Constructions of Educational Meaning in the Narratives of Four Deaf Women Teachers

Article excerpt

Deaf teachers bring unique perspectives to the teaching of deaf and hard of hearing students, yet their "voices" have been recognized in neither sociological, psychological, nor philosophical accounts of education and deafness. In the present ethnographic study, narrative analysis is used to frame a description of how four deaf women make sense of their lives as teachers as they disclose their beliefs concerning teaching, their deafness, and their connection with the Deaf community.

Educational research that elicits women teachers' narratives has gained momentum in recent years (Casey, 1989, 1990, 1993; Nelson, 1983; Spencer, 1986), yet the "voices" of ordinary deaf teachers have never been "heard" in the larger social domain.

The value of deaf teachers is asserted in terms of their positive psychosocial identity (Stevens, 1980; Vernon & Andrews 1990), increased teaching effectiveness (Serwatka, Anthony, & Simon, 1986), American Sign Language (ASL) fluency (Johnson, Liddell, & Erting, 1989), and Deaf culture membership (Paul & Quigley, 1990; Saylor, 1992). National recommendations to recruit deaf students to teacher preparation programs verify the importance of the unique perspectives and abilities deaf persons bring to the social and psychological development of deaf and hard of hearing children (Bowe, 1991; Commission on Education of the Deaf, 1988; Coryell, 1989). Although several demographic profiles of deaf teachers yield interesting descriptive data (Corbett & Jensema, 1981; Jensema, 1977; Mobley, 1991), interpretive narrative analysis can facilitate understanding of how deaf teachers perceive themselves as teachers (Bogdan & Bicklen, 1983; Denzin, 1989).

How do the experiences of deaf teachers differ from those of their hearing counterparts? How do female individuals who are deaf make sense of their lives as teachers and as women? How do they respond to the deficit construction of deafness so often imposed upon them by hearing society? How do they (re)construct significance within the Deaf community?

In the present article, I discuss ways in which four deaf women teachers "author" the meaning of their own lives, and analyze the metaphors of teaching they have constructed in their narrative interviews. The narratives constitute a portion of a larger study of 27 deaf teachers in the southeastern United States. Of the 27 teachers interviewed, 18 were women. Narratives were collected in semistructured, videotaped interviews I conducted in Pidgin Sign English (PSE). Typewritten transcripts were subsequently analyzed for implicit and explicit expressions of educational values in metaphorical form (Kliebard, 1975). Although expositions of curricular metaphors continue to proliferate in educational literature, it is rare for such analyses to situate constructions of educational meaning within specific communities (Casey, 1990; Page, 1990). It is within the interpretive and social community of deafness that I explore the social selves of four women teachers as they respond to the societal and institutional contexts that shape their lives. The four narratives analyzed in the present study highlight differences in experiences and perceptions of educational and social constructions of deafness among members of the community of teachers who are deaf.

Four Teachers

Martha, Rachel, Sarah, and Tina (all four names are pseudonyms) bring diverse backgrounds to their narratives. An exposition of age of onset of deafness, family history of deafness, and social memberships frames one's understanding of the parameters of each teacher's construction of educational meaning and emphasizes the implication of peer socialization in validating collective identity. The educational and professional backgrounds of the teachers are depicted in Table 1; aspects of each teacher's membership in Deaf culture are outlined in Table 2.

Martha

Martha, whose hearing loss was discovered when she was 3 years old, has two deaf siblings, a deaf niece, and a deaf nephew. …