The first full week of school came to a close yesterday. I. Am. Exhausted.
It has been 18 years since I taught first grade. I had forgotten how utterly exhausting first graders can be. I have to teach them EVERYTHING. They don't know how to "do school." They can't do anything on their own. Except talk. And talk they did. Excessively and loudly.
Hearing-wise, I was more prepared for teaching a classroom full of excitable little ones than last year when I was reeling from the hearing loss that had occurred two days before school started. Being more prepared mentally (and having a set of good, if not perfect hearing aids) made the week more bearable than last year, but not without problems. I can hear my students with my hearing aids, almost too well at times, and had to continually tell them to remember to use their indoor voices. First graders are loud, and they don't have the typical filters that older students have that help them self-monitor their volume. The problem that continues to plague me is hearing them well enough to understand what they are saying -- which I don't do well at all.
In regards to my hearing loss, the good thing about having first graders is that they tell stories. Lots and lots and lots of stories. Most aren't really important for me to know, thank goodness. They just want acknowledgement. So nodding and smiling and saying, "Thank you for sharing that with me" is just fine for the majority of the time I can't make heads nor tails out of what they are saying to me.
I've noticed that I've changed the way I teach. I talk a lot more now than before, which is a super powerful feat given that I always talked a lot before I lost my hearing. It makes perfect sense, and I've read that it's a phenomena that occurs quite often in people with hearing loss. If I talk more, I don't have to listen as much, and the focus is off my deafness. Talking is easy. Hearing is hard. Listening is harder.
My new classroom is carpeted and quiet, and with the door closed, it is possible to be blissfully unaware of anything that happens outside my classroom walls. An unexpected fire drill that occurred mid week threw me for a loop. I didn't hear it. The alarms are in the hallways. Thankfully, there was a lull in the noisy din of children preparing for dismissal, and one student asked if that was the fire alarm. I shushed the class and sure enough, it was. (We found out later that a naughty kindergartener had pulled the alarm.) My principal offered to have a strobe installed inside my classroom and my team leader said she would be my fire alarm buddy from now on. "I won't let you burn!" she said. In my old school, I was told I was being demanding when I asked for help during fire drills.
And my school district's audiologist brought a desktop listening device to me. I can set the microphone in the middle of my reading table to amplify the voices of the students in my small groups above the children at their desks. The small, portable speaker can be set on the bookcase behind me so that my hearing aids can pick up the sound better. The system is wireless, so I can have my principal clip the microphone on his shirt during faculty meetings so I can hear him better, too. Technology is a wonderful thing.
I am surviving. Sort of. There are things that I will never regain. I will have to adapt and change and ask for help. But I have found myself in a new school with wonderful people who want me to be successful -- a place so different from the school I left. I am happy again. And that is making all the difference in the world.