Laura Hawksworth: 7 things Learning Support Assistants should never do in class

Posted on November 12, 2017

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Sometimes, when I speak to several friends of mine who went to a deaf boarding school, such as Mary Hare, I feel a little jealous.

Not because they got included in the deaf world years before I did, but because they never experienced awkward encounters with Learning Support Assistants in mainstream education.

Ever since I was three years old, I’ve been in mainstream education with several other pupils who I grew up with, so I’m very experienced with LSAs but there are several traits they have that annoy students (or maybe it is just me!).

Here they are:

1) Scold a student in class

I’ve had my fair scoldings in my time but the same question remains: “Why was I scolded when my friend was speaking to me?”

Was it because I wasn’t making eye contact with the LSA?

Hearing people sit next to each other and chat without being told off by a teacher, so why was I, a deaf student, told off for chatting with a hearing student?

It is a massive step for deaf students in mainstream education to build up the confidence to chat to fellow students. When LSAs tell them off, their confidence crashes to the ground.

2) Tell you they don’t understand your signing just before a presentation or an oral assessment

This one is partly about timing.

LSAs should never be afraid to say, “I don’t understand.” Students will respect you far more than if you mislead them. We can find ways of making communication clearer.

But please don’t tell us you can’t understand us just before a situation where we are standing up in front of other people or being assessed – it’s hard enough as it is.

3) Announce loudly to the room that they missed something

Most LSAs, in my experience, when they miss something, ask me if I wanted to hear what was said. 99% of the time, I say, “Nah, it’s not necessary, I’m sure.”

On the other hand, some students are stuck with LSAs that are so desperate to give them the full support, they do this.

The other students won’t stare at you, but at the deaf student. It’s embarrassing.

4) Stay in the class if you are sent outside  

I once experienced an awkward situation when I was sent outside for laughing too much.

While I was outside, my signer stayed in the class, leaving me to face the deputy head who then talked to me, not realising I was deaf.

When I just nodded, he opened the door to the class and announced that I had been outside all of this time… my signer had to then explain I was deaf and didn’t realise what he was saying. (Those were the days when I was too lazy to lipread!!)

It turned out that he thought I was skiving but I had only been kicked out for a few minutes.

5) Leave your students before their class has ended

In my experience, some LSAs leave their students before the class is over, so they can “just pop into the toilet.”

I’ve had so many LSAs walk out on me ten minutes before class is over to do their “thing.”

When I return to that subject, I’m asked where my homework is.

That’s when you realise the teacher had announced homework in an end-of-class announcement and you didn’t even realise.

6) Come in late to a class

Now, if you had a chicken that you needed to take to the vet, I’d understand (!).

However, if you had to stop to “go to the toilet,” which translates as, “I had a nice natter with some colleagues on my way here” then… it’s always lovely to know what your priorities are!

It’s interesting because if you were working in an office, let’s just say, and you came in ten minutes late without a valid excuse, what would happen?

But when a LSA arrives late, they know that the student is so relieved to see them, they won’t confront them. If you were a proper interpreter, it’d be a different story, so why do LSAs think this is appropriate?

7) Never tell a deaf student where to sit

This one is the most annoying one on my list. Don’t get me wrong, I get the need for good eye contact and distance, but when you are in an enclosed room, there’s no need for us to sit so near each other.

LSAs are usually trying to help, but when you have chosen a place to sit, especially next to a friend and suddenly, you are told to move to the front like a naughty, rebellious and distracting five years old, at the age of nineteen, it is the most humiliating thing, especially when the other 30 students are staring at you as if a spotlight has been turned on.

It is not just embarrassing but it is socially isolating for the student as well. They are thinking, “Why are they doing this?”

I had this experience only once, thankfully. The LSA barged in (late!!) and insisted I sit at the front, facing both them and the teacher.

All I wanted to do was slip under the table and dig a tunnel to outside then run to the Lake District like the British’s version of Forrest Gump.

I had to go up against the wall and walk like I was a 2-D model around the room.

The smile on the LSA’s face didn’t help at all. I remember thinking for the first and last time, “I wish I wasn’t deaf.”

That was how bad the humiliation got to me. So take my advice – next time you, as a LSA, encounter this, leave the student to be and if you are still not comfortable, take them to one side and ask them if they would be willing to move.

Remember, you are not just an individual in a class – you are part of a two-person team.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the LSAs I’ve had in recent years are wonderful people, but as for the others… those seven points are the reasons I was never fond of them.

When you’ve finished reading this, you can go to the vet to check your chicken!

Read about Laura’s Deaf bowls team here:

Laura is a nineteen years old profoundly deaf writer who writes about anything and everything. She says she is physically young but old at heart.

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