Interviewee: Bill Vicars
Interviewer: Christa Carver
Subj: Re: Education Interview
In a message dated 12/1/98 7:03:07 PM, you wrote:
You have been someone I have admired since I first met you and that
is why I wanted to interview you. I have composed a list of basic
questions. I realize they are very generalistic and may not even be
applicable, so feel free to edit, add and/or expound on them. Thank
you so much for your time and willingness to help.
1. Background information- Were you born with a hearing impairment?
If not, how did it occur?
Let me first suggest that even though it may in some circles be "politically
correct" to use the term "hearing impaired," I recommend you
instead use the terms "hard of hearing" and "Deaf." I
may have a "hearing impairment," but what I am is
"hard of hearing." This is a cultural issue. In general,
individuals who are members of the Deaf community tend to refer to
themselves as "Deaf" or "hard of hearing," not
I was born hard of hearing. (Congenital hearing impairment)
The doctors are not sure of the cause (etiology) of my hearing impairment.
I personally feel it was the result of being born two months premature.
Interesting events surrounded my birth. The doctor was preparing to abort me
due to complications that threatened my mother's life. Before commencing
surgery though, he needed more of my mother's type of blood. There was not
enough in that particular hospital, so the highway patrol was bringing it
posthaste from a hospital in another city. It was a race to see who would
arrive first. I won.
They put me in an incubator for two months. In order to bring me home, my
parents converted a very small closet into an incubator where I spent many
months. To this day I like sleeping in small enclosed spaces.
2. Did you attend all of your schooling in the public school system?
If not, when did you attend public school and where else did you
attend? How did your experiences in the different schools compare?
I attended only public schools.
3. What was your general academic experience like in elementary
school? In jr. high and high school?
After a year or two in elementary school I was placed in the "slow
I recall a meeting where I was surrounded by administrators, counselors, and
my parents. Looking back I felt like they were the Gestapo interrogating me.
They asked me a question and listed off several choices. "Are you not
doing your schoolwork because:
You don't want to?
It is too hard?
You don't like the teacher?
You'd rather play around?"
I don't know about how you would have responded to that line of questioning
when you were in second grade, but I distinctly remember asking myself,
"What answer do they want to hear?" Choosing the answer that
carried the least personal culpability I responded, "It is too
The real answer is I had no clue what my school work was. I recall sitting
in class and watching my teacher give an art assignment. We were supposed to
draw something. I didn't have a clue what we were supposed to draw, but that
we had to draw it before we could go to recess. So I had to wait around
until my contemporaries had completed enough of their artwork for me to
figure out what the assignment was. I would wait till the teacher wasn't
looking then I'd stand up and look over the shoulder of the kid in front of
me to see what he was drawing. A tree. Got it. So I'd draw a tree and hope
that was the assignment.
I spent my entire childhood in search of a clue.
Around the fourth grade I remember going to an audiologist. Apparently the
powers that be had figured me out and realized I wasn't mentally slow, but
rather I was unable to hear what was going on around me. They gave me
I took to hearing aids like a fish takes to roller blades.
Eventually though, I did start wearing them.
The counselors also informed my teachers to sit me up near the front and to
make sure I heard the assignments. An obvious and wonderful thing happens
when a child is given access to the information and opportunity he needs to
succeed. My academic performance expanded faster than the WWW and my
teachers were amazed.
Now think about this for a bit. It took them several years to figure out
that I was hard of hearing rather than mentally retarded--and THEY called ME
My grades improved so much that they put me in the academically gifted and
talented program. This meant being bussed to a different school for part of
the day. Not long after the "gifted program" started, the teacher
explained an assignment to the class. Of course, I missed much of what she
said. So I leaned over and asked my classmate what the assignment was. The
teacher bawled me out for talking in class. This embarrassed me considerably
and my motivation to please her went to zero. That evening I informed my
parents that I would not be going back to that class.
Such experiences became part of my daily fare. I'll share another example.
Have you read about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table? I did. I
loved it. I really enjoyed reading because it did not require a functional
set of ears. So I excelled in my literature classes. On the day before the
big test, the teacher was giving us an oral review. He went up and down the
rows asking us questions pertaining to the "King Arthur" story.
When it got to be my turn he was reviewing chapter three. He asked me,
"Who was murdered?" Not being sure I heard him right, I asked him
to repeat it. He cleared his throat and asked the same question. My mind
raced. No one was "murdered" in that chapter! The only one who
even died was "Griflet." So I asked again for a clarification of
the question. This time the teacher rolled his eyes as he yet again asked me
a third time, "Who was murdered?" Seeing that he and quite a
number of my classmates were out of patience with me I offered, "Griflet?"
A chorus of snickers went up as Mr. Reed indicated the inaccuracy of my
answer before moving on to Darla, the girl sitting in front of me. He asked
her the same question, but this time I finally heard it clearly, "Who
The easiest question of the whole review. Gee, that Vicars kid must really
The next day though the actual test was in written format. I aced it.
Gee that Vicars kid is a real smart-aleck.
4. What was your general social experience like in elementary
school? In jr. high and high school?
The word to describe it would be frustration. I couldn't hear during group
conversations so I resigned myself to being pretty much a loner.
I had a good friend though whom I enjoyed chatting with when there wasn't
much background noise. I also had a terrific girlfriend. It's
funny, she was "legally blind" without her glasses. We got
along great though. Wonderful young lady.
5. What, if any programs or services were available to you in the
public school system?
The district had an audiologist. He was a nice fellow.
6. Do you feel there could have been services or programs provided
that would have helped you?
Better screening--"early intervention" type programs. We need more
extra-curricular programs that you don't need good hearing to succeed at.
For example, I finally discovered the game of chess and became the chess
champ of my school. That did wonders for my self esteem.
7. Did you experience any transitional services?
Fortunately an aunt referred me to "The Division of Rehabilitation Se
They provided me with the initial tuition to attend college. Once there I
earned an academic scholarship. My school counselor should have been the one
to refer me to rehabilitation services. My life would have been drastically
less enjoyable and less productive if I had never attended college.
8. How did teachers help you in your learning? What effective
strategies did they use?
I loved those that provided multi-channel input. The more visual the better.
9. Were there any instances of inappropriate behavior by teachers or
I spent so much time trying to hide the fact that I was hard of hearing.
Children are often cruel to other children who are different. I did my best
to not become a target.
Most of my teachers genuinely cared about their students. Ninety-nine
percent of any inappropriate behavior from the teachers was the result of
ignorance not apathy or meanness.
10. What would you suggest teachers in the elementary grades and
the jr. high and high school grades do to assist [deaf and hard of hearing]
students academically, socially?
A. Encourage the child to sit up front and slightly off center, (with their
good ear toward the teacher).
B. Make sure assignments are provided in written form as well as oral.
C. Ask the child open-ended questions that require full answers instead of
"yes" or "no." For example, don't ask, "Do you
understand?" Instead ask, "What is the assignment?"
D. Provide the child with a written list the names of all the other students
in class. Teachers sometimes have the students take turns introducing
themselves orally. This is a time of extreme frustration for a hard of
hearing student. He only catches a few of the names. It would be much better
if he could simply follow down a list as the students introduce themselves.
Or have the students write their names on the blackboard before introducing
11. Are there any programs or services you would recommend for
[deaf and hard of hearing students] students?
Foster a love of reading. Provide them with a wide gamut of reading choices,
so that the child can find a topic or type of reading material that he is
interested in. Then you should go gangbusters to supply him with that
reading material. For me it was comic books. I used to spend every quarter I
could scrounge up on comics.
My vocabulary expanded exponentially. Once I had the vocabulary, my reading
choices broadened to include a wide variety of topics. As you know, the
ability to read well is one of the strongest predictors of academic success.
Anybody out there want to trade comics? Let me know.
12. Do you have any memorable school experiences that may be
informative or helpful?
I recall fondly the district audiologist. His name was Jerry. He was always
very kind to me. Even though he couldn't work miracles or anything, it was
nice to have someone to talk to once in a while. Also I recall my
parents--particularly my mother--spending hours reading to me and with me.
I'm sure there were times when I protested, but she had the fortitude to
I remember a radical young third-grade teacher by the name of Ms. Tingey.
She was innovative and unconventional to an extreme. She was the best
teacher I ever had. The district fired her, but not before she delivered to
me an insatiable desire to learn more than was required. I still have a book
that she gave away as an incentive in one of her never-ending schemes to get
us to learn. She had posted a very small ad amongst the various information
on her bulletin board. The ad said, "If you read this, go tell Ms.
Tingey." So I went to her and she announced to the class that she was
giving me a reward because I had made the effort to seek out additional
information above and beyond the assignment.
She did that sort of thing constantly. I remember her last day with us. She
told us that she wouldn't be teaching us any more. Then she challenged us to
keep learning and growing. Time has ravaged my memory of the words she
spoke, but I'll always remember the passion for learning that she instilled
in me that day.
She and others inspired me to become an "autodidact." (Look
autodidact up in the dictionary and you will be on your way to becoming one
I share these examples with you to point out how profound and long lasting
the influence you can have on a child. You can be the beacon of light, the
stepping stone, or the guiding hand that leads a child to a life-long a love
Any other comments?
Every school district should have a sign language program or class
available. My life improved dramatically when I learned ASL and joined the
Are you still teaching classes in the area? If so, can I please get
a schedule? Thanks so much for everything!
(email address on file)