SayWhatClub (SWC) is pleased to welcome guest writer and SWCer Elaine Procida who shares the story of her childhood hearing loss and a special someone who helped return to her what she feared was lost forever.
By Elaine Procida
When I was four years old, I seemed to have a lot going for me. A happy, well adjusted child with a love for people and learning, I had been enrolled in pre-school where I quickly became the teacher’s pet. But I was totally unaware that, even while I was feeling so happy, that something had happened that would soon change my life.
My preschool teacher noticed that when she called me I sometimes did not respond. She asked my mother if there was anything wrong with my hearing, but my mother had not noticed the problem that was developing. By the time I was in first grade, my personality was already showing the effects of the invisible disability which had not yet been diagnosed. I began to realize I was different from the other children but did not understand how or why.
No longer a “happy child.” I felt confused and nervous.
A hearing test at that time revealed that I had a severe hearing loss, and so I started my “non-school” years. Mostly ignored by teachers and students, angry and confused, I felt happy only when I could escape to the books I loved to read. I educated myself by reading which helped to compensate for the lessons I did not hear. Back in the 1950’s when I was in school, special help for the hard of hearing child was largely nonexistent. The few services they did provide, such as having a special desk for me placed in front of the room, only served to reinforce my feelings that I was different and somehow inferior. No one ever sat down and just talked to me about my hearing loss and what I could expect.
I remember many painful experiences but I will mention just one as an example.
We were having a special day in school where we were permitted to bring a favorite toy to class. A class-mate had a large doll. Because my desk was larger than the others she asked if I would switch with her for the day so she would have more room to keep her doll on it. I was delighted that someone thought I had something desirable, and was happy to let her use it. We approached the teacher and asked for permission. I can still
remember the look on the teacher’s face. Ignoring me, she turned to the other girl and said crossly, “You sit at your own desk! There is nothing wrong with your ears.” I turned away with tears in my eyes and what should have been a happy day turned into another miserable one.
The school always divided each class into three groups. The slowest, average, and smartest. Even with my hearing loss, I never failed a test and was always seated with the average students. But I wanted so badly to be with the best – feeling somehow that was where I belonged.
As I approached my last year of elementary school, I had no reason to believe it would be any better than the previous years. Rather, I had good reason to fear it would be worse! The teacher we were assigned for sixth grade had a reputation for being strict and harsh. Along with every other student assigned to Miss Singer’s class, I feared her. She was already past retirement age, and we were all hoping she would retire before we had her but, to our dismay, she decided to stay another year.
After a few weeks in Miss Singer’s class, I found, to my surprise, that I was much happier there than I had been in any previous class. She had never, in any way, indicated that she knew I had a hearing loss. On the first day of school she seated us according to our height. Since I was on the small side, I was assigned to the second seat. It was actually better for me than the hated “front” seat. It seemed that when she taught us she would always be standing or sitting where I could easily read her lips and I had no problem keeping up with the lessons. I was probably in her class several months before I found out that she was very much aware or my hearing loss. The class had displeased her somehow and she lashed out at them. Then she turned to me and said: “If Elaine had her hearing, she would be head and shoulders above most of you.” I was speechless! Miss
Singer not only knew I had a hearing loss, but she was the first person to tell me that, far from being worthless, I was as good as the other students.
On the last day of school, I met her in the schoolyard. She put her arm around me and told me she was concerned about me going off to Junior High School. I could see that this wonderful teacher, with so many years of teaching behind her, wished she could continue to be with me. When I entered Junior High, I found that the new school also grouped the students in three classes. But this time I was assigned to the best “A” class. I
knew then that Miss Singer was still with me and that she had given me a priceless gift. She had given me back my belief in myself.