Patti Anderegg, New York

Patti Anderegg, 53, has spent her entire teaching career at PS 47 School for the Deaf in lower Manhattan. She feels the relationships she forged with her deaf students are much more personal than what teachers of hearing students can ever expect. She loves her job, and in her role doing job placement for graduating seniors she finds jobs for kids where they might flourish, too.

"I've worked at the School for the Deaf for 31 years. My mother was a Teacher's Aide here and had a lot of deaf friends, and when I was a kid I'd come and meet her friends and hang around.
“I was a classroom teacher for the first 18 years and I’ve been Transition Coordinator for the last 13 years: I help the graduating students get jobs, I help them transfer to agencies, I help them go to college -- whatever they need to transfer out of the system.

"About 10 years ago the school started accepting hearing students, and I’d never worked with hearing students before. I was only used to deaf students, and deaf students are generally, I don’t want to say easy, but they’re very pleasant to teach, and the classes were smaller , maybe six to eight students, which is a wonderful size class to teach.
"It’s a more intimate relationship, teaching deaf kids, because you really become part of their lives. They often come from homes where the parents don’t sign, so I have parents call me up and say, 'Tell him this ... tell him his grandmother died.' I mean, it’s really sad. And because you’re the person who can talk to them and the parents can’t, you become a very intimate part of the children’s lives, and they really, really open up to you because of that.
"Also, they miss a lot of incidental learning that hearing students get at home, so you become very important to them. There're a lot of obvious things hearing students know that deaf students don’t, so I was constantly, constantly teaching them things they didn’t know.

"For instance, they never know the family dynamics -- who the cousins are, who their relatives are -- they just don’t know. And if there's tension in the house, they don't know what's causing it.

"They don't know things like filing taxes or banking stuff -- all kinds of things that you don't necessarily learn in school, but you pick up from your parents. Like, they don't know what a credit card is: they see their parent use a credit card, and they think it's free money; they don't know you have to pay back the bill.

"Discipline used to be very easy, and the kids liked me, but when hearing students came in, the school really changed. The classes became larger, and you needed to do more classroom management. I’m a product of Catholic school, so I have it in me to do it, but I really don’t like it, because you have to be almost mean sometimes to get the kids to behave; if you don’t they walk all over you. I mean, most of these kids don’t have fathers at home and a lot of the hearing students here have deaf parents, so they're not used to a lot of discipline at home -- they take advantage of their parents, because their parents can’t hear. So in the last 10 years, if I take over a class, I’ve had to use a lot of discipline techniques, which I wasn’t used to at all and I had to learn. Now I'm one of the stricter teachers!

"I think as I've become older and more self-confident, I've definitely become a better teacher; I don’t try to be the student’s friend anymore. I think when you're a new teacher you do that a little too much; I see the new teachers do it now. In the long run the kids really don’t respect you for it, but you don’t understand that when you're a young teacher. But you sometimes have to tell a student something they don’t like, and you have to be pretty firm with them. If you aren't, you're not doing them any favors.

"Working in job placement at the school, I'm working mostly with deaf kids who are immigrants. They've been in the country a few years but they're functionally illiterate. They're just learning American Sign Language, so they're not the easiest kids to place because they're not high functioning. But they're not mentally disabled -- they're capable of learning, though they’re very educationally deprived.

"Immigrant deaf kids often don't go to school in their countries for more than a year or two. Or they'll go to a school, but it won't be a school for the deaf and they just sit there and they're not learning anything. So when they come over here, the first thing you have to do for six months to a year is teach them how to communicate, which means teaching them American Sign Language, which they generally pick up pretty quickly. After you teach them that, you have to try and teach them some functional English, so they can do SOME kind of reading and writing. But you know, they're never going to be able to read a whole novel or anything. In my 31 years of teaching, I've never seen that.

"There was one girl in particular, a Chinese immigrant, who started school for the first time, ever, when she was 18, and she stayed with us till she was 21. I got her a job working in the stock room at Banana Republic, and she's now the jewelry specialist there. If you walked in, you'd think she was the store manager! She's hired there, full time with bennies, and she looks like a lawyer!

"I'm very positive with the kids, very encouraging, and always telling them they can do it. And really, they can! They're bright kids, they just need to break out of the inner city, and see there’s a whole world out there."


©Zina Saunders 2008–2014