Written for “My story” booklet presentation to London Livery Companies
As a class teacher, I really loved my job. It was so satisfying to see children of all abilities making progress but just as importantly becoming so involved in their work and wanting to do it. I have worked in Education since qualifying as a primary school teacher in 1965. My career included teaching through the age range from nursery to primary aged children and later older children and adults
In 1974, although I had three small children and had just returned to teaching, I began to study with the Open University. I completed the first year of my course then had a year off. After that I did two more years to gain my BA Education degree. The coursework was terrific, and I learned to love education and teaching. While I was working at in an infant’s school, I went to Brentwood College on a two-term course to study maths. It was inspirational. Everything seemed to click, and I found that I could teach what needed to be taught and teach it through things that interested the children.
I became a Deputy Head 1979 and after three years became a Head of a Junior School. I also did a two-term science course at Homerton College in Cambridge every Saturday. This too was interesting and useful. We did some wonderful work in school as a result of this course.
Catastrophe for me struck when in the early 1980’s I realised I couldn’t hear so well. Following a Hearing test, I was given some rehabilitation to help me to recognise what I was hearing and eventually two NHS hearing Aids. Sadly, for me they were useless. I still couldn’t hear the high frequency sounds, but the lower tones were like thunder. As you can imagine working with primary children and with mostly female staff, this was quite a drawback. I didn’t realise it, but I had a profound hearing loss. I always found it so frustrating that no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t hear what the children said.
I had bought private hearing aids in an effort to improve my hearing but unfortunately, although, they were much better I still couldn’t hear well enough to work in the classroom or to hear what was being said in meetings. Through the 1980’s and 1990’s I struggled and although I was good at my job, I felt that my poor hearing was a drain on me and the school. In those days I didn’t tell anyone too much about my hearing. I took my own phone into school and tried as many strategies as I could to cope with my role. I was always tired and had begun to dread large groups and socialising.
Education! Education! Education!
I had really enjoyed doing the Open University and it had revolutionised my teaching. My school had many children with specific learning needs, so I thought I had better find out about the working of the new Education Act. This I did with the Open University and when I had finished, I realised that if I did one more year, I could gain an Advanced Diploma in Special Education, so I took another course on modifying the curriculum. It was brilliant and so relevant to the children I was working with. I spent time working with the children and also working with the teachers. I went on to complete my MA focussing on modifying the curriculum to meet those with special needs. I also took a course to qualify me as a teacher assessor of those with dyslexia. Again, I told no-one about my hearing loss, and I remember my tutor saying that she found it difficult to assess me as I didn’t speak at the group meetings. The reason was I couldn’t hear what was being said and didn’t want to risk making a fool of myself. I still achieved 99% for one part of my research. At this time, I was asked to be an advisory headteacher on a year’s secondment. My role was to support monitor and assess the work of 70+ newly qualified teachers. It was a wonderful job. I had the privilege of going into many schools, of working alongside the young teachers and also putting on courses for them and arranging visits to other schools for them. I still have the box of children’s work that I took with me as samples.
As headteacher of junior schools and as a primary adviser I found great excitement and satisfaction in developing children’s and teacher’s skills, knowledge and expertise. I had great aspirations to become an advisor, but it was not to be – my hearing was just not good enough. By 1995 my hearing was so bad that I couldn’t hear the children or the staff so I thought I should take early retirement. I was 51years old. I thought that I would never teach again but how wrong can you be!!
At first after leaving my work which had filled every minute of the day I was lost, and I realised that I had no confidence at all to go out and do things. Finally, I decided I should do something I was good at, so I worked one to one with children who needed extra tuition, either preparing for private schools’ exams or because they had specific needs. Then I worked part time at a Private school in the learning support department and sadly because of the death of my colleague I ran the department until someone could be appointed.
Help is at hand
When I stopped working there in 2001, I began to go to lipreading classes and eventually went to an advanced class. This was the best thing that I have ever done!!! It was a lifeline for me. My husband has a large company and we entertain widely including people from all over the world. The large functions used to fill me with terror – the thought of trying to listen to what people were saying, to try to make sense of what I was hearing and to try to make intelligent conversation really had me quaking in my shoes and I could often be found in my hotel room trying to pluck up the courage to go down and face this “ordeal”. The lipreading classes gave me strategies to deal with some of the situations and enabled me to read some of the conversation so that I didn’t look like a complete idiot. Most of all being with others in similar situations gave me confidence and I began to tell people that I couldn’t hear very well. This was a major step forward. I even had the courage to become a Trustee of the British Tinnitus Association.
My lipreading teacher had to retire through ill health in 2004 and there was no one to teach the class. Eventually I decided that I would try to get on to a lipreading tutors’ course. There wasn’t another course for 2 years and the course was nearly two years long so that would mean four years before I could start - if I found a job. I was over 60 already. I wrote to Essex Education to see if there was another course I could do. After an interview I was asked to teach straight away – no course. I taught one group, then, added another in Suffolk and then three more classes in Suffolk. When I retired aged 65, I continued to run two local lipreading support groups. I had 30 members. Sadly, this has now dwindled though health issues to 16.
Whilst working in the primary schools I had been studying for a PhD but had found it too tiring and time consuming at the time. I now thought that as I had more time, I would perhaps try again but this time looking at how people learn to lipread. Again, I wrote to the Open University but was told that there was no facility for this but to do the research anyway. I thought about it but decided that it would probably be more use to people if I tried to make a CD to help them to practise lipreading at home. I tried to make the videos myself using my camcorder and put in subtitles with some free downloaded software. A friend (one of my lipreaders) helped me to correlate it all and I produced a CD BUT when I changed my computer, I couldn’t open my CD!!!
Back to the drawing board. At this point my husband stepped in and said, why not produce a website? I was very nervous, but I gave it a go. This time with professional help it was accessible to all computers and later even to iPads and iPhones. I produced the website in three stages. In March 2013, very nervously, I allowed my website – www.lipreading practice.co.uk -to become live. By May 2013 it was page 1 of Google. It only had the consonant sounds videos at this stage. The National Association of Deafened People had found my website and was promoting it for Deaf Awareness week. Amazing! Next, part one of the vowel sounds were added and in January 2014 the final group of sounds were added. I have never advertised my website and I have been staggered by its success and the fact that it is being used worldwide by people unable to go to a class, by people wanting to reinforce their lessons and by professionals as an aid to their lipreading programmes. I am continuing to add to and update it and have now included a section on deaf awareness for hearing people
My voluntary work has taken me to China to speak to 2000 University students and my speech is being used as an inspirational/motivational video. I had the honour to be made a Visiting Professor in recognition of my achievements and outstanding contribution.
I am on Essex County Committees to try to help make life better for those with hearing loss.
I am a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Educators and a Freeman of the City of London.
I am now a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers.
A few years ago I co-operated with Action on Hearing Loss on a project to produce a support package for hard of hearing people who are either in work or returning to work. Some of my video material has been used as part of the package.
What next? - to continue to update and modify my website and to find an effective way of teaching lipreading using a combination of face to face teaching and the internet – who knows what the future will hold? But it is very exciting and although there are still times when I cannot hear very well, there are many times when I can take part in conversations thanks to technology and my lipreading skills. Because of my hearing loss I have found other ways to use my skills.
Never give up there will always be something that you can do but you have to look for it.
Update Feb 2019
In May 21017 one of lipreading students came to our sessions having had a cochlear implant. As she is blind in one eye and losing the sight in another, she desperately needed this to be successful. The difference was amazing! I immediately asked for the name of her consultant and made an appointment to see him. I had the relevant tests and was very tearful to find that I had only 1% hearing in my right ear and 10% in my left ear. I hadn’t realised I had so little hearing no wonder I struggled so much in group situations AND thank God for my lipreading skills. I qualified in both ears for a cochlear implant but decided to just have the operation on my right ear to start with. On July 23rd I left the whole family in Scotland and travelled home to have my cochlear implant op the next morning. When John came to see me in the evening, he told me I looked like Pudsey. The next day I was home and would have to wait about 6 weeks to see if it worked. Switch on day! At first, I thought that it hadn’t worked as I couldn’t distinguish any sounds then after more fiddling by Yu Chen, the technology expert, I began to hear noises – I can only describe it as a cat’s whiskers radio that many people made after the 2nd world war. My uncle Freddie made one and there were lots of squeaks and whistles interspersed with a few words. It took a little longer for me to suddenly realised that the sounds were beginning to sound like Ivy speaking. It was very tinny. I could hear cutlery scraping on the plates; the paper wrappings rustling and every little tap or bang sounds like thunder!! I could even hear the tap running so no more floods hopefully. I could hear the keys as I typed on my computer!! I couldn’t hear speech very well – everything sounded tinny and men and women sounded the same. They sounded as if they have a speech impediment. I sounded very strange too. I could even hear noises behind my back!
I managed to hear Jamie (3 years) say the name of two of his friends yesterday when my son popped in – Freddie and Madeleine (I HOPE).
That night I was very tired last night fell asleep and when I woke up, I couldn’t hear a sound!! I THOUGHT EVERYTHING HAD GONE WRONG and then I remembered that Yu Chen had said the battery was only 40% charged - It had run out. What a wally!
I worked very hard to learn how to hear and to practise hearing people speak against background noises. I worked with my wonderful tutor 2hours 6days a week most weeks. I was always tired, but I knew that I had this wonderful year coming up as The Mistress and I wanted to be as ready as possible to make the most of it.
I found my cochlear implant so marvellous that I decided to have my left ear done too. After tests it showed that my hearing had deteriorated, and I only had 9%hearing now. I really had nothing to lose! In May I had the operation and in June I was switched on. Almost immediately I could hear noises and then I heard the different sounds and very soon could hear my tutor speaking and understand what she was saying. Amazing
Next, I listened to some different sounds to see if I could differentiate between them and I could! Then I was asked to listen to some days of the week spoken by my tutor and by my consultant (a man). I could not only hear the days spoken but tell who had spoken them. It was unbelievable. We were all so happy. My fine tuner was programmed so that both processors could be controlled from one tuner. This would make life easier. Soon my husband and I were on our way home. For the first time ever, we had a conversation in the car!
We had champagne as soon as we arrived home.
Once again, I worked with my tutor for several months, but I learned much more quickly this time and soon I didn’t really need to work with and it’s so lovely to see her now as a friend!
I never cease to be amazed at what I can do now. I am slowly beginning to recognise music even if I don’t already know what the tune is. On the flight home from China three weeks ago I tried to use the headphones whilst watching the films and I could hear!! For many years now I have dreaded using the telephone and John has had to make most of my appointments for me and sort out problems with the utility services etc. I can do this myself now, and I’m going to get to the point where I ring up just for a chat very soon, I’m sure.
I feel very lucky to have been able to have two cochlear implants and I feel that I have been given my life back and that I have my personality back too. Hearing loss makes you withdraw to some extent from the world for fear of making mistakes and looking silly and because you don’t know what is going on. The cochlear implant is available on the NHS and I believe the criteria for them is being lowered. I understand that you need to qualify for both ears and will then be given one cochlear implant. Again, I hope this is changing. I was so fortunate to be able to afford the operations and the follow up support. The follow up support is not so available on the NHS and really it is a false economy because with the support the cochlear becomes so much more useful.
I shall continue to raise awareness for deaf and hard of hearing people and will try to make video clips available for those with cochlear implants to practise sound recognition and following sentences. Fast speech is difficult as you have to recognise and process it before understanding comes. There is a limit to what can be processed by your cochlear as it a machine. If speech is too fast the machine cannot cope. But mostly it is marvellous.
Two things; lipreading classes and aids; either hearing aids or cochlear implants; coupled with the support of deaf aware people around you, make such a difference to the quality of all aspects of your life and to the contribution that you can make to society!
Never Give UP!
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