How to Survive Mainstream School

It's been repeated at many a deaf education workshop that mainstreaming continues to be the primary option for most deaf and hard of hearing students. There's still this thing about Least Restrictive Environment and how it's interpreted.

To most people, Least Restrictive Environment means Yay! Look how little Johnny fits in with the hearing kids!

One thing these people forget is that there's a big difference between fitting in and belonging. I've said this many times and it bears repeating:

Fitting in requires effort. It's exhausting and you can also argue that it's not genuine because it involves trying to win other people's approval.

Belonging is a far more rewarding phenomenon where you can kick back, be yourself, and know you are accepted. This is far more authentic and often happens in the presence of one's true peers.

Not enough people understand this, unfortunately. So if you're a deaf mainstreamed student and you're holding your own academically, you're not going to get much help in other areas that are just as important to your overall wellbeing.

With that in mind I've put together this list on How to Survive Mainstream School. It's based on actual techniques that have been utilized in the past. If you're a deaf mainstreamed student or you know someone who is, feel free to print these closely guarded secrets and use them as you see fit:

1. If you have a hearing aid, try your best to keep it concealed. The last thing you want is to look different.

2. During recess or lunch, hang out with a group of kids even if you don’t understand them. Mimic their body language. Smile when they smile, laugh when they laugh. Pull off a few successful one-on-one conversations so that no one suspects you’re totally lost in groups.

3. Agree wholeheartedly when adults marvel at how you “fit in just like any other normal kid.”

4. Think like a secret agent. Search for clues in the library if there’s something you missed in class. You can even recruit double agents—trusted friends who know you can’t hear. Check with them daily for lost information (homework assignments, special announcements, etc). But maintain a low profile and be careful not to blow your cover. Remember, you need to assimilate into the mainstream.

5. If a teacher asks you something and you don’t understand, you can get away with asking him or her to repeat one time. If you misunderstand a second time, it’s best to shrug “I dunno” and be done with it. It’s much better to look stupid than to look deaf. (There are plenty other stupid people in your school. How many other deaf people are there? Exactly.)

6. Don’t be so obvious when attempting to lipread your teachers. Don’t crane your neck in sync with whichever direction your teacher is pacing—that’s a dead giveaway. Instead, nonchalantly scribble in your notebook as if you’ve got everything under control. Look calm, casual, and even slightly bored (remember: assimilate!). You can always consult with your double agent later to find out what you missed.

7. Be mindful that hearing people have this strange affinity for music. It’s very important to them and you’re probably going to wind up in choir class sooner or later. You thus have two options: One, assimilate with the rebels by cutting class. You might wind up hanging out with the Goths or Stoners but the trade-off is worth it. Two, if you have any amount of residual hearing that allows you to pull this off, become an expert lip-syncher and Milli Vanilli your way through the Spring Concert. Yes, this is stupid. But remember, it’s your job to fit in.

8. When you get home after a long day at school, act like a typical teenager when your parents ask how your day went: “Fine.” Then go up to your room and give yourself a well-earned break. It takes an incredible amount of energy to fool people all day long. But it’s all good—after all, you assimilated.

9. If rules 1 through 8 seem ridiculous, you’re right. Ignore them and jump right to rules 10 and 11 if you want to make life easier.

10. Walk into your principal’s office and tell him or her that it’s insane to allow this charade to continue. Obtain a copy of Gina Oliva’s Alone in the Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School. Give it to your principal and any of the people who insist you’re “just like any other normal kid.” Tell them straight-up: This is exactly how I feel.

11. Now you’re in good position to request a sign language interpreter, assistive listening devices, a notetaker, and/or any other means of accessibility from which you stand to benefit the most. If this doesn’t work, contact the nearest deaf / hard of hearing advocacy group and have them vouch for you. If you have to fight for your rights, you shouldn’t have to fight alone.

There you have it. I hope you enjoyed this list. If there’s anything to be learned from it, it’s the fact there’s nothing wrong with being different. I prefer to call it being unique. It takes a lot of courage, I know. But a delightful new world opens up when you dare to be exactly who you are. Good luck!


Return to Deaf Culture Online