The 4 Biggest Mistakes Itinerants MakeJun 09, 2021
Are you an Itinerant Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing? This job can be tough! There isn’t a lot of training out there on how to be an ITINERANT Teacher of the Deaf. And, yet, this role is VERY different from a classroom Teacher of the Deaf position. To add to the challenge of not having formal training on how to do the job, many times as an itinerant, you are just given the job, without much direction, support or resources. This is because the person who gives you the job usually has no experience as an itinerant and you may be the only itinerant teacher in the district.
As the Founder of the Online Itinerant, I connect with literally hundreds of itinerant teachers regularly and hear their frustrations and their challenges. You are feeling frustrated in this role, you are not alone! And, if you are new to the role, I have some tips to offer to help you.
Below are, in my opinion, the biggest mistakes that itinerants make when it comes to providing Itinerant services to DHH students.
1: They allow themselves to be an island of one.
“Success is 80% psychology and 20% from mechanics.”
- Tony Robbins
Have you ever heard the term “Critical Mass?” Critical mass is defined as “the number of students in a classroom, program or school that share common characteristics and that is sufficient to support direct interaction opportunities. ” Critical mass helps build a stronger identity, role models, self-esteem, and a better “concept of self.” While we tend to think about the need for critical mass as it relates to the needs of DHH students, DHH Teachers also suffer the impact of being isolated. Oftentimes, itinerant teachers are the only one in their district or area of the state - which can feel very overwhelming and lonely. Even in areas that have a team of Itinerant Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, caseloads are so large that there is rarely time to connect and support each other. Lack of critical mass, and feelings of isolation, will minimize your identity, cause low esteem, impact your “concept of self” and make you question your role and impact.
Being able to have a strong psychological presence and a state of confidence, balance and the ability to reduce stress when things start to feel out of control, will help you provide quality services through the itinerant model. Being able to support that need will account for 80% of your success as an itinerant teacher.
How do you solve this issue of isolation? You schedule time to get together and “case consult” with other DHH teachers. Taking half a day each month will empower your services immensely.
Don’t have time to take a half a day each month? Get creative. Schedule time early in the morning or a time that everyone is on the road at the same time. Consider a conference call while you are driving.
Don’t know anyone to connect with? That’s why I created the Professional Academy. I invite you to hang out with us, where the community is built on a regular basis with Monday Power Hours and monthly Meetups.
Any connection with another colleague provides value, support, shared resources and increased knowledge - giving you confidence, balance and the ability to reduce stress when things start to feel out of control. You need this.
2. Their schedule isn’t maximized.
Having domain over your schedule and having ongoing easily accessible materials at your fingertips for all students lightens your load and lightens your burden.
So many itinerant teachers have crazy schedules, causing them to feel scattered, frustrated, and unorganized. You feel like you are spinning your wheels and going in circles - and you probably are!
You need to master your schedule so that YOU control IT. IT does not control YOU.
If you see multiple kids in the same school, it makes sense to see them all on the same day. If you have two districts close to each other, work to see those students on the same day.
I know, it seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes schools request certain days or times that would require you to come when it is really not convenient. Many Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing are natural people pleasers and will make accommodations for this.
It’s okay for you to stick to your own schedule. Accommodating others is good, but you must give yourself limits on what you can and can’t do. When I finally decided to take control of my schedule and I gave my elementary schools a choice of 2 or 3 times that worked within my schedule, every single one of them made it work. I was amazed - all those years driving in circles were over - and I celebrated.
3. They don’t build in time to observe
Do you have time for observations and consultations built into your schedule?
If you don’t, I encourage you to start adding this to your IEPs as they come up. Subtract a few service times a year for each student you have and replace it with time for observation and consultation. These observations will give you a real world picture of a student’s generalized skills and needs.
Time for consultation is imperative for other staff to understand the needs of your DHH students and to partner with you in working toward, and generalizing, skills. In addition, it gives you visibility and builds others’ understanding of your role and how you support your students.
Visibility comes in the form of observation of your student through your presence in the classroom. With your elementary students that you see weekly, I personally recommend that you build observation into your IEP at least once a month. This provides so much additional information on how your student is doing. Are they keeping up? Are they socializing with peers? Are there many interactions? How are their peers accepting them? Is the level of instruction appropriate? Is the student able to access everything that’s happening? Are they generalizing the skills that you are working on into the classroom?
Don’t get me wrong - I get it. Nobody likes to be observed, right? The secret sauce to this process is not looking like you are observing, but instead building observation into your involvement in the classroom.
When in the room, avoid staying in the back, but instead come during work time so that you can walk around and interact with the students. You may even work out an opportunity to facilitate a small group activity that would involve your student as well as others. I’ve even done push-in services through this format. This may look like a math group, reading group, or art project. This is a great way to get to know students. Your friendly presence in the classroom can break down invisible barriers and which will make you more approachable not only to the other students but also to the teacher.
This alone tends to break down any negativity and stigma that your DHH student may feel in working with you. Often times DHH students resent getting pulled out of their classroom. In my experience, this little action of being involved in the classroom virtually makes that stigma disappear. I’ve noticed that the more I am accepted into the classroom, the more excited the DHH student is to come and work with me, and often the other students request to join us.
Being able to observe your DHH student in his classroom community brings much to the table in terms of discussion and how you support the village in meeting his needs.
4. They don’t gift their students with enough responsibility
Enlisting the village also includes enlisting the student. When your students are enlisted in the process, they are empowered. When students are empowered, they have more power to advocate for themselves and a stronger identity of who they are. They are able to be involved in building capacity for their own education.
How do you empower students? Here are 5 steps to this process.
- Build a strong self identity (students who don’t feel good about who they are don’t advocate.)
- Listen to how they are feeling
- Let them identity their needs
- Support their self-advocacy in ways that complement their personality style
- Give them small tasks that build their power
I’ll never forget the day I was observing my student. The teacher gave an assignment and all the students in class stood up to get a piece of paper to get started. I watched as the student sat in her seat and her interpreter delivered her paper to her. Then the student handed the interpreter a pencil. I watched in horror as the interpreter proceeded to sharpen her pencil for her. When the student looked at the assignment and realized she didn’t know what to do - you guessed it, the interpreter came over and helped her step by step through the assignment.
I began to watch my other students and see that this student's lack of responsibility for herself wasn’t isolated. And it wasn’t only isolated to my students who had interpreters. I realized that this lack of independence was present in the majority of my students, although it looked different for each one.
It’s important to know that students will have a hard time advocating for themselves if they don’t feel good about themselves and who they are. Building a strong self-identity is critical for anyone. DHH students often struggle from a weak self concept and low self esteem. They also get used to other people “doing for them,” requiring little of them doing for themselves, such as asking for help, problem solving, or communicating with others. This doesn’t empower students, nor does it help them feel strong about who they are.
The best way to help build self-esteem and a strong self-concept is to get kids together with others who like them as they are - and especially if you can connect kids with others who are like them. If you don’t know other kids you can connect personally with your students, you can still do this by reading blogs of others, watching youtube channels, reading Deaf Character books and reading articles about other DHH kids and adults. The more you can show, the better.
When you connect with your students, get a sense of how they are feeling about what’s happening in their classroom, not only with their teacher but also their peers. (This is much more easily done when you have been able to spend time in the classroom.) Oftentimes, students don’t realize the impact of their hearing loss and how it is impacting them. They also don’t do anything about it but wait for others to fix things.
When you talk through different strategies that can support and improve the issue, ask the student how they want to work with the issue. Together, talk through the needs and discuss what your student could do to help resolve the issue. It is important to find a way that your student feels comfortable. This might be talking with a teacher after school instead of during class, sending an email, having the teacher make a change in a subtle way that others don’t notice (such as changing seating arrangements, etc.), or making a change on their own that others don’t notice. When you have coached a student through this (COACHED being the operative word here), give them one small role in this process while you help support with the rest.
When you give them this role, you are giving them some power over their own situation. This is very empowering. For every success, celebrate. If it doesn’t work out, reassess and try again.
The most important thing is to build into your students the expectation that they have a role in this whole gig. It’s not about waiting for others to do for them, but building up the knowledge and empowerment that they can stear their own ship. Not only does this build up the skills they need for their future success, but it also helps you lighten your load as you can advocate less and they advocate more!
Fix these things, and the magic happens......
When you, as an Itinerant Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, have a community of others to support you, the ability to maximize your schedule, the opportunity to spend time in the classroom, and knowledge of how to empower your students, you’ll experience confidence to own your role, more time to do what only you can do, opportunity to see your student in action and ability to better support their teacher, and students that have a strong self-identity and ability to advocate for their needs.
And when you have all those things, you have mastered the role of the Itinerant Teacher of the Deaf.
Can you relate?
If you can relate to any of these issues, I want you to know that you are not alone. In fact, that's why I created the Professional Academy. As a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing, you never have enough resources. That is why you have to be really judicious on what you try because it can be overwhelming and, let's face it, you're already functioning at capacity with that crazy caseload and schedule you have.
The Professional Academy was created to give you all the community and resources that you need to rock this job. We have trainings on each of these topics, plus it connects you with others who are doing the same thing. And we have an app - so you can easily access the community and resources from your phone.
It costs less than your average annual conference but your membership lasts all year long.
The Professional Academy was built to give you the confidence and the tools to rock your job. Everything you need is built into one low price.