Sunday, May 18, 2008

Deaf or Not-Deaf: Who is the More Qualified ASL Teacher?

Ahhh. Finally, a really GOOD weekend. I've been meaning to respond to the comments left on my post about's oversight in posting Karen Putz's Blog on Rachel Coleman's Emmy Nomination. I'm kind of proud of myself because my first reaction was to "go off" regarding the importance of Signing Time for hearing mothers of deaf children. Then, strangely, I took a moment to actually reflect on the commenters' perspectives. These were the two comments that I found thought-provoking:

Deaf258 said...
Not to be a downer or anything.. But why do people honor hearing people and not Deaf when it comes to ASL products for the public?

There is something wrong with the picture.

g l said...
I'm a little puzzled... I've long been familiar with Signing Time and have always thought the great show was for hearing siblings and hearing parents. How do we classify it as deaf-centric, which is what the main page is intended for?

I know can use criticism now and then, but I'm not convinced this is a constructive example. is evolving with the addition of many new voices of parents getting more and more involved in the Deaf Community by means of these blogs. The Pediatric Cochlear Implant Circle and Listen-Up yahoo support groups constantly earmark interesting discussions on a variety of controversial blogs. Rachel Coleman is important for hearing parents of Deaf children and...the driving force behind "Deaf-Centric" from what I understand, is the desire for Every Deaf Child to learn ASL as their "native tongue."

This idea of "native tongue" is what stopped me from ranting and caused me to think. You see, I am a Mother-Tongue English Teacher here in Italy and I have seen many an Italian teacher MASSACRE English while teaching innocent young Italians MY language. I am convinced that the only person qualified to teach English is, in fact, a Native Speaker.


Some "Mother-Tongue" English teachers are just not good teachers. Teaching is not an ability that a University can teach you, you are either born with it or you are not. It's all about passion and reaching students. A quality Italian English Teacher who really knows the English language well can actually be a better English teacher than a Mother-Tongue teacher, because she truly understands the subtleties and problematic areas of both languages enabling her to better explain and anticipate her students' potential areas of difficulty.
Rachel Coleman is one of these passionate teachers. No, she is not Deaf, but she teaches a rockin' mean introduction to ASL that is reaching the mainstream population. Isn't that the fundamental dream of a Deaf-Centric

PS...Monkey-boy Christian (an avid watcher of Signing Time) has just learned to say..."Elmo!" Love that boy!


Christian and Lily's Mommy said...

Ok, I am going to "go off", but I will hold back just a bit. I never in my life thought that Signing Time was JUST for the hearing population. One of the main reasons why I LOVE the show is that Rachel makes the show accessible to BOTH populations. IT IS an invaluable tool for our family.

Valerie said...



Anonymous said...

I agree that all things considered equal, a Deaf person is more qualified than a hearing person. However, there are hundreds of lousy Deaf teachers and there are hundreds of great hearing teachers. So we can't use Deaf or hearing as a deciding factor. In fact, that would be discrimination, so we should always be looking at qualifications first anyways.

Seek Geo said...

Deaf or not, it doesn't matter as long as she/he meets good enough qualification then I'm happy.

When I lived in Australia as an exchange student back in 1993 for a year. I lived with one of host families who are CODA parents. They both came from Deaf families so it was amazing how both CODA met and married.

Anyway, my host CODA mother applied to teach AUSLAN (Australia Sign Language) class at community college but she was turned down only based because she is hearing.

So, they choose a deaf person over her and the worse part is, that deaf person just barely learned AUSLAN since she grew up orally all her life.

That did throw me off the wall, to be honest. How can they hire her just because she's deaf even though for the fact she knows a little about AUSLAN and their grammar rules, etc while my host mother who grew up in a deaf family and she is also an interpreter that knows a LOT more.

But at the end, it did not work out with AUSLAN class so they practically begged my host mother to take the job but it was too.... late.

So... deaf or not, it should always based on qualifications, that is good way to teach hearing people that they shouldn't reject us just because we CANNOT hear just like we can't reject them just because they CAN hear.


Anonymous said...

It has been my experience that hearing students who learn from hearing teachers often fail at signing naturally. In fact, I was just looking at a couple of online demonstrations where courses were taught by hearing people. They showed videos of their students who had completed the courses. And ALL of them clearly were "hearing signers."

Students who learn to sign from a Deaf teacher are more likely to sign naturally and fluidly. The other day, I was at a local college and chatting with students who had just completed their courses and were graduating. I had to ask several of them "Are you Deaf or Hearing?"

That's why I think online programs such as hold such big promise for Hearing people who truly want to learn and master the language.

Should we automatically exclude hearing teachers? No. But by and large, students who learn from a hearing person fail miserably in truly achieving language skills.

Anonymous said...

The most important things for teaching ASL or any other language are above average language skills and good teaching skills. It seems some people who hire ASL teachers have no way to assess language skills. (Oh, you can sign? Here, teach ASL for us!)


drmzz said...

Deaf all the way. BTW, Deaf or Not-Deaf: Who is the More Qualified Parent?

Unknown said...

Really, really interesting comments. Very objective. I agree with everyone and I appreciate that everyone gave specific examples to support their point of view. Val - thought you'd agree with this one *smile* Geo - hiya! Loved that story. Brien: Thanks for the online site. Loved the question: Deaf or Not-Deaf: Who is the more qualified parent? Might have to respond to that one...
David: I experience that here in Italy with teaching Italy, "Oh, you are a mother-tongue speaker, teach English. Thank youuuuu, Jodi

Anonymous said...

i find it amazing if you have to ask-

i think i will learn Spanish from an alien.
I will not be missing much if the alien is qualified to teach.

you agree?

Karen Putz said...

I would love to see an ASL product by a native signer get an Emmy too--come on someone, develop one that's going to captivate a large audience or if there's one out there that I don't know about-- point me in that direction.

Anonymous said...

What's amazing to me is that the same people who commented about it being absolutely necessary for it to be a deaf person who teaches sign also rail against hearing parents for not teaching their babies sign.

Go figure.

Kim said...

Hi Jodi,
As you know I'm currently taking ASL and have been for awhile. Years ago, I took ASL from a hearing teacher. The problem was she talked and because I'm a visual person I just didn't get it. She also didn't have real good things to say about the Deaf community. They tend to be somewhat insular, not out right accepting of Hearing people and this put her off, so she shared that with the rest of us-- which put me off, as well. .

Later, my son had a hearing ASL teacher. OK-- first off I will say this woman was NOT a nice person. She has issues with Deaf/deaf people. She has issues with **everyone.** To be blunt, she's a bitch. She went off at me one time and during this she mentioned that I sucked at lip reading in the dark. It was dark--dammit! I can't tell you how much that hurt me. First of all, anyone who works with the deaf ought to know how frickin hard it is to lip read and how impossible it is in the dark. Secondly, she judged me based on my lip reading skills. Thirdly, even if I were fluent in ASL it would have been damned difficult to communicate in the dark. I came away wondering how someone who hated Deaf/deaf people so much became a teacher of ASL. She sure as hell didn't understand our issues. Made me wonder if she understood Deaf culture at all. I found out later she was not well liked in the Deaf community.

The four Deaf teachers I've had in the past three years have been WONDERFUL. The classes have been taught without speech and they've had a first hand knowledge of hearing aids, CI's, captioning, VP, etc, etc, etc. They bring Deaf people into the class to play games with us so there's a lot of positive exposure.

But I agree with you. Not everyone is a good teacher. However, if I could choose between Deaf/deaf/HH or a Hearing teacher, I'd choose deaf.

Unknown said...

Hi Kim,
Thanks for sharing your experiences, and if I had been there when that hearing teacher criticized You, I would have smacked that bitch right upside the head...*smile* Jodi

Valerie said...

Needed to make one more comment - There is more to teaching then standing up and doing the signs! Not everyone can and should teach.

If there is a good teacher, you learn something.

If there is a great teacher, you remember what the teacher taught.

If there is a fantastic teacher, it touches your heart and it embraces you!

Don't settle for just a good teacher!

Unknown said...

And...Val, it takes one to know one...*smile*

Anonymous said...

I am a hearing parent of a hearing child who is learning some basic ASL from the Signing Time series. Based on the comment from Valerie I guess I would classify Rachel Coleman as a fantastic teacher. I started learning sign as just a fun activity to do with my daughter, but Ms. Coleman's work has inspired me to learn more about the deaf community and provided a wonderful example of the kind of mom I would like to be.

Also, what makes a person a native speaker of a language? My understanding is that sign is an everyday language in the Coleman household and has been since Leah was a baby, certainly that level of communication will eventually make someone a native speaker of any language, as long as the will exists to learn it well enough. (Just to clarify, native speaker is an actual classification when studying linguistics, it basically means that a person can communicate like one born to a language, it doesn't mean "mother tongue")

BTW I have been finding this blog really education, thanks for having it here.