did wonderful!”
Thank you for having me in your classroom. I had a blast! I really appreciate how hard you worked to make my visit special. I feel like I made twenty-nine new friends who understand me better than most other people. You each took the time to learn how to use ASL to communicate with me. That makes me very happy. I felt like I belonged there with you. You knew how to connect with me as few others do. You did wonderful, too! I’ll never forget my visit. It was the best Thanksgiving present I could ever imagine!
PS: Thank you for the cards, too. They were great. I read them all the time and I show them to my friends and family. Everyone says you are a very special group of children. I couldn’t agree more! Thanks again!
Brian Patrick Jensen is a father, teacher, trainer, award-winning business leader, and motivational speaker. He also happens to be deaf. Hear him and be inspired!