I am a certified teacher. I am licensed to teach general education, special education and students with hearing loss. But, of course, I consider myself a Teacher of the Deaf (TOD) exclusively. General education and special education teachers do amazing things! In fact, I don't think I could ever do either one of those jobs! I could never handle some of the varieties of special needs that SPED educates every day, and I know for a fact that I could never teach a classroom of 25 or more students (and don't get me started on the up to hundreds that might pass through a high school classroom in a day...). That being said, I do not believe that just any teacher can educate a child with hearing loss.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) open the door to education for children with disabilities. It codified that ALL students, regardless of disability, had a legal right to a "free and appropriate public education" (FAPE) in the "least restrictive environment" (LRE) and that their needs would be met through an "individualized education program" (IEP). This means that students with hearing loss* have the right to be educated and have their needs met through the umbrella of special education. But it also has had some unintended consequences for students with hearing loss that complicate the issues.
The first issue is that of LRE. The law defines "least restrictive" as "to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities including children in public or private institutions or care facilities, are educated with children who are non-disabled." The regulations further state that "special classes, separate schooling or other removals of children with disabilities from regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily."
That means that the default placement for children with hearing loss is in a mainstream classroom. That is fine and dandy if you have a student who has excellent access to sound, typical development in all areas (including receptive and expressive language, vocabulary, auditory memory and executive functioning) and no concerns about self-advocacy or social skills. But let's be honest, that is a very small percentage of students we serve!
There is quite a bit of research indicating that when taught by a skilled TOD, students with hearing loss can learn as much as hearing students in the same classroom. Unfortunately, this is not happening and the outcomes are reflective of that. The data also indicates that deaf and hard of hearing students make between .2 and .6 year’s growth per school year, thus falling further behind each year. This isn't because SPED or general education teachers are malicious or even bad at their jobs. It is simply because they are not TODs.
I spent six years (four in undergrad and two more in graduate school) to even begin to teach. Every practicum and student teaching placement I had was with students with hearing loss. I worked with a variety of ages, in a variety of settings, but they were all deaf or hard of hearing. The average SPED teacher *may* have seen a student with hearing loss and generally have one course that covers discusses many types of disabilities and how development is impacted, but a general education teacher has even less exposure to low incident disabilities like hearing loss.
After my formal education, I spent three additional years being mentored, seeking out continuing education and observing master teachers. This improved my practice dramatically and allowed me to become a Listening and Spoken Language Specialist, Certified Auditory-Verbal Educator. This is considered the "gold standard" for a TOD who works with students who use listening and spoken language. (I hope that there is also such a designation and process for teacher who use ASL or another mode of communication, but I cannot speak to that.) A general education or SPED teacher does not have the knowledge, resources, strategies or experience that I and other TODs have, and that is why they are less likely to be prepared to work with them.
So, what do we do?
Well, in an ideal world, ALL deaf and hard of hearing children birth to age three would have their primary interventionist be a TOD. This would ensure that their speech, language and literacy skills would be developed under the watchful eye of the most qualified professionals. When moving to preschool and school aged services, every child with hearing loss should have access to a skilled TOD. That can look very different based on the appropriate educational setting (whether that be in a self-contained classroom, a mainstream setting with an itinerant or even via distance technology like Miss Kat does) but having someone who understands the development of language, listening and literacy for this specific population can make all the difference.
*There are some reasons that a student with hearing loss could not qualify for special education services because there must be both a qualifying disability (the hearing loss) AND a demonstrated need for specialized instruction. The disability must "impact the students access to the general education curriculum".
Marc Marschark, Thomastine Sarchet, Patricia Sapere, Carol Convertino. Cochlear Implants and Classroom Learning among Deaf College Students. Biomed J Sci & Tech Res 18(5)-2019. BJSTR. MS.ID.003215.
Knoors, Harry & Marschark, Marc. (2014). Teaching Deaf Learners: Psychological and Developmental Foundations. 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199792023.001.0001.
Stinson, M. S., Elliot, L. B., Kelly, R. R., & Liu, Y. (2009). Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students’ Memory of Lectures with Speech-to-Text and Interpreting/Note Taking Services. The Journal of Special Education, 43(1), 52–64. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022466907313453
Fiona E. Kyle, Margaret Harris, Longitudinal Patterns of Emerging Literacy in Beginning Deaf and Hearing Readers, The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, Volume 16, Issue 3, Summer 2011, Pages 289–304, https://doi.org/10.1093/deafed/enq069
Margaret Harris, John R. Beech, Implicit Phonological Awareness and Early Reading Development in Prelingually Deaf Children, The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, Volume 3, Issue 3, Summer 1998, Pages 205–216, https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.deafed.a014351