Bowen Tang

Homework Support, Math Essentials & Senior Math Instructor at Sylvan Learning School
BEd Secondary Option (Mathematics, 2013) — Will be attending Smith College for a Master of Education of the Deaf

Bowen Tang

I completed the BEd program in November 2013, specializing in Math at the secondary level. It has been my passion to be an educator and, more specifically, an educator for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing because of my background as a person with a severely profound hearing loss. My condition falls under the Special Education category, which requires an MEd to teach; to be eligible for an MEd, I had to first complete the BEd program. I was fortunate to be part of a Dual Degree program offered by the Faculties of Science and Education, so my teaching journey began in May 2010. I have to be honest in saying that, when I first entered the program, I did not consider teaching a regular classroom of 30 hearing students, but after an observation and a successful 2-week practicum experience, I began envisioning this possibility as part of my career path. In the spring of 2013, I started the extended practicum, but things took a turn for the worse.

A classroom is considered a difficult listening environment for a person with a hearing loss, particularly one as severe as mine. It takes me twice the amount of effort to understand what is being said in a quiet setting and even more in a noisy environment of 30 students. I came into the practicum with a good level of confidence and my lesson plans and activities ready to implement. That confidence began collapsing when I could not maintain the attention of my students during class because I could not hear that students were talking. There are certain sound levels that are beyond my listening range, so I am not always aware whether there are noises in the classrooms. Additionally, I would often miss what students said and it did not help when they do not identify themselves when speaking. This led to many misunderstandings, which naturally lowered my credibility as an authority figure. Soon, this becomes a classroom management issue for which I could not come up with a strategy, and eventually I started performing poorly in other areas.

Moments where I only had self-defeating thoughts were frequent. I kept telling myself that there was nothing more I could do to rectify the situation. My tendency to keep feelings to myself also made it difficult to communicate with my school advisors. I was at times frustrated at not being able to make them understand the challenges that I faced. It was evident that this practicum would not work out. Thankfully, after consulting the Teacher Education Office, I was given the option of deferring my practicum so that I could start afresh.

In September, I was placed in a different school with a reduced load so that I would not be as fatigued in listening to 6 different classes. This time, reflecting on what happened in the last practicum, I was prepared with strategies to address the classroom management issue. I started the first class with an unfair hearing test in which I provided students with earplugs and they had to write down what I said while wearing the ear plugs. To make it more difficult, I would speak at varying paces, turning away from the students or speaking with a quiet voice. The reception to the activity was positive: the students appreciated the experience and understood what they needed to help me function in a classroom. I also utilized the students as tools to help me clear up any misunderstandings. This opened communication, which had been lacking previously and really got the experience off to a great start.

There were still problems, some of them related to my not catching what the students said. One time, I gave praise to a student for answering correctly when in fact he said he had no clue. From time to time, I had to remind myself to maintain that open communication. If I couldn’t hear it, I should not be afraid to admit it and get the correct information. I have to thank my school advisor for being so patient with me and providing me with valuable counsel. She, along with my faculty advisor, were instrumental in helping me through the practicum. They took the initiative to inquire whether I should be assessed completely according to the regular standards of a beginning teacher. For instance, in the “Classroom Management” section, my inability to be completely aware of the classroom surroundings had to be noted, indicating that I might not be as good at classroom management as a hearing teacher. Ultimately, the Teacher Education Office was able to make an arrangement with the Teacher Regulation Branch such that I was able to complete the practicum. It was also at this point that I realized I had a more natural flair in providing one-to-one support with students. In this format, I was able to get to know each of them personally and build a relationship. While now may not be the right time for me to teach in a classroom, I am not excluding the possibility that in the future, after acquiring years of experience, I will be better equipped to be in a mainstream classroom.

I am now teaching at Sylvan Learning, where I am able to draw from my strengths in working one-to-one with students on building their confidence in math. I was also recently accepted to Smith College, where I will obtain a Masters degree in the Education of the Deaf. Being at this moment right now, I am proud to look back at 2013, a year of much adversity and uncertainty, and see how I overcame my self-doubts, then turned them into opportunities for self-growth. The lessons I have learned from the practicum experiences did not only impact me as an educator, but also as an individual. It made me appreciate the value of clear communication with professionals with whom I work and the importance of advocating for my needs to be successful, which in turn supported me in reaching my goals.

My last words to those who may find themselves struggling through the program: when you feel like you can no longer go on, take a moment to talk it out with someone you can confide in. Allow yourself to verbalize your thoughts and you may just realize how irrational your thinking is or that the situation is not as dire as it seems. More important, take a moment to remind yourself why you want to be an educator. My drive to become a teacher for the Deaf, along with the tremendous support from my advisors and Teacher Education Office, were the key factors why I was able to continue on to achieve my aspirations. I am truly grateful for all that they did.