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A good sign for students

Posted By Josh Nislick On November 2, 2010 @ 2:20 am In Features | Comments Disabled

Room 6116 is silent, but class is in full swing. Students communicate by flashing hand signals across the room; there is not the slightest trace of sound. It is in this sanctuary that Peter Hershon, born deaf, teaches his students sign language.
It is Hershon’s first year teaching at South, but he has already made an impact on the school. Though he is a skilled signer now, Hershon was not always allowed to sign so freely.
When he was born deaf, his mother was advised to teach him how to lip read instead of sign. Hershon was discouraged from using sign language at all during his childhood, and when he attended the Lexington School for the Deaf, there were particularly strict rules on signing.
“If we were caught signing, we would be expelled from school, Hershon said.
“It was very scary. We signed wildly at night when we went to bed. I guess that I was mischievous but it was necessary for my communication needs.
Not all schools were like Lexington, though, and when Hershon attended a college for the deaf, the only one in the world at that time, he was finally allowed to sign.
Hershon loved signing in college and decided to pursue a career in teaching.
Hershon has taught sign language at all levels, including high school students for the past ten years. He feels very strongly about having the opportunity to teach.
“I feel that I was born a natural teacher, he said.
Hershon has been teaching for a large portion of his life, and therefore his class seems the same as any other at South. While it would seem that his disability would have a profound effect on his ability to teach, students do not see Hershon’s deafness as a weakness.
Sophomore Caroline Zola, for example, loves the learning environment that Hershon provides and she has enjoyed his class so far this year.
“I don’t think of him any differently than any other teacher, Zola said. “His deafness doesn’t limit his ability to teach. He can still do PowerPoints and write on the board.
Senior Tess Levy, though unsure at first what it would be like to learn without verbal communication, now feels that Hershon’s deafness “does not impact the class that much.
“He seems to have no trouble getting things across to us, Levy said. “I don’t always remember he can’t hear because the class goes pretty smoothly.
Herschon does not think his deafness hinders his students’ ability to learn, but rather that it actually helps them.
“I’m a very skilled signer, he said, “and I understand the deaf culture. To be able to bring my experiences to a group, it’s very encouraging to students because it helps them understand.
Hershon knows that communication is crucial in teaching, and he views his deafness as being a helpful tool for his students to comprehend and embrace sign language.
He remembered one time in particular when the class could not understand an idea.
“The students weren’t grasping a concept, he said. “There was a lot of confusion at first, and I wasn’t voicing it out, so I explained that if they had any questions they could write them down.
Hershon said that this practice of writing notes back and forth to one another was good for the students to establish communication and understand the language better.
An important aspect of sign language is silence, and this is why Hershon wants his students to learn how to converse exclusively through signing. “I encourage them, and I want to tell them that they don’t need to whisper, just sign.
One of Hershon’s biggest goals is to get students to embrace visual communication and learn to let go of just speaking to one another.
Being deaf, Hershon has learned to recognize moods and study facial expressions, and he thinks very highly of the power of visual interaction.
Hershon understands, however, that abandoning spoken language is extremely challenging for his students.
“It’s hard to go from hearing to visuals, Hershon said. “It’s difficult to set up sign language once English has already been there.
Yet sign language still has an appeal. Part of what makes sign language so fun is the uniqueness of it. “I really like sign language because it’s completely different, and it’s more open for discussion, Zola said.
Hershon knows that he is putting students out of their comfort zones. “This is a new world for them¦being able to see the language, he said.
Along with learning the language, Hershon wants to pass on to his students a connection to the deaf community. Hershon uploads YouTube videos about sign language from the internet because he wants his students to see other deaf individuals and expose them more to the deaf people around them.
Hershon has really enjoyed his time so far teaching at South, and the learning environment that South provides has also affected him.
“I have learned a lot of things about the school here; the power of the community, the camaraderie, the idea of integrating together, the diversity and all of it running together, Hershon said. “It’s something that sticks with me, it’s very powerful.
Diversity defines South, and Hershon is just another part of the distinct society that has developed at the high school. “I think it’s awesome to have a deaf teacher at South, Zola said.
Hershon, however, feels that South can do more to embrace the deaf community. “I would like to see the school expand more into the deaf studies. To have teachers more aware of deafness as a culture and a language.
Hershon also knows that there are many misconceptions about deaf individuals, such as that they cannot drive, dance, or even that their inability to hear is not completely true.
“It’s amazing how much people misunderstand, he said. “We can do the exact same things that hearing people can do. The only difference is that we can’t hear. Deaf people can be doctors, they can teach, they can be business owners, there are many different professions just like people who can hear. There are endless opportunities.
Hershon understands how special it is for his students to learn about sign language and its role in society. He is grateful to be able to pass on his knowledge about signing: “it’s been a gift from God to be able to teach.

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URL to article: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/11/02/a-good-sign-for-students/

URLs in this post:

[1] Retirement: Rebecca Block: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/06/10/retirement-rebecca-block/

[2] Faculty Focus: Chris Jackson: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/04/14/faculty-focus-chris-jackson/

[3] The history of South’s World Language Department: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2011/02/15/the-history-of-souths-world-language-department/

[4] Faculty Focus: Alice Lanckton: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/12/06/faculty-focus-alice-lanckton/

[5] South speaks: French: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/10/28/south-speaks-french/

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