Hello! My name is Stephanie Voss. I was born and raised in a small town in Pratt, Kansas. When I was a senior in high school, I had big hopes and dreams of going to the University of Kansas and majoring in a medical field of some sort. But at the end of March, I was watching a scary movie, Orphan to be exact, that changed all my plans. In the movie, the mother picks up her Deaf daughter at school and they begin having a conversation about her art project in sign language.
Immediately, I was struck by the concept of Deaf children needing teachers. Prior to this, my only experience with Deaf education, American Sign Language, or the Deaf community, was a signed English after-school class I took in middle school, the only part of which I remembered was the alphabet. Even though I didn’t remember any signs, I spent much of my time fingerspelling words “under my breath.” Once I made the connection of Deaf children needing teachers, my mind was set. I was going to be one.
I researched programs for Deaf education and came upon TU’s program. I was initially disappointed by the lack of a Deaf ed program in Kansas, but once I visited campus, I fell in love and knew that I would be just fine in Tulsa.
My favorite part of the Deaf education program was definitely the people I was interacting with and learning from. The professors really, truly know their stuff. If you’re a current, or prospective, student, I highly recommend you suck them dry of all the information they have! Another piece of advice for you is to get involved, both in the Deaf community, as well as in the college community. The years really do go by quicker than you think they will! I worked at Happy Hands for my three years in Tulsa and adored the place! It helped me fall more in love with a field that I knew very little about upon entering college. They are always looking for quality volunteers, and eager Deaf education majors definitely qualify! One last suggestion is to actively pursue learning ASL. Go out of your way to find places and times to use it. Even if it doesn’t seem all that important right now, you will likely regret not taking the extra time to really boost your own skills, especially when you begin student teaching!
My final semester of college was spent at the Kansas School for the Deaf in Olathe, Kansas. This was the highlight of my experience in the Deaf education program, I believe. I worked in the Early Childhood Education classroom for 8 weeks and then I moved to a 6th grade classroom for the final 7 weeks. Both classrooms were fantastic and I learned so much in those short 15 weeks! If you have the option, as a student teacher, live in the dorms, interact with the students on a daily basis, and stay at a residential Deaf school for your full semester! There are plenty of opportunities to learn from mainstream programs during your practicum hours, but you may not get as many good opportunities to learn from fabulous teachers at a great, bilingual Deaf school. The connections you will make there can help you considerably in your job search! While I was there, my ASL improved considerably. I went from being barely comfortable with voice-off, full ASL signing, to being comfortable in a full ASL classroom all day. My teaching skills and strategies also improved! I became even more confident in my abilities and my decision to become a deaf educator.
After I graduated in May, I moved to Westminster, Maryland to go to McDaniel College for their bilingual graduate program in Deaf Education. Currently I’m in the middle of my third semester and plan to finish the program after this summer semester! This was a huge jump for me. All of my classes are in ASL, with no spoken English, which has easily taken my ASL to another level. This semester I am finishing practicum hours (it never ends! J), taking a course in Audiology, and ESL Reading in the Content Areas for Deaf students. I am also taking a graduate level certificate course through Gallaudet University focusing on Deaf/HH infants, toddlers, and their families.
There are many things that I am thankful to TU for while I’m here in Maryland. The program at Tulsa has prepared me in so many ways! I came to McDaniel with a lot of background knowledge in a lot of the topics that have been covered in my courses thus far, especially audiology! 😉
After I complete my program, I am hoping to work with Deaf children within the early intervention/early childhood age group, as this is definitely my specialty, somewhere in the nation! I am currently job searching the whole country, looking for the right fit for me! After a few years of working, I may be joining the Peace Corps and working Deaf children in another country for a couple of years. The life skills and experiences that are to be gained from spending time giving back to students who may rarely get teachers who actively care about them and their wellbeing are something that I can then use for the rest of my life and profession. After that? Well! I may do just about anything. I may come back and teach, or I might go back to school for my doctorate of some sort (maybe Audiology!).
Stay strong and keep going! You can do this! There is so much need for you! If you ever need some encouragement, go to a school, interact with the kids and remember why you’re here. Spend time developing yourself and your own goals. Know where you stand, but be willing to understand that all students need something different and your job is to see them succeed, even if they need something that goes against everything you’ve been taught. Trust me, you’ve got this!