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Interview: William G. Vicars


Interviewee:  William G. Vicars EdD. (a.k.a. Dr. Bill)
Interviewer:  Christa Carver
[Updated and edited upon occasion!]

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 genera 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. >

Interview Questions

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 term "Deaf" or the term "hard of hearing" depending on the person's preferences.  I may have a "hearing impairment," but what I am is "Deaf."  That is my "cultural identity."  I was born hard of hearing. As the years go by I become more and more physically deaf.  Sometimes I identify myself as "Deaf/hh" as a way of indicating that I'm a member of the Deaf community and yet acknowledging that I have the physiological characteristics of a hard of hearing person.  This is a cultural issue. In general, individuals who are members of the Deaf community tend to simply refer to themselves as "Deaf" or "hard of hearing," but not "hearing impaired."  Some even consider the term to be offensive.

I was born hard of hearing ("congenital hearing loss").

The doctors are not sure of the cause (etiology) of my hearing loss. 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 am comfortable 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 public schools. I was at time's placed into "special" classrooms.

3. What was your general academic experience like in elementary school? In jr. high and high school?

At some point in elementary school I was placed in the "slow learner group."  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 hard."

The real answer is I often 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 any idea what we were supposed to draw (since I couldn't hear the instructions), 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 by looking at their papers. 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 playing that sort of "game."

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 hearing aids.

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 understood 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 rocketed 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 (terminology update: "developmentally delayed") --and THEY called ME slow?

My grades improved so much that they actually 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 almost all of what she said (too far away for me to lip-read since I also don't see very well). 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 understood the question, 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?"

The other students snickered as Mr. Reed rolled his eyes, shook his head "no" and moved on to Darla, the girl sitting in front of me. He asked her the same question, but this time (fourth time was the charm) I finally caught the question: "Who was Merlin?"

The easiest question of the whole review. Gee, that Vicars kid must really be dumb!

The next day though the actual test was in written format. I aced it.
Gee that Vicars kid is a real smart-aleck, (or worse -- a cheater!).

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 understand or follow 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 Services. 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 students?

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?

If they are Deaf then use sign language and provide an interpreter or consider enrollment at an actual school (or at least a day-program) for the Deaf.  If the decision is made to "mainstream" then:

A. Encourage the child to sit up front and slightly off center, (with their better ear toward the teacher). This allows the student to more easily turn to see other students in class as they ask questions.
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 themselves.

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 persist. 

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 anymore. 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 too.)

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 of learning.

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 "Deaf Community."

Are you still teaching classes in the area? If so, can I please get a schedule? Thanks so much for everything!

Christa Carver
(email address on file)





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