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December 30, 2002

Sign-language teacher expands universe of hearing, too

From: St. Louis Post Dispatch, MO - 30 Dec 2002


Anne Gray, a sign teacher communicating with a student.

Name: Anne Gray.

Age: 34.

Job: Sign language entertainer and teacher. Gray teaches hearing parents to sign to their hearing children. Gray's business Web address for Parents and Children Signing is

Duties: Gray teaches signing in small classes or one-to-one in her home. The weekly classes last an hour; 10 classes are taught per session.

Gray also signs and performs songs at the Borders Books and Music store in Brentwood from 10 to 10:30 a.m. the second Friday of each month. And she teaches signing classes through Brentwood Physical Therapy, where her next class begins Jan. 11.

"During the flood of 1993, I was living in Chicago, and a friend of mine and I decided we wanted to travel and do some sandbagging and wound up in Jacksonville, Ill., where Illinois School for the Deaf was.

"At our sand pile there were two people signing. I knew some signs, because I took a course in college, but I signed back to them and got so excited that I was able to communicate with them. I thought that maybe if I was so excited about it, maybe I should look into it. And that was when I decided to get a master's (degree) in deaf education.

"It was always my intent to work with hearing children. When they're pre-verbal, it's frustrating to have a child who can't talk. What a child can't say for 16 or 18 months, a signing child can communicate as early as eight to 10 months."

Hours: Classes are day or evening; times and days vary, depending on Gray's and the student's schedules.

Dress: Casual. "I try to coordinate with the holidays, so at my last performance at Borders I wore a Christmas vest. For Halloween I'll wear orange and black, and so on."

Equipment: "At home, I'll use my sign-language books for reference. I also have a sign language bear named Honey who has sleeves that I can put my arms through, so it looks like the bear is signing. That works well with babies and young children.

"At Borders, I bring a CD player, and I sign popular songs from 'Sesame Street' or 'Barney & Friends.' Also for each student I have in my class, I give them pictures of me doing the actual signs printed out so they can take that home to practice."

Experience: "I worked four years as an itinerant hearing-impaired teacher in the Alton school district. The majority of my students did not sign, but they were hearing impaired."

Education: Bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Kansas, 1991. Master's degree in deaf education from Illinois State University, 1997.

Benefits: Gray uses her spouse's health insurance. She enjoys having time to teach her own hearing son how to sign.

Pay: $10 an hour for classes. "I also sell sign-language magnets with the beginning signs on them." Last year Gray made less than $1,000.

Hobbies: "I like to read and sing, and signing, of course. Since we just moved into a new house, decorating, too."

What she likes best about her job: Working with children and the "regulars" at Borders. "They like to stand up and sing and sign with me. It's fun to see babies that are so verbal, to see their eyes light up when they've signed to me and I've understood what they've said."

What she likes least about her job: "People who think that signing to a hearing child is counterproductive."

© St. Louis Post Dispatch