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January 31, 2005

Deaf teacher has students listening up

From: Mansfield News Journal - Mansfield,OH,USA - Jan 31, 2005

Cara Gordon's classes teach more than just sign language

By Lou Whitmire,
News Journal

MANSFIELD -- Brandi Hayes learns more than words in Cara Gordon's American Sign Language class.

The Mansfield Senior High School sophomore was learning some new words to sign with her hands, including "right" and "nothing."

"Sure, we learn words. But she teaches us her way of life. When I first came in here, I couldn't believe she was really deaf," Hayes, 16, said Thursday.

Gordon, 25, a graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology who was born profoundly deaf, is the first deaf teacher in the history of Mansfield City Schools.

Her first year of teaching is going well.

"I love it. I think some people didn't think I could survive," she said.

The outgoing and often animated Gordon operates her classroom like any other teacher, but a few things stand out.

Students raise their hands and point upward when the public address system is on. They help Gordon by answering the classroom telephone and knocks at the door.

During a recent school day, students signed their responses as Gordon asked if they were happy about getting out of school early and what they would do with the extra free time.

Gordon also reads lips.

"My deafness is an obstacle that became a gift," she said. She talks so clearly a listener might not have any idea Gordon is deaf.

"The hardest thing is my own pride," Gordon said. "Sometimes I can't understand the kids because they mumble. I read lips and I try not to ask for help."

On a recent morning, students were preparing for an upcoming quiz. They answered Gordon's questions with shakes of their fists in unison for the word "yes."

Sharon Hohenbrink, 16, has a special interest in the class. She is deaf, but has a Cochlear implant that allows her to hear her name or the ring of a telephone.

Hohenbrink likes Gordon, and not just because she too is deaf.

"She's funny. Cool. Stylish," Hohenbrink said.

The energetic new teacher, daughter of Superintendent Scott Gordon, doesn't let anything stop her.

"I cannot hear my own voice. I haven't been able to all my life. I love to dance. I love music. Someday I might get a Cochlear implant so I can hear the words to the music," Gordon said.

She tries to show students that anything is possible, often sharing stories with them about her childhood and her experience with sign language.

"It's more than learning the signs or reading from books," she said.

Students at Senior High earn foreign language credits in sign-language class.

Gordon told students to embrace the elements of American Sign Language, including facial expression and body language.

She will take her students to a Feb. 8 production of "Robin Hood, Thief of Hearts" in the school auditorium. The free event will be presented in American Sign Language and spoken English by deaf and hearing performers.

Always ready to poke fun at herself, Gordon told students that she often bumps into people in the halls when she is walking and talking.

"Remember, I'm reading lips," she said in an exasperated voice.

Getting students to know her as a healthy, happy, regular person who is deaf brings her happiness.

"I've always been an independent deaf person. ... I went to Rochester at age 12 and learned to do things for myself, to do my own laundry," she said.

Traveling is one of her hobbies. She's been to Paris. She loves driving a car.

"I can drive in New York City," she said. "I can get anywhere."

Learn more
American Sign Language classes are offered at the Rehabilitation Center of North Central Ohio and at North Central State College. For information about classes, interpreter training programs or deafness, call The Rehab Center, (419) 756-1133.
News Journal staff report

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