William Valentin, paraprofessional for hearing impaired students
As a one-on-one paraprofessional in a 3rd- and 4th-grade Deaf and Hard of Hearing Education Services classroom at PS 333 in the Bronx, William Valentin supports Deaf and hearing impaired students with their communication, educational and behavioral needs.
What was your education like?
Up to the 5th grade, I was a student in the same program where I now work for hearing impaired students. I’m Deaf in one ear, and I had a sign language interpreter. I had an amazing 3rd-grade teacher, Ms. Brown, who was also hearing impaired. She challenged me so much, to the point that if she knew I was rushing through my school work, she’d rip up my paper and say, “I know you can do better.”
After I moved to New Jersey in 5th grade, I was told I wouldn’t go far because I had a hearing disability. After I graduated, I’d go to job interviews, and they’d see I have a hearing disability and tell me, “You’re not going to be able to work here.”
That’s what motivated me to become an educator. I want kids who are hearing impaired or who have any disabilities to know that they can go far.
What do you do in a Deaf and Hard of Hearing Education Services classroom?
Here in New York, we make sure that students who are Deaf or hearing impaired get the education they need. They are not pushed to the side or allowed to fail. We make sure they have their sign language interpreters, and we help them understand the school work. We don’t just modify the material to make sure they pass. We make sure they’re ready for the real world.
What do you do as a one-on-one paraprofessional?
I’ll break down my student’s work if they don’t understand what the teacher is teaching. I won’t make it easier, but I’ll modify it a little. I speak English, American Sign Language (ASL) and Spanish. I’ll assist the students in ASL, but I also speak Spanish with the kids sometimes if that’s their first language.
What is a favorite memory from your career?
Last year, I asked the teacher if I could teach the 3rd-grade students how to grow vegetables, and she said, “Sure.” I brought in cups, dirt, tomato and cucumber seeds, and I gave each student their own cup and seed and had them follow my steps to plant and water their vegetables. In a week, the plants were sprouting out of the cups.
One of these students communicated only in sign language. She was reserved and didn’t sign a lot. Her mother came to me and said, “I want to thank you for teaching my daughter how to grow vegetables because over the weekend, she was teaching me how to take care of our vegetable garden.” That made me so happy.
How is your classroom different from a mainstream classroom?
We teach the students at a slower pace so they can process what the teacher is saying or follow the interpreter. Because we have smaller class sizes, we can give the kids more one-on-one attention. We’re able to go back and repeat what the kids don’t hear or don’t understand.
The behavioral issues are different, too. Sometimes hearing impaired kids struggle to communicate and get frustrated, but they want to be able to express their feelings. As their language skills improve, their emotions improve.How does it help that you, too, are hearing impaired?
Because I’m also hearing impaired, the kids can relate to me. They open up more. I have a lot of students who don’t want to use their hearing aids. They say, “I want to be normal.” I pull my hearing aid out to show it to them. A lot of those kids will start using their hearing aid when they see an adult who has the same disability.
That’s what motivates me every day: To show kids you don’t have to be the same as everyone else. Everyone is different. Just because you’re hearing impaired, that’s not going to stop you.
As told to Hannah Brown