Graduate to make a difference to children with hearing loss

17/06/15
Katie receives her testamur from RIDBC Renwick Centre Director, Greg LeighKatie receives her testamur from RIDBC Renwick Centre Director, Greg Leigh

Katie Valentine, is one of 51 trained graduates to be recognised at a ceremony at Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC) for completing their postgraduate qualifications - helping to alleviate a critical shortage of trained teachers of children with vision or hearing loss.

Katie, who has always been passionate about human rights, has now completed her Masters in Special Education (Hearing Impairment).

"I have always believed in equal access to education for all children, that's why I decided to become a teacher," said Katie. "I was working as a casual teacher when I had a student with hearing loss, as well as additional disabilities. I saw how specialised skills would really be important to that student's success.

"It's difficult for a classroom teacher to have the time or skills to cater for the individual needs of all their students. Moving into an itinerant teaching position – where I would work one on one with students in a mainstream environment – I saw the way I could really make a difference."

Katie, who now works as an itinerant teacher of the deaf in the Shellharbour/Shoalhaven district, undertook her masters through RIDBC Renwick Centre, the largest provider of postgraduate education programs in the field of the education of children with a sensory disability in Australia. The centre operates in affiliation with the University of Newcastle (with all degrees awarded by the university).

"I wanted to be the best I could be for the children that I teach – that's why I chose to study through RIDBC Renwick Centre," said Katie. "I felt like it wasn't good enough to keep teaching as itinerant teacher without undertaking specialist training. I loved the work so I bit the bullet and enrolled, and it was really enjoyable!

"Of course it wasn't easy – it's hard to work full time, study and have a family. There are only so many hours in the day! But it was truly gratifying."

In her current role, Katie works with teachers and students to give them strategies for success.

"Each child with a hearing loss is an individual, their needs will be different," said Katie. "I take additional skills and knowledge into the classroom, working with teachers to ensure they have the tools they need to make adjustments for students to access information. A lot of instruction is verbal so it might be something like remembering to always turn and face class when speaking.

"Incidental learning in the classroom is something that our students often miss out on – in my role we ensure they have access, either by communicating with them more closely, jotting down notes for them or using Australian Sign Language (Auslan). Teachers often ask questions to which students respond but the student with hearing loss misses the answer, so I encourage the teacher to repeat those answers back."

Through RIDBC Renwick Centre, RIDBC and the University of Newcastle have reversed a trend of diminishing professional specialisation in the field of educating children with a sensory disability. Over 818 graduates from the centre are now working to improve the educational opportunities available to children with sensory impairment around the country and the world.

More information about RIDBC teacher training, professional development and research is available at www.ridbc.org.au/renwick