Speaking hands and silent voices : exploring the identities of d/Deaf teachers through narratives in motion.
Recently, in the South African and the international context, teacher identity investigations have dominated the landscape of transformation in education, in an attempt to understand the relationship between teachers’ identities and their practice of teaching. However the dearth of research on deaf education and D/deaf teachers has created a gap in our comprehensive understanding and this study has aimed to address this void and advance existing theory. This project focused individually and collectively on five Deaf teachers and how they experienced their deafness in widely differing circumstances at various stages in their lives from childhood to adulthood. The project explored firstly, how the participants constructed their identities as people living with deafness; how they understood and interpreted their lives in the context of deafness. The second component of the investigation addressed how they negotiated their deafness related identities in their practice as teachers. My purpose was to know through their personal stories how they have come to explain and know themselves as Deaf persons, how deafness gives character to their lives and how this image guides their practice as teachers. The participants, who teach in schools for D/deaf learners in KwaZulu-Natal, were drawn from a larger cohort of Deaf teachers that qualified from a three-year pilot teacher education programme designed to train D/deaf teachers to teach D/deaf learners. At the time of the research, participants were in their eighth year of teaching. Through unstructured interviews, conducted via the medium of South African Sign Language, data was obtained in the form of narratives of participants’ lives which were captured in three seamless phases that included their childhood, schooling and their experiences as teachers. The signed data was transcribed into written English text. The written text which was collaborated by participants, was used for the analysis This study has examined their individual life stories and the construction of their identities as D/deaf persons, against the backdrop of proclaimed Deaf cultural identity, where difference rather than disability is highlighted. In the analysis I argue from a post-structural perspective that the participants’ claim to positioning in either Deaf or deaf or hearing discourses is not fixed and rigid. Instead positioning overlaps fluidly and continuously between the three discourses with participants taking on character and conventions from Deaf, deaf and hearing discourses. They transition consciously or unconsciously between the systems and create multiple and contradictory identities. In addition I argue that cohesiveness and coherence in the conceptualization of a Deaf cultural community and Deaf identity is non-existent, when viewed from a post-structural lens. The institutional resources that shape their teacher identity constructions include colleagues, learners, the parent community, the curriculum, and other micro-interactions. The institutional resources intersect with biographical resources of race, religion, gender, social class, childhood and later experiences, relationships, recollections, role-models and other signifiers. A multitude of intersections and permutations emerge, to create an inexhaustible inventory of teacher positions embedded in the general discourse of teaching and discoursed by teaching. In both instances, that is, as D/deaf person and as D/deaf teacher, the school is the site that instantiated the D/deaf identity and the teacher identity and the cultural discourses that prevail in schools are the sites of resistance, acceptance and negotiation of identities. Here identity emerges in the space where subjectivities intersect with narratives of social, cultural and political discourses. This research which draws from the Deaf educators’ personal and professional experiences and is articulated through the medium of South African Sign Language, hopes to bring the educators’ histories together, and through these reflect on their lives, visualizing new possibilities for understanding deafness in an educational and cultural context.