Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Teaching Deaf Students...I learn a thing or two!

My new students all have two things in common, a desire to learn and a disability with their hearing. I knew going in teaching them woodworking would be a challenge, but what I didn’t know was how rewarding it would be. Although they can’t hear, they can smile, and the smiles I see everyday at the school make it all worthwhile!

Woodworking is inherently dangerous, and one of the challenges the school faces is how to minimize or eliminate as many dangers as possible. Those of us with hearing automatically rely on that sense to understand a number of things going on in the woodshop. Is the machine running? Am I feeding the wood through to fast? Is the drill bit bogging down? Is there a piece of wood stuck somewhere in the machine? All of these things we take for granted are not available to these students. With some of their other heightened senses, they can sometimes detect changes in the vibration of a machine, but it is still limited feedback. When the shop first opened, teachers soon discovered some of the machines were still running after the students were finished. This problem was solved by installing flashing yellow lights on some of the machines and now students can tell at a glance if a machine is running and potentially dangerous. Along with these and other safeguards, all the students are instructed and fully checked out on a machine before they are allowed to operate it alone.

As I mentioned in my previous post, perhaps the biggest challenge is that I do not sign. I have learned, and will continue to learn some of the basics of the language, but as I am studying Spanish as well, it would take more time then I can currently give to become proficient. In the meantime, I have to get by with simple intuitive hand signals, and just like the locals I speak to in my broken Spanish, the students do their best to understand me and try not to laugh!

Right now, I am working primarily with Max. At 39 years old, Max is not a “kid”, but the challenges he has faced have made it difficult for him to obtain employment. With his enthusiasm for the program and his ability to learn new skills, the school has made Max a “lead” in the shop, and he is being trained to not only operate the equipment, but pass on those skills to future students. With this he is also being given an opportunity to earn some income through the sales of items being built by the students. 

Currently, the shop is cranking out furniture for several groups including Casita Linda, and also builds a variety of craft projects such as puzzles, coat racks, and other saleable knick-knacks.

Max is a quick learner, and prides himself on the quality of his work. Unfortunately, this slows him down a bit, but we have been working with him to get into more of a production mode without sacrificing quality. Recently we managed to get the assembly time down on a bench from a high of about 4 hours to a low of about 30 minutes. Max was very proud of his accomplishment, and the smile and two thumbs up that I received made my day as well. Even in this setting, time is money, and the more we can produce means more funding for the school and more pocket money for the students.

Life in Mexico can be challenging enough for many students. Add in a disability like being deaf, and it is a hundred times more so. Life has been good to me, and I am humbled to be able to mentor and offer some of my skills to these charming and delightful students.

Click on any picture to view the gallery!


  1. You are a fine writer John! We are so pleased to know that you are enjoying your teaching role in the woodworking shop and you express your sentiments in such a profound way. We need more thoughtful and patient volunteers like you. Thank you for all you are doing to help the kids. Do you think it would be possible for me to share your blog with our supporters? John and Sharon Doherty

  2. Thank you Sharon! Please feel free to share my blog!

  3. Could you teach me woodworking?

  4. Sure Sally...but only in Mexico!