Have you ever wondered what is it like for a deaf/hard of hearing student to attend mainstream schools?
Or perhaps you wanted to hear from someone else’s experience?
As well as everything that is covered on this site that students can go through, like going through concentration fatigue or suffering from deaf anxiety, there are also unique challenges that deaf/hard of hearing students goes through.
Those challenges are likely to be amplified at mainstream schools (though deaf schools also have their own unique challenges too).
The purpose of this post is not to tell you whether to choose mainstream or deaf school, but to demonstrate my own personal experience of attending mainstream schools.
And because it’s a personal experience, it does not mean that everyone goes through the same thing. This is my own experience only, but it may resonate with others.
You can listen to the podcast…
…watch the video…
…or read the transcript below.
Today I want to share my personal experience of being a deaf/hard of hearing student at mainstream schools, particularly primary school and high school.
Because there are many differences between mainstream and deaf schools, and yes, they do exist.
But I’ve never attended a deaf school before, so I thought, let me just share my personal experience of going through primary school and high school when really I’m generally the only deaf, hard of hearing student in those schools.
The main thing I have to point out, though, that’s it’s my personal experience.
So don’t assume that what I go through is the same for everyone else. I just want to share from my own perspective and maybe someone can learn from it, whether they are going through the same thing or maybe you are a parent or guardian and you have your own children that you want to find out what’s the best way to go through it and you want to learn other people’s experiences.
Whatever it is, just remember, it’s my experience only, it’s not just for everyone.
During the primary school stage
When I was eight years old, my family and I, we all moved to Northern Ireland and that’s where I grew up, I spent over 10 years there, and I got thrown in the deep end of going through the primary school, which in the UK terms, is P5. I don’t know what that is in the U.S. or other countries.
But it’s P5, at the age of eight, and I just go thrown in the deep end where I just had to start, first of all, learning English, because I didn’t know much English at the time.
Which is challenging when you don’t know what you can hear anyway, and you can’t differentiate certain sounds, and you have to learn English by hearing badly. Huge challenge, it’s a big, big challenge.
So I had to learn English and I had to get there quite fast because everyone was getting prepared for exams and high school, I had no time to waste.
I also had to skip a year because apparently, I was too old to be in the next year for when I arrived in the country and I got into the school, I had to skip a year.
Which means that, really, time was precious, and I had to catch up fast as well. So that was a bit of a pressure for me as well to learn English fast and catch up with everyone else in the school and yeah, just get going. Don’t waste any time!
That meant I had to have extra tutoring in the beginning, obviously, it was English, and I had to have English tutoring with a teacher in school, but I also had a private one where I had a teacher who I’m very close to, and even to this day.
Her speciality is teaching English to foreign students who English is not their first language. I had her pretty much my entire pre-university years. So she was there, had my back all along.
But I had to catch up fast because I just needed to get to where everyone else at that year were. But I wasn’t anywhere near there. I also had to have speech therapy as well because the way I hear I certain sounds, I assume that’s how you pronounce it.
So there are certain sounds that I could not pronounce or I just didn’t hear it or I just forgot, whatever it is. I had to go to a special speech therapist after school.
I used to hate it, it just seemed a bit, at that time, I thought it was a bit childish and I just felt a bit demeaned because I couldn’t speak properly, probably because I couldn’t.
But it wasn’t the most enjoyable experience, but I couldn’t really understand why I had to do it. But you just do it anyways. In the classroom itself, most of the time, I had to sit near or at the front of the classroom, where, of course, the teachers would be standing.
The obvious reason is so that I can hear that teacher better. Doesn’t mean it’s going to be perfect, it doesn’t mean that I heard everything, but it’s just to make things easier.
And I also had one of those big, chunky hearing aids, and man, they were so horrible. It’s like a brick on your ear, maybe not such a brick, but you know, it’s just so chunky and uncomfortable, and I hated, hated wearing them.
And not only that, I had a special hearing aid where the teacher also had to wear a kind of like a microphone around their neck, like a necklace, like a long necklace with a block right in the centre of their chest.
And that is a microphone where it was designed to pick up whatever the teacher is saying, it goes straight into the haring aid that I’m wearing and straight into my ear. Not something that I enjoyed and it’s not something that I liked on display.
I was very self conscious at that time. Just want to get on with it, no fuss, but that was used and it was okay, I wouldn’t say it’s the best and it didn’t really last that long either. We had it for a while.
But there were stages where I found it quite funny and I could actually show off. And that was when, for example, the teacher took it off and left it on the desk, while half the class was in that room having their lunch, the other half went to the canteen, I was able to flick the hearing aid on, and hear what’s going on in the classroom while I was at the school canteen.
And I remember showing off about, “oh, I can hear that voice, or I can hear that voice” when standing in the queue with my friends
And I felt like a super hero. I felt like I could hear far, I can hear that are going on in other rooms that nobody could hear, and I could, you know, do that. So I felt like a super hero.
Now, obviously, I didn’t exactly, you know, hear everything. I wasn’t able to pickup the words that were said or anything like that, I was just able to work out who said this particular sentence because of their accent, or their voice, or their tone, or their melody, whatever it is. But I remembered I was showing off about that where I just flick, and then I just can hear a lot of things in that classroom.
So that was probably maybe the only time where I felt really cool about having hearing aids. There were definitely times where I misheard instruction.
And I remember one particular example where I was in a classroom with my teacher, everyone was in the classroom, and I was supposed to have my tutoring, English tutoring, at a specific time, but I either didn’t hear the time or I misheard it as it’s time to go in 10 minutes or now.
So I just walked out of a class to go to my tutoring. And I just thought, “right, I’m on my way, it’s time to go”.
And I ended up going and I ended up waiting for a while and it turns out that I completely misheard it and I had to get called back by another person because I went about an hour too early.
But I didn’t hear that and I probably didn’t know how to say the time in English then, I don’t know what happened, maybe I misheard it, but I remember at that time that was when the teacher forgot that I didn’t hear everything and they had to send someone to chase me because it was the other side of the school.
So yeah, that was a bit embarrassing.
One of the big struggle was doing those bigger events when there are a number of people at the same time.
So a common thing that you tend to see in primary school and high school, in general, is that you go to the assembly hall, all the students, maybe in a particular year, or the entire school, you go to the assembly hall in the morning for some kind of announcement or the news from the school principal or the headmaster, and you just sit there and it could last for like, maybe half an hour or something.
And I’ve done that dozens of times throughout my primary school and high school years, not once did I remember what was said or heard what was said. It just waffled on.
And this is the thing is where people forget that in a school hall, assembly hall, the gym hall, if you can remember they’re quite echoey, they’re quite high ceiling, and big hollow box room, and there was no way I was going to be able to hear anything there.
So I hated going to them because it was just literally me sitting there and hearing someone speaking, saying something, but I don’t know what.
So I may have missed important announcements. I don’t know. But that was completely pointless for me attending and at times, I wish I didn’t bother.
Another thing that I had special excuse to not do was the last exam that primary school students tend to do on their final year, it’s called the 11-Plus.
And in England and Northern Ireland it’s the type of exam where your final year, you’re the age of 11 or 12, hence 11-Plus, and it’s the exam that you take to determine what type of high school you go to and, you know, the quality of it, the calibre of it, and obviously, the better you do, the better high school that you go to. And that’s kind of how it goes with education.
And I wasn’t ready. And I was asked if I wanted do it, and at the time, I felt, okay, I’ll give it a shot, but I wasn’t ready and it was clear that I wasn’t ready for it because of possibly lack of English and not being able to pick up anything and hear anything.
So I had a special excuse to not do it. And I don’t know how often that happens. And I think at that time it was kind of rare, I’m not sure what happens now. But that meant that obviously, I didn’t have a lot of options in terms of what high school to go to.
So in the end, I had to go to a high school where, I don’t know what is it like now, but at that time, it wasn’t the best, it was okay. It wasn’t like known to be the best high school in town, but it was okay, it did the job, and it got people through if you want to go to university, fine.
But I didn’t have a lot of options because of that, because of not doing the exam, and I was just told, that’s okay, let’s get you to go to this high school and move on from there.
At least when I went to high school, at least I started in the first year. Because that was the issue with the primary school. I just got thrown in the deep end at P5 and you just go, you can’t just sit around, you have to go.
At the high school stage
So I started high school as normal, but I continued my English tutoring as normal as well. I still needed that. I continued to sit near the front or at the front of the classroom, where possible.
And obviously, because I had more exams to do, because this was almost seven years, actually seven years of high school and then grammar school, as we call it, seven years.
Which means that more exams to do and that meant that it was going to be held either in a room, classroom, or on most occasions, again, those big assembly halls, big gym rooms, whatever you call it, where you tend to have your PE class. And you have your line of desks and chairs and, you know, the standard stuff that you see high school students sit in.
But I had to sit in the front all the time because at that time, again, they just shout out announcements, your time starts now, or you have this amount of time left, or if you need help, whatever.
But I had to sit in the front so that I can hear the announcement, whatever they shout out. Sometimes that didn’t make any difference because, again, it’s a big echoey assembly hall, it’s just helped with them, but it wasn’t the best. So I think that was a challenge in itself as well.
One particular exam that I struggled to do was my GCSE French class. Because there were different types. There was your writing, and then there were your listening, and then there were your oral exams. The listening and oral exams were challenging.
And that was because at that time, the good old fashioned cassette were used to play out scenarios between, for example, a waiter and a customer speaking in French, and you have to work out what is said or answer a question, whatever it is.
So cassette tapes were used. Not only the quality was terrible, obviously, the audio quality, but also, again, you could not make out what was said in the room and you couldn’t lip read, of course, because it’s played out in audio.
So that was just not going to happen for me at all, which meant that I had to have a special excuse again to have my listening and oral exam face to face with my French teacher in a private room with nobody else.
So that meant that I was able to have the opportunity to hear better, because then I can just face that person, and I can lip read as well, which meant that I was able to do my GCSE French exams properly. Because if I didn’t have that, I am very, very sure that I would’ve failed it straight away. There was no chance I was going to pass it.
Thankfully, I passed it, because I had that option. So that was quite good for me and I’m glad that I had that available for me.
But just like what I have right now in terms of struggles in social situations, the same applies in school. Whether it’s the after-school activities, the school trips, maybe the group events or class events where you sit down together and work out a solution, that was a struggle. They were all the same thing that I struggle today.
Even on a football pitch, I remember then, I just didn’t hear anybody, which means that I don’t know where they are or I don’t pass the ball to them when I play football, which probably makes sense, which is why I don’t like passing the ball.
Hm, there you go. So maybe that’s why I do that. But I just struggle to be able to socialise, and converse, and be around a group of people in certain environments. Same as now, really.
But high school is a challenge. And I think everyone will agree, high school is different. You have to work hard to kind of blend in. And that’s what you want to do, you just want to blend in.
And because of that, I barely talked about my hearing situation, I barely wore my hearing aid, I hated wearing it anyway.
Sometimes I felt like it made things more difficult, so it just wants possible for me to wear it.
So I just didn’t want to do that. I just wanted to be quiet about it, which meant that I had to bottle things up, which meant that it was quite lonely at times because whatever you’re facing or challenging, you have to face that alone because nobody would understand.
And yes, you could have the support network and the teacher, maybe they’ll understand, but they will understand but they will not get it.
And that was a huge challenge for me. Maybe I wouldn’t have had that problem in a deaf school, but, you know, maybe I would have a different kind of problem in deaf school, who knows.
Overall, though, it wasn’t a terrible experience in my primary school and high school. Yes, there were challenges. Yes, there were things that I should have done better or maybe been more open about, and there were times where maybe I shouldn’t have struggled alone.
But it was okay, it was fine, actually. It wasn’t like a bad experience that I’ve heard a lot of people go through when they go to mainstream schools as a deaf or hard of hearing student.
So I think I got lucky, perhaps, maybe certain things could have been better, but maybe also the fact that I’m not profoundly deaf, maybe that made things just a little bit easier for me to be able to be in mainstream schools.
However, I do wonder what would it have been like if I was at deaf schools. Who knows? It’s not going to be any point thinking about that now, but it did make me wonder.
o that’s about it, really, that’s my personal experience. Like I said, not everyone goes through the same thing. This is mine. Let me know what you think.
Don’t forget, when you scroll down, make sure you hit that like button, make sure you subscribe. And I think I may do one about my university years as well.
So make sure you hit that subscribe and the bell icon so that you are notified when new videos are coming out. I would love to share more experiences that maybe you can learn from, maybe something that will intrigue you, maybe you can pick up some tips for yourself for other people.
Whatever it is, you can do all that. But I would also love to hear your own personal experience, whether it’s directly yourself, or something that you know from another person that goes through.
Maybe you are a teacher yourself, or a parent, anything like that, I would love to hear from your experiences as well.
Let me know in a comment down below, it’d be awesome to read your experiences as well. In the meantime, I will speak to you again soon. Take care.
You can also learn about other people’s own experiences of going to mainstream school by watching other brilliant YouTubers below like Jazzy, Rikki Poynter, Cheyenna Clearbrook and KJ Deaf Girl, who can probably share their experiences better than I can:
- What is ‘audism’? Plus my personal experiences of facing audism - October 27, 2021
- ‘CODA’ movie review: my thoughts on the latest deaf movie to be released - October 13, 2021
- Deafness as a ‘hidden/invisible disability’ - October 6, 2021