Sunday, August 28, 2016

I Just Couldn't Listen Anymore

Recently, I attended a two-day teacher institute put on by my school district. It was a huge affair for all of the teachers and staff in our large district -- about 3000+ participants strong. It was held in our city's convention center -- large rooms and partitioned off exhibition halls with high ceilings, concrete floors, lots of hard, bare surfaces, and crowded with participants.

On the first day, we were divided into large groups of several hundred and placed in these makeshift meeting rooms where a speaker stood at the front of the room with a wireless microphone that fed his voice into two free-standing speakers on either side of a curtained-off stage that cut an even larger room in half. Participants sat around tables. The tables were large and round, seating 10. There were 25 to 30 tables in our room. My school was placed near the back of the room where open doors and foot traffic to the bathrooms (and concession stand) offered up continual distraction. The day's agenda consisted of a lecture followed by table discussions.

The first thing I noticed about the meeting room arrangement was the noise. The rooms were loud, cold, and uncomfortable. The reverberating echo of the speaker's voice against the hard surfaces of the room was distracting and difficult to understand, and the side conversations of the participants flowed into my hearing devices as readily as his. I fidgeted with many setting combinations of both my CI and hearing aid to see if I could reduce the reverberation and concentrate better on what the speaker was saying. It was impossible. My hearing colleagues were also complaining of the garbled reverberation, so I knew the problem didn't lie in my own deficient hearing.

The sound challenges went from bad to worse when all 300+ participants were instructed to discuss something from the material - en masse. And then, the speaker played music while we talked so we would know to stop our discussion when the music stopped! WHAAAAAAT?!!!! I couldn't even hear the person beside me, let alone the person across the table from me. I had a massive headache before lunch even began.

Day 2 wasn't much better. Though the venue had changed, I was still sorted into a large auditorium, seated at a large round table along with 200 or so of my colleagues, and forced to endure a 2nd day of inadequate amplification and hearing hell.

I confess, that after working hard to hear and understand for the first hour or two of each day, I succumbed to disinterest and inattention, as did many of my hearing colleagues. It was simply too hard to hear, let alone comprehend. There was too much sound and too much distraction.

I complained to a district administrator, who seemed genuinely concerned about the sound problem. "We didn't even think about how it would sound in here," she said, and she promised that "next year" it would be better. But there was nothing she could do to help this year.

I suppose what we should consider here comes from within our own human nature. When our efforts aren't rewarded with success, we have a tendency to give up. We stop trying when the situation seems useless and our efforts are futile. Listening conditions are important in any meeting, and in our classrooms. Being aware of how sound affects learning is paramount. And we must be conscientious of how that sound affects what we hear, comprehend, and learn. When one has to work too hard at hearing, then listening becomes a problem.

No matter how hard I tried to attend to the meetings, the conditions I was forced to listen in made my efforts worthless. Listening became so hard and so exhausting that I simply quit trying to hear. I just couldn't listen anymore.

There are so many things about hearing that I took for granted before I lost mine. The ability to filter noise and focus on hearing what I want to hear is one of them. I do miss those days. *Sigh*

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