April 14, 2010

Sign Language Fluency of Teachers

When I graduated from a deaf education program, a lot of people could not understand why I did not want to teach in a school for the deaf or a class that primarily uses American Sign Language without an interpreter. Even though I had been learning and using ASL for five years, I did not feel comfortable teaching in a language I am not fluent in. This would hinder not only my teaching but how I communicate with my students. It makes so much more sense to have a person who is a native or fluent signer. If they are deaf themselves, even better.

I have observed some teachers in a classroom who are not fluent in ASL, and they would speak at the same time as signing (which is usually not very effective in communicating). They used a lot of English signs or ASL in English grammar. Sometimes they would pause to try to remember what the sign is for a certain object or word. One time a teacher asked another student the sign for a certain word!

I know that I would teach in this way too. I don't think I could do it. On top of all the other crazy demands that come with teaching, I would have to continue to practice using a new language!

Not until I test as a fluent signer will I teach using ASL. For right now, I use ASL as support (all of my students understand spoken language as well).  The interpreters I work with should provide them access to fluent language.

When I was taking the mandatory sign language proficiency test, the person testing me explained the importance of being fluent in ASL even if I will be working with preschool aged children. He did not have to tell me this, but I realized then that he must experience a lot of people wanting to teach in ASL who are not fluent signers. I passed at an intermediate level, for your information. This meant that I could teach in a school for the deaf or a classroom using primarily ASL without an interpreter.

Scary.

(e

Related Posts:

25 comments:

  1. I agree. It's scary. That was one of my biggest frustration and pet peeves when I worked in the k-12 setting. Schools would never hire a semi-fluent Spanish speaker to teach Spanish or a basic French speaker to teach French. Why is it ok to hire people with basic ASL skills to teach not only language, but everything? Oy!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Agreed. I appreciate you recognizing this as something that you need to improve on before you can become a true language model for Deaf children. Not many people can honestly evaluate themselves in this way.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I agree...if you are going to teach in a deaf school ASL you should be fluent in ASL, when the students there use it as their primary language.

    It is awesome that you recognize this in yourself.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I agree but then again, its better to have a teacher that knows some signs than none at all and there are teachers like that out there. I went to a deaf school for high school and not all teachers sign ASl well. As long as the teaching gets done and we understand, all's good. It does not matter if it's done ASL, PSE, SEE as long as we understand the lessons (obviously an opinion of mine). I'm a native signer, ASL was my first language. I prefer ASL/PSE/SEE (mixed up is fine!) in English order and that goes against most of the ASL native signer's desire in a deaf teacher. Spoke to a deaf native signer who is also a teacher at a school for the deaf, he agrees that as long as the student understands, it's all good. And, that I'm sure not everyone agrees with. There's gotta be a middle ground somewhere. How many proficient ASL teachers are there out there anyway? Anyone know? What is proficient to one may not be to the next person.

    Candy~

    ReplyDelete
  5. I agree but I think that for someone who is at least at intermediate level with ASL, teaching can be a great learning experience to increase their ability and knowledge of sign language. :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Candy, I beg to differ. Students who go to school with a teacher that can't communicate in a whole language will suffer in many ways, including self-esteem, language delays, and academic delays. If a deaf child is attending a school where there is no signing teacher, perhaps that will encourage parents to seek out schools where there are fluent signers.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Man, I feel like a jerk who is discouraging really great teachers from working with deaf children who sign. This is not my intention. I just want people to be more mindful of what they are getting themselves into. Don't wait until graduate school to learn sign language. Trying to use a new language while teaching, even at an intermediate level, is an awkward experience. I find that you make the lessons simple and less interesting to tailor your signing weaknesses. In other words, this "dumbs down" their education.

    (e

    ReplyDelete
  8. This is exactly why my daughter's teacher chose to work at the oral program. She knew that her ASL skills were weak and she would be a much better language model for her students in her native language, spoken English.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hmm... dare I comment?

    I will say I have a Deaf child and that his Deaf teachers with masters degrees had the most acedemic impact along with one hearing very dedicated teacher who is fluent.

    I have witnessed the benevolence of hearing teachers who are not fluent. I can't even muster the energy to respond about that.

    Anyone want a cupcake? I find cupcakes really calm the nerves.

    ReplyDelete
  10. There are tradeoffs when hiring teachers that are less than fluent in ASL. It depends on a lot of factors...how willing is the teacher to devote large amounts of time to mixing with deaf people both in and outside of school...how many community activities is the teacher engaged in with Deaf people...how sincere the teacher is in improving her ASL.

    Great teachers with deep knowledge and love of their subject will be willing to share that with their students, and their willingness to practice ASL will be part of that.

    On the other hand, we have seen teachers who learn ASL just to get a bigger paycheck and then go home and wipe all thought of the Deaf community from their minds. They of course do not improve their ASL in any way. The sad thing is that their lack of sincerity is obvious to all but their superiors.

    Even worse, these teachers are taking jobs away from competent Deaf teachers who might not have all the credentials they do, but are fluent and far more effective teachers.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Your self-honesty is very noble.

    Tousi

    ReplyDelete
  12. Wow. Thank you for being honest. I wish more non-fluent signers would take the hard look at themselves you have and not inflict their poor signing on Deaf children. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  13. I don't think it can happen here in the UK you HAVE to show valid credentials to teach sign language. Curiously a number of DEAF tutors didn't make the top grades required for schools, because they lacked English knowledge and clear speech. It is necessary so that hearing students and HI students can follow the sign lessons, it is also about awareness.

    As far as not speaking when signing, it is an aspect I would find a problem, indeed it would be highly necessary to aid lip-reading as well. I don't support the 'dumb' approach, I feel it is negative and deprives students of utilising all aspects of a person communicating to you. Even deaf people talk, there is a time for deaf politics, I don't feel a class is one of them, communication is all.

    ReplyDelete
  14. MM--

    Research has shown time and time again that if you speak and sign at the same time, both languages suffer; usually one language more than the other. With native English speakers, the langauge that suffers the most is ASL. In the end, who suffers, the student!

    A teacher would not ever teach class using Spanish and English at the same time. Mind you, I'm not saying the teacher can't speak in Spanish, then speak in English, but I mean going back and forth between the two languages--thus creating a pidgin of sorts. This is impossible and parents, teachers, politicians, and all other people involved would protest.

    yet, when we see teachers speaking and signing at the same time, we say--oh, it's ok. BULL!

    Let me leave you with an example from my very own experience. I've used this example every semester in my classes since I've begun teaching ASL and teaching interpreters: 12 years now. I have a videotape where my teacher, speaking at the same time as she signs, says (verbally) "Jenny is using fabulous olive green shorts sewn using the standard stitch with a peach crepe blouse sewn using the standard stitch along with embroidering and darts. She did a fabulous job with this outfit. Wonderful, Jenny, Wonderful!" BUT she signed "Jeny, wonderful wonderful green and orange, wonderful."

    Hope that illustrated my point.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Yes, what I am trying to say is that using basic-intermediate signing skills or speaking and signing at the same time causes most to "dumb down" the lesson. It simplifies the point you are trying to make. Spencer provided a good example in the above comment.

    I think that if you want to teach students who use and rely on sign language, it is important that they have access to fluent sign language--not a chopped up and simplified version.

    (e

    ReplyDelete
  16. It is a matter of teaching surely, I've seen BSL announcers on my TV who can speak and sign fluently and simultaneously, I'd agree many cannot do that, I'm concerned the deaf 'image' is that we cannot talk, and only can sign,and this sin't an accurate reflection of the deaf community, sign using or not. Deaf take in body language and facial expressions with sign, that's a norm we accept. Itis also true we look at the mouth too as when we try to communicate to others who talk that's where the info will come from. My deaf club which I have attended for 20 years has a real mix, of hard of hearing, hearing CODA's, and born deaf cultural people, so we NEED to be able to follow spoken words. I'd disagree those who use sign language do not need to understand speech. Without that skill how do they work ? 95% or more will NEVER work in a total deaf environment. So we are teaching people deaf only sign, it's not true is it. This is deaf politics not deaf communication need. I'm simply trying to offer a more balanced aspect to this.

    ReplyDelete
  17. MM - I am only talking about students who rely primarily on sign language for access to information. Most of them receive speech therapy anyway and they get plenty of exposure to speech from their parents, at school, the television, etc. I am only concerned about them getting access to fluent language when receiving an education.
    You said:
    'I'd disagree those who use sign language do not need to understand speech. Without that skill how do they work ? 95% or more will NEVER work in a total deaf environment'. So we are teaching people deaf only sign, it's not true is it.'
    I totally agree with you on this--as most people will. Deaf people need to learn how to communicate effectively with the hearing population as well. They need to learn English or whatever native spoken language their country speaks. But, I am not talking about teaching deaf people only sign--I am talking about getting them access to fluent language if they primarily sign especially when they are young.
    I know that not every deaf person sign. I work with young students who do not rely primarily on sign language. I also work with older students who relied primarily on sign when younger but are able to lip read or hear enough with their cochlear implants or hearing aids, so they both sign and speak.

    (e

    ReplyDelete
  18. I just want to drop one more log on the fire, so to say. There has not been much research on this, but if you look around carefully, you will find that the most fluent speakers (verbal English) and the most comfortable Deaf people in the hearing "world" come from Deaf families. I believe the reason for this is because these people have a strong language foundation--thus are more comfortable with new languages, second languages, and new cultures/experiences.

    I guess my point is that Deaf children need to be given the opportunity to use ASL and thrive with a FULLY ACCESSIBLE language as early as possible. The hearing/listening and speech can come later.

    I personally did not have any speech therapy or hearing aids until I was 10 years old. Today, I speak and lipread quite fluently and have "passed" as hearing many times. Without my strong foundation in ASL and my Deaf parents, I don't think I could have achieved this.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Just wondering, what type of sign language proficiency test do they use in your area/state? I know of the Sign Language Proficiency Interview SLPI. Any other tests out there?

    ReplyDelete
  20. I do not know of any sign language proficiency tests other than the SLPI. I know they have SLPI here. I suppose it depends on the school you apply for, if they require a test. I participated in the SLPI when I was in New York and passed at an intermediate level.

    (e

    ReplyDelete
  21. Having taught in public schools I have had the experience of teaching limited English students -- Spanish speaking students. Ideally all of their teachers would have been fluent in Spanish, but how many schools have enough fluent Spanish speaking teachers to do that? Teachers who cared about the students -- including myself -- used whatever Spanish we had in order to communicate as appropriate.

    I see some similarities here. I suspect that the teacher with poor sign language, who is nevertheless attempting to use what he or she does know, may be serving the deaf community better than those who refuse to teach until their ASL is perfect.

    A good administrator would of course make fluency in ASL a high priority when hiring, but when those people are not available, what is the administrator to do? Do I detect a certain amount of animosity, and perhaps resentment here? Frankly, I don't understand.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I have taught hearing and hard of hearing Spanish speaking students with limited English skills in public schools as well. I used whatever Spanish I had to communicate with them as well.

    But, because over the years large numbers of Spanish speaking immigrants have come to the areas where I live, the schools have been accepting more and more students coming from primarily Spanish speaking homes. We have no choice but to take these students in and to help teach them. Unfortunately, they usually do not have their own interpreters. Usually, a deaf or hard of hearing student who signs would have a sign language interpreter, thanks to IDEA and their IEPs.

    You are right. What is an administrator to do, other than hire great teachers even if their signing skills are not good.

    I do not have resentment or animosity. I just feel really bad for the students. These students have limited English proficiency because they are deaf or are unable to hear the language like everyone else can. At least the Spanish speaking students can go home and communicate with ease with their Spanish speaking families and friends. Most deaf students go home to no signing or limited signing. They are subjected to teachers with poor signing skills, because not many people who are fluent in sign language are not willing to teach in schools for the deaf. The lessons get dumbed down and the students usually are taught poorly due to lack of fluent language. There are those few very dedicated teachers who somehow make it work.

    I would rather work with students in the mainstream environment, those who do not rely on sign language and those who do but have interpreters, because I can be the most help and can do the most good here. I refuse to work in schools for the deaf, because I cannot do my best in those types of environments. When I get more experience as a teacher and when my signing skills have improved, I will consider it.

    (e

    ReplyDelete
  23. On the other hand, we have seen teachers who learn ASL just to get a bigger paycheck and then go home and wipe all thought of the Deaf community from their minds. They of course do not improve their ASL in any way. The sad thing is that their lack of sincerity is obvious to all but their superiors.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Hey, very nice site. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did. I will definitely be coming back here more often. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment. Thanks for sharing.
    karma rainbow 6

    Keep Posting:)

    ReplyDelete
  25. Hey, very nice site. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did. I will definitely be coming back here more often. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment. Thanks for sharing.
    karma rainbow 6

    Keep Posting:)

    ReplyDelete

Keep it civil.