Tami Assouline, Yehud Comprehensive High School
(as told to Naomi)
I’ve been teaching Sign Language to “hearing” students for more than 20 years. At the beginning of every new semester, the students are always surprised when they realize that their new teacher is profoundly Deaf , doesn’t use her voice, and there is no interpreter in class. I have never needed an interpreter during these lessons. I get the students to look at me, really look at me, and then they realize that they can understand me. As I teach them basic signs, such as colors and names of animals, they are also learning about communication and inclusion.
Then, suddenly, from one day to the next, I had to start teaching my classes remotely. I didn’t know anything about Zoom nor did I really know the students. The second semester had begun a short while before and my new classes had not yet adjusted to the way lessons with me are conducted.
I was in a state of shock!
I had no idea what to do and asked my son for help. Despite his explanations before my first lesson, I called him over urgently when the lesson actually began and asked: “Where are the students? Why can’t I see them? What are these black boxes?!”
The students weren’t turning on their cameras.
I can’t communicate with the students if I can’t see them.
You can’t teach sign language via a chatbox.
It turned out that involving the homeroom teachers and even the coordinator to get the students to turn on their cameras wasn’t enough to smooth out communication problems that never existed in my lessons before. My husband and children were also using Zoom, the internet was slow and the connection froze for a second now and then. Missing out for even a second is enough to completely miss a hand movement, and cause confusion which led to frustration for everyone. Time was wasted until misunderstandings were cleared up and progress was slow.
The addition of an interpreter to the lessons changed everything. She could hear what the students were saying and alert me as needed and could voice what I was signing when it was needed.
While I always use a lot of drama in my lessons, I found that for remote learning I needed to be extremely theatrical and invent additional games so as to hold the students’ attention. I found these lessons to be far more exhausting than the ones in school.
A funny thing happened one lesson; I was teaching and some of the students were reclining on sofas or even in bed. Suddenly I see more and more students jumping to their feet and standing as straight as they could. That’s unusual! Then I realized that the principal had joined the lesson!
I invited him to stay and learn some new signs but he had to go visit other Zoom lessons.
I’m very glad to be teaching at school again!