"Kids are capable of reaching the stars" says teacher Alayna Smith - photo by Martin Dee
UBC Reports | Vol. 52 | No. 5 | May 4, 2006
Teacher has Passion for Hearing and Deaf Children
By Lorraine Chan
Alayna Smith is starting to feel a few butterflies now that she’s been accepted at the Vancouver School Board as a substitute teacher on call.
“It’s more excitement than nervousness,” says Smith, who graduates from the Faculty of Education this spring. “Since I was small, I’ve been interested in becoming a teacher.”
She adds, “I love connecting with people and working with children, giving them the support so they can be the best they can be.”
Smith has been deaf since birth and communicates using sign language and lip reading. Previously at UBC, she earned a BA in English literature and now holds a BEd with a focus on children with special needs.
“I chose this field because I feel kids can benefit from my experience as a deaf person and I have an interest in learning to better support and work with students with special needs,” says Smith.
However, her teacher training equips her to handle both special needs and regular classrooms. As a student teacher, Smith completed three “rich and wonderful” placements at Burnaby’s South Slope Elementary School. There, she taught mainly hearing and a few deaf children since South Slope also houses a B.C. Provincial School for the Deaf Elementary Program.
“Because South Slope is very open to deaf culture, many of the kids are aware and know how to use sign language interpreters,” says Smith.
Accompanied by interpreters and alongside South Slope teachers, Smith taught 30 students in Grades 4 and 5 in diverse subject areas including gym and language arts.
“It was really neat for me to see deaf students who joined my class for a few subjects,” says Smith. “It was interesting to look back at my experiences as a deaf child in elementary school. As a student teacher, I tried to provide the students with an open, welcoming community where children of all diversities connect, hearing or deaf.”
Born and raised in Langley, Smith says her parents made sure she and her brother, who was also born deaf, received the support and education to flourish.
“My parents really encouraged us to try different things. I was on a competitive swimming team with hearing and deaf kids.”
Similarly, Smith hopes to see her students grow and thrive. “Kids are capable of reaching the stars. You can see it. They have that spirit. I want to encourage them to go with it and succeed.”
Smith acknowledges that for many students, she may be the first deaf person they meet and perhaps the first teacher they communicate with through sign language interpreters.
“I predict I’ll have to do some educating,” she says, “but kids are inherently curious when they see sign language. They’re exceptionally open-minded, more so than many older people.”
Besides, says Smith, her situation can open the door to students learning more about empathy and understanding. “I hope to use that opportunity to talk about using an interpreter and signing, and then segue into having them talk about their own cultures.”
She says when she was in elementary school, lessons on First Nations history or the Japanese Canadian internment “only scratched the surface.”
“I want to make sure in my classroom, that it’s a rich experience and a rich history. I’ll want to talk about different ways of being: abilities, ages, genders, sexualities, cultures, and so on.”
But more than anything, she says she’d like to help children realize they can achieve anything they set their mind to.