Teaching with a hearing loss

It’s goodbye to all this…

When I started this blog, I had grandiose ideas about adapting the studio learning environment I teach in to minimise the impact of my hearing loss on my interactions with students, whilst at the same time improving certain aspects of the environment for everyone. This all sounded great in theory, but art studio spaces, and their inhabitants, are something of a law unto themselves and I have spectacularly failed at everything I set out to do.

Forget U-shaped seating arrangements at discussions. There is an irreconcilable conflict between your need to have the speakers as uniformly close to you as possible, and the students’ desire to be as uniformly far away from you as possible.

Forget moving closer to the person doing the speaking. Art students love mess, and it would not be the first time an abandoned wardrobe from a skip, or some eye-poking construction hanging from the ceiling has come between my straining ear and the elusive mumbles of a Type 5 Inaudible speaker.

Forget making sure no-one talks with their back to the audience. People love talking with their back to the audience, especially those with quiet voices.

Forget asking the speaker to speak up/ raise their hand before speaking. You’ll wear out your vocal cords in the first five minutes and get nowhere.

Forget eliminating background noise. You can’t, with sixty people rattling around in a room where the only acoustic damping is provided by an Ikea sofa and a burst cushion from a skip.

In the face of my failure, I am consoling myself with the fact that any infrastructural alterations would have been a waste of time anyway, since the building I work in is about to be demolished in a few days to make way for a shiny new building. My innovative but untested strategies, such as nailing all the seats to the floor to prevent them being scraped loudly every time someone moves, and installing a power tool immobilisation system for use during group discussions will hopefully be redundant in a state of the art building. More conventional strategies may be found here.

Fortunately, I’m about to get a second chance at my project, because our temporary home is another concrete lined open-plan space. There is now no hiding place for my No.1 sneaky HOH coping tactic of talking to students in the office instead of at their desks, because there is no room for an office in the new space. I shall need to apply my mind to finding another solution, but as the saying goes, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.

We shall see.

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12 Responses to “Teaching with a hearing loss”


  1. 1 Sara Paton July 1, 2011 at 12:22 am

    Hang in there Moira, I know you can do it. Your post makes me appreciate my traditional teaching classroom. I struggle with questions, but it could be worse. You can do this!

    • 2 moiradancer July 1, 2011 at 10:01 am

      Thanks Sara. It’s an interesting problem to solve. Design teaching is very interactive and discursive, and the interaction which makes it so interesting and lively is what makes it so tricky, particularly where room acoustics are, ahem, sub-optimal. Likewise the mess factor, the best creative work often emerges from chaos, but it’s not great if you’re trying to exert even a minimal amount of control over the room layout. There’s an emerging conflict between my desire to have a relaxed, informal learning environment with a lot of spontaneity for the majority, and my personal need to be able to stage manage certain aspects of the course delivery to avoid exposing myself to embarrassing ‘hearing’ situations.

      In a strange way I’m looking forward to working round some of the problems I know I’m going to face in the temporary studio space. There will literally be no hiding place, so it’ll force me to finally confront some of the issues, be a bit more assertive and perhaps learn a thing or two into the bargain!

  2. 3 Zrinka June 25, 2014 at 10:37 am

    Hi Moira, my name is Zrinka Mendas and I am a lecturer in economics at ARU.I am also deaf (a cochlear implant user) and holding a workshop on 1st July called “Harnessing Dis-ability” aimed at understanding how disabled lecturers adapt their teaching to cope with their disability. Your article is written in an interesting manner and I would like to ask you for permission to use this article for my workshop. I hope to hear from you.

    • 4 moiradancer June 25, 2014 at 3:54 pm

      Hi Zrinka,

      just had a look at your workshop outline online, and it looks fascinating, wish I was signed up for it! I would be delighted for you to use the article for your workshop and would love to hear how it goes, particularly the role playing. Boy, do I regret not saying yes to an offer of deaf awareness training for my colleagues several years ago!

      Hope all goes well on the 1st of July, and if you write it up anywhere, would love to read the outcome, as I’m sure would many others on here, especially CI users.

      • 5 zmendas June 25, 2014 at 4:13 pm

        Hi Moira

        Jolly good to hear from you.

        Appologies, I should have sent you a link.

        I will not be able to do a role play as my colleagues are all away from this week and I need to train them. And it is only 50 min long workshop.

        So, what I am going to do is to split participants into the groups and give each group one article, just like some from your blog. Little stories from teachers with hearing impairment, ADHD, Asperger, Visual or Anxiety.

        Participants, working in groups, will have to first create a mind up about what they know about each disability. Then, I will give them stories to read and to identfy the main points and how would they tackle it.

        So it is more about sharing the experiences than tutorial.

        I will let you know how it goes, of course 🙂

        Best wishes

        Zrinka

  3. 6 mlsmax July 18, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    HI all, I’ve just find out this blog while I was looking in internet for some information about the ‘cookie-bite’ hearing loss. I’m happy I’ve found this blog (Thanks Moira).

    I’m suffering from a SNHL since when I was 5/6 y’old. No one really knows exactly and what has happened. It is likely it has been caused by a virus (CMV or Toxoplasmosis), but as you may all have experienced uncertainties are commonplace when advocating for the causes of hearing loss.

    From my first hearing screening test my hearing has been stable for more than 20 years. I have never wore HAs for all that time and I’ve cope&hide with my hearing difficulties well. My cookie-bite pattern is like a notch bite around 1kHz… I’d said a worm-like bite. Low and Hi Freqs, were ‘kind’ of normal, which made me haunted by the recurring questions about how acoustics and hearing worked like. However, 6 years ago I’ve decided that as a real ‘professional’ I needed to be able to cope with all the situations I could have found myself in, such as meetings, conferences and all that gut feared events that make hard of hearing people self-conscious about their hearing problem. We are deaf not dumb or stoned…btw.

    I generally feel like a normal hearing person when I’m alone, and this makes me thinks that probably I’ve just got a shy hair cells. They just hide themselves when in public.

    Anyway, curiosity and resilience have brought me to get a PhD in acoustics (in UK), and convinced me to keep going on researching about the wonders of the can’t-be-seen(nor-hear) promised sound-land. I’m not there yet buy I’m trying hard to get a job as a researcher, and it seems that I’ve been ‘lucky’ enough to be offered for a lecturing/researching position in a private university. All seems to be working well, apart that I’ve just find recently (as I’m going to buy a brand-new state-of -the-art HAs) that my hearing has worsened in the last years – when I passed to hill-top of 30s. It seems like that the ‘worm’ has started digging a larger nest for himself. I mostly wish it has dug its grave but I’m scared he is just resting and that he is digging up its way out somewhere. Of course, no tests exist to see what is actually going on deep-down there, and I can only merely rely on keep screening my hearing and … hope. Such an unfair thing.

    Btw, besides Herbert’s like stories (e.g. Dune), I wanted to share with you all my worries hoping you’d give me some advice.

    My point is that, I’ve always been scared of teaching as I know there will likely be situations in which I will struggle to cope with, and as I may also be asked to teach sound engineering I am feeling a bit inapt for the role (although I’ve worked on stages for more than 10 years and I know pretty well how to use mixing consoles and all the other devices… how to use but I have never tried to be a professional sound engineer – I’ve pursed researching because I was aware of my ‘limits’ on the field). I also feel scared about it as if a got the job (is 95% likely yet) I’ve to leave a permanent position in the country I live now (Italy) to move to the country I’ll teach (Ecuador). Moving there is not my main problem and I’m actually excited to go, but I’m scared that if I don’t succeed I’ll lose both jobs and confidence, and industry/university may not be really looking forward to hire an ‘old’ (36/37 y’old) professional/researcher.

    I’m sure fear is not going to stop me on trying, but reassurance can play a big role in coping with new challenges and unforeseeable events/trouble, as well as knowing that many of you are, besides all the struggle, be teaching and… smiling (which I grade as the most important attitude towards hearing problems – I may not hear a thing about what people are saying but I will keep smiling pretending that everything is all right).

    I also know that in a Spanish-speaking country I’ll face less difficulties than in a English-speaking country (I’ve managed to survive in Manchester for 4 years… and Mancunian accent is all but clear), as phonemes are pretty similar to Italian, but such recently hearing worsening has made me more uncomfortable and anxious about taking the ‘right’ decision.

    So, here I am, for asking you… what do you think I shall do?

    Many thanks and happy hearing to yall.

    p.s.
    I’ll probably move on researching about hearing/audiology (before I was doing room acoustics).

    • 7 moiradancer July 19, 2014 at 10:48 am

      Hi Max,

      thanks very much for your comment, it’s interesting to hear how you’ve compensated for your loss up till now and I hope that your cookiebite worm gets bored soon and stops his digging 😉

      Congratulations on being offered your lecturing/ researching position, it’s not easy to get a job anywhere at the moment, so you must have impressed the interviewers. A PhD in acoustics is a fantastic achievement and will definitely come in handy when organising your learning space 😉

      I totally understand your nervousness about hearing being a challenge in the teaching side of things, but where there’s a will there’s a way, and the listening and communication skills you’ll have acquired because of your hearing can actually work to your advantage in teaching.

      I guess you already know it, but the only way to find out if the job will suit you is to try, since so much depends on the nature of the subject you’re teaching, course delivery methods, your own personality and also how much autonomy you will have in shaping the learning environment to suit both your needs and the needs of the students. My own course involves lots of discussion in a very tricky acoustic environment, but because I am allowed a lot of autonomy in the way I deliver, I’m able to work round the more difficult situations (sometimes!)

      Also, being open with immediate colleagues about things you find difficult is essential, to avoid being railroaded into situations which will make you uncomfortable. There’s always another way to interact, and trying things out to see what works can actually be very good for your teaching practice. There are some things you just can’t avoid, however, and the Q&A session in front of a large group has to be everyone’s Room 101. Most people are very understanding, though, and will try to help out by relaying the question to you if it’s obvious you haven’t heard something. I still have loads of embarrassing moments where I think ‘Beam me up, Scotty’, but that’s just the way it is, and you can have plenty of those in teaching even with perfect hearing.

      Also, students can be very curious, and if you are working with sound, you’ll have a whole load of insight which will be of great interest to the students if they know you hear differently from them. There’s no doubt that teaching with a hearing loss is a daily challenge, but working with students is so rewarding that it’s worth all the hassles. As I say, only you know what’s right for you, but as long as you go into it prepared to learn (which is what you’ve clearly been doing very well up till now) then you can’t lose out from the experience. There are quite a few commenters on here who are teachers, all from different fields and working in different types of environments. We all struggle at times, but shows it can be done!

      Good luck whatever your decision, and let us know how you get on,
      best wishes, Moira

  4. 8 zmendas September 15, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    Dear Moira and others,

    I promised to send you a final report on my project, see this link:

    http://www.lta.anglia.ac.uk/cmsAdmin/uploads/Networks-19-March-2016-11.pdf

    or here: https://zmendas.wordpress.com

    I cannot attach anything here.

    I hope you find it interesting. I am planning to recruit more participants online and look at a broader community of disabled teachers globally. I am seeking research funding for it because I believe that little has been done.

    Sadly, people are still afraid to mention their disability but we should not be!

    Feel free to get back to me on this if you want to participate.

    Best wishes

    Zrinka

    • 9 moiradancer September 22, 2016 at 12:19 pm

      Hi Zrinka,

      sorry for the delay in reply, it’s that start of term time of year once again! Thanks so much for forwarding the link to your study, I’ve had a quick skim and am looking forward to reading properly over the weekend. I’ve never heard anyone talk before about the needs and extra workload of disabled staff, so I hope you manage to get some funding to look into that a bit further. You’re so right about disability support for students being freely available while staff struggle away in isolation. Would love to participate in your study, feel free to drop me an email at the School of Art somewhere in Glasgow 😉 if you’re doing any further info gathering,

      Best wishes,

      Moira

      • 10 zmendas September 22, 2016 at 12:35 pm

        Hi Moira, you are in Glasgow? Such a shame! I was there in April. Well, lets see, tickets are cheap via Easyet, maybe we can organise something and get more people, eh? Le’ts see, I am currently unemployed, sadly, and declaring disability during the interview make you like trouble maker because you know your rights. Do you think your workplace might be interested in my running a workshop for staff, of course, free but just covering travel expenses? Best Zrinka.

      • 11 moiradancer October 15, 2016 at 10:45 am

        Hi Zrinka,

        sorry to hear you’re unemployed at the moment, I hope some interesting opportunities come your way soon and that the ‘downtime’ gives you some space to explore your own personal interests for a bit. That’s certainly something that’s been squeezed right out of my own work life balance recently, hence my slowness in catching up with people on here 😦

        My workplace is a Small Specialist Institution, which is one of the great things about it from a teaching and learning point of view, but means that the pool of interested parties could be equally small, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for a workshop. I’ll certainly put out some feelers, it’s a good excuse to find out statistically how many staff have actually declared a disability, and to test the tightness of the institutional purse strings! If I get anywhere, are you okay with me contacting you on your email address which is registered with WordPress ?

      • 12 zmendas October 15, 2016 at 10:47 am

        Hi Moria, of course, every little help matters. Best. Zrinka


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