How to Make A Disability Into Ability In The Classroom! But What About When It's YOU?

This last week I traveled to my hometown of Seattle.  It was the first trip home since beating thyroid cancer this year.  Most of my close friends and nearly all of my relatives still live in the area and I know that being 3000 miles away from people you care about and who care about you is difficult when you are sick.  There is a powerlessness that goes with it.  My mom had flown out to support me and my husband and we were thankful to have her here for that time.

So on this trip home, I got to see many people.  One of the frequent comments was about my voice.  As some of you may already know, I have vocal cord paralysis of my right cord- a byproduct of my treatment as well as the fist size tumor I had in my neck (You can hear me in May and July).  People who have known me all my life commented on the new sound- "It sounds like you, just softer." or "Wow, your voice is so sultry." They are right, there is a new quality to my voice and it is changing how I teach.

My vocal cord specialist Dr. Pitman (Check out this interview he did in May) told me that teachers have the second highest instance of vocal cord damage and disorders only after singers.  58% of teachers have a vocal cord disorder, according to the interview.  It is a staggering statistic.  I don't know about you, but I never thought twice about how I was using my voice prior to my cancer.  I am a English and Drama teacher.  I have a substantial amount of vocal training, more than the average person.  I understand how to support breath and project.  I never lost my voice when I was teaching but when I returned to school late in March and was barely audible, I was afraid.  I had a new disability and I was not sure what this would mean for my career.  My voice is a huge part of what I do as is true for most educators.  There would be no more raising of the voice in my classroom.

Teaching with a mic felt like this!

Thankfully, my school was able to provide a small amp with wireless mic for me to use.  It sat in the front of my classroom (that is on the large side for NYC Public Schools) and I would walk around, talking into my mic.  It became part of the culture of my classroom through out the spring.  I could not and would not yell and my students for the most part, listened.  For the more soft spoken kids, or even discussion leaders I put the mic into play using it to build community and student capacity it became a gift rather than a burden.

The long term prognosis is this: it will be a year before we know what my voice will finally be.  I continue to work with my speech therapist on regaining strength in my voice.  Some days are much more difficult that others and things that I used to take for granted, like yelling to my husband from the opposite end of the house, is something I miss being able to do.  My vocal cord may always be paralyzed but I can continue to improve my voice.  At this rate, half way though the summer it is looking like the mic will be a permanent fixture in my classroom next year.  I can't help but wonder though, what if all teachers had the same resources in their classroom- how would that change their instruction.

Do you have amplification in your classroom?  How does it impact your practice? How do you turn disability into ability?  

(Photo Credit via)


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