For 13 years, Peter Chang has worked as a Hearing Education Related Service provider, helping hearing impaired and profoundly deaf students in Manhattan schools find their voices.
Can you describe your job?
Most of my students are hearing impaired, not profoundly deaf. This year, I have 14 students of all ages at nine different schools. Depending on the level of need, I work with each child one on one anywhere from once a week to every day. With the little ones, I work 30 minutes and with middle and high school kids, 40 minutes. Most are in general classrooms, not special ed. These students are entitled to receive this help until they graduate from high school. I’m working now with a girl who I started with when she was in the 6th grade and she is now a junior in high school.
How do you help them?
Among my goals as their hearing teacher are to foster my students’ self-advocacy skills and to provide auditory training. There are two major components to each session: First, I use an FM unit to check if the students can hear the sound of all the frequencies. The FM unit is a device that allows me to wear a microphone and the student wears the receiver, which transmits my voice directly into his or her ear. The second part of the session is auditory training — to comprehend whatever they can hear. Once the sound reaches the brain, our goal is to help them make sense of what they hear.
There are huge emotional and social components as well. Middle and high school students are often embarrassed to wear hearing aids or use other devices. It just takes one person laughing at them or mimicking them. They’ll go so far as to try to convince me they hear perfectly and don’t need help. So I reach out to teachers, staff and students by holding workshops to dispel myths about the hearing impaired. For example, some teachers think if they speak very loud, the student will hear. I also explain what it’s like not to be able to hear and what impact that has in their lives.
How is your work rewarding?
It’s the change that I see in my students’ lives. When they are given the opportunity to enter the hearing world and tap into all the resources that hearing people take for granted, I feel like I’m where I belong. Hearing teachers are for our students the bridge to the hearing world. Some of my students are recent immigrants from other countries, including China, where their disability was ignored or considered shameful. I’ve had two Chinese students, a girl and a boy, who cried with gratitude for the help we gave them here and for all the years they lost in China. They each told me I inspired them to return to China one day “to be like you and help other deaf students.” Wow. That is so satisfying to a teacher.
What led you to become a teacher of the hearing impaired?
When I arrived in the United States from Taiwan by way of a decade in Brazil, I had graduated from high school and planned to become an electrical engineer, like my father. But I hated how isolating a career that was. I wanted a more congenial and creative environment. I craved collaboration and teamwork. I changed my major again and again and again. One day, I was talking to this guy I admired who was going to be a teacher. I thought: Why not teach? I started as a bilingual teacher and the DOE offered scholarships to teachers who went into specialties that were understaffed. It took six years of working full time and going to school at night, and here I am. Finally, after all that switching of majors, I found my calling.
How does the union help you do your work?
Without the UFT, we couldn’t do our jobs. They fight for our working conditions. For example, they make sure we have space in the schools to work with the students. In the past, I’ve held sessions in stairwells and hallways. The union has fought for us to have prep time, and they help keep our caseload manageable. We have a great UFT rep, Cecilia Cortez, who advocates for us. Hearing teachers are itinerant; we go from school to school to school so parking is a nightmare. I am fortunate to have a parking permit this year. Now my time is spent with my students rather than driving around desperately looking for a space to park. Cecilia is fighting to get permits for all itinerant hearing education teachers.
— As told to reporter Christina Cheakalos