Friday, June 15, 2012


She walked into my class. I knew her, because I’ve worked with her before. Over and over again, in fact. Even though she’s got a great amount of enthusiasm, her hands never seemed to work well with her mind. She worked hard and I admired her for that—but hard work just wasn’t seeming to be the answer for this particular student.

Still, she wanted to forge on, and, after a short hiatus, decided to take up one of my classes to get back in the signing swing of things. I was happy to see her—if not a little worried and hesitant.

One of the things I’d noticed before when working with her is that her hands would never make the correct handshape. This was probably caused by her nervousness and definitely caused a problem when she went to sign such things as SOON (which can be signed by tapping a horizontal “F” on the chin a few times) and used a vertical “B” instead (the sign for BITCH)—and other similarly confusing variations.

But there she was—the last person to enter the classroom—looking just as nervous as she had before. Oh, she tried to hide this though. As we began to introduce ourselves, everyone did a good job and allowed Kenny (my hearing husband and interpreter) relay what they were saying. Not her. When it was her turn, she smiled deviously and signed,

“Hi. I’m P-R-I-A-N-C-M…” (KRISTEN). She went on to do her last name, but it wasn’t even recognizable. That was OK for me since I already knew her name. Telling the class a little about herself, however, was quite confusing. I couldn’t understand a word she signed and kept wondering if it would be rude for me to look over at Kenny to get his interpretation when she was “signing” it herself. But when that nightmare was finished, I found myself right smack dab in the middle of another one.

“Who knows their ABC’s?” I asked the class. Three out of 18 raised their hand. “Great! Let’s have the three of you come to the front of the class and show us all how it’s done.” I wanted to encourage those who said they knew them, and show those who did not yet know that it was a conquerable feat. But as the three began to do it, Kristen wasn’t exactly setting a good example. She looked like her hand had fallen asleep and she was trying to wake it up. If she had been one to actually set the bar for the rest of the class, our game of Limbo wouldn’t have gone very far. It was scary, folks. It was clear she had a disorder—not necessarily a physical one, but a disorder in her mind that told her that she actually already knew this stuff.

But how do you approach an eager former and present student and tell them,

“Hey, I know you think you know this stuff, but…uh…you’re not even close. Seriously, if you’d been one of my interpreters here in Michigan, I would have packed my bags and moved to Spain”?

I would never want someone to give it up, but the sad fact was that she thought it important that it appear to her other classmates that she knew more than anyone else. That’s not true though. I know for a fact that her other classmates were so engrossed in learning it for themselves that they wouldn’t have cared either way.

As classes went on, I thought this would stop, since it was clear that we were getting into material way over her head. Yet it didn’t change. She didn’t want to practice in front of the others. She didn’t want to write things down as reminders. Each class period got worse and worse.

It’s a sad example of someone’s pride getting in the way of the possibility of doing something great. Really mastering something. Showing yourself that, yes, you can be successful! But that’s not what happened with Kristen. And it’s truly saddening. If she had only been open to being a “beginner”. Nope. She had to to want to look like she’d hit “advanced” from the start. Trust me, “advanced” will never be the reality for someone who doesn’t open their mind and relax a little. Unless you’re describing their level of ignorance.

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