New deaf education alum ready to advocate for underrepresented students
Update: The new alum featured in this story, Maya Lane, has accepted a position as an itinerant teacher for Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
Her nerves were taking over, and the four elementary students in front of her were looking at her, expectantly. Unlike her previous teaching experiences, these kids were deaf. In that moment, she asked herself: “Can I handle this?”
The question ran through the head of Maya Lane ’16 on the second day of her practicum semester. It’s the last clinical experience before student teaching for teacher candidates in the deaf and hard of hearing program (DHH). Practicum is recognized by deaf education majors as a time when they decide that they are—or are not—destined to serve in this rewarding, high-needs area of the teaching profession.
Lane’s professor that semester was Maribeth Lartz, one of the most celebrated scholars and teachers in the field. The educator has prepared countless Redbird teachers, and she has had high expectations for all of them. That day, Lartz discussed her pupil’s concerns with her, but in the end, one message reigned supreme: “You’ve got this.”
Lane is now among the newest Redbird alums, graduating in four years. That day, she had turned a corner and never looked back.
Lartz and Lane agree that many education majors have a “breakdown moment” at some point in their academic careers. Considering the crucial role teachers play in the lives of children and young adults, the feeling is an understandable, natural one. This is particularly true at Illinois State. The University’s education alumni are prepared to grab first-year teaching by the horns.
“Practicum was very rigorous, but I really feel as though it was purposefully challenging,” Lane said. “After that, I felt as though I had been prepared for just about every situation possible during student teaching.”
Deaf education majors teach at multiple locations during student teaching, including at least one out-of-state placement. In Lane’s and many of the future educator’s experiences, they are also provided with a taste of itinerant teaching, a common role for deaf educators. All of the program participants serve a diverse range of students, as well.
Lane’s student teaching experience began in Illinois, where she was able to live at home. For the final six weeks of the semester, she taught in Knoxville. She said she was at ease coming to Tennessee, where she shared an apartment with two fellow DHH majors.
“It was a really great experience, and we learned a lot about ourselves and our teaching,” she said. “Because we were so well prepared, we could enjoy what it was like to be on our own in an entirely new environment, have the role of a teacher, and be responsible for everything.”
Becoming an advocate
The DHH major is among the smallest ones on campus, and Lane was not just the sole African American, but the only underrepresented student in her cohort. She was also an Illinois Golden Apple Scholar, where she received scholarship dollars and training to serve high-needs schools outside of her courses at ISU.
Lane said her fellow teacher candidates sought her feedback when establishing relationships with diverse students and building engaging lesson plans. She recalls being approached by another DHH major who used some phrasing that unintentionally upset an African American student. “My friend explained what happened, and I said ‘I know you have a good heart, and I know you strive to be culturally sensitive.’” She told her that “It’s important to get to know her and for her to get to know you. Build a trust.” Weeks later, Lane found out her advice helped transform the teacher candidate’s relationship with the student.
During her senior year, Lane sought opportunities to advocate for her future black deaf and hard of hearing students, securing funds from the Illinois Teachers of Hard of Hearing and Deaf Individuals (ITHHDI). She received the funds during her student teaching semester, and will put them to use during her career by attending the Midwestern Conference for the Black Deaf, as well as the national Miss Black Deaf America pageant. The goal would be to prepare her future students to participate in the multi-faceted event.
“I want to show students that, ‘Yes, we’re underrepresented, but we can accomplish anything we want.’” Lane said. “People you come across—and society in general—might have certain expectations for you. Who cares? You are only limited by yourself.”
According to Lartz, however, learning to recognize her own potential is a lesson Lane had to learn.
“Maya is so humble. She is among the best students I’ve worked with. But when I first talked to her about these opportunities, she was hesitant,” Lartz said. “She didn’t see herself as someone who should be leading these efforts, but she’s already a leader. She is exactly the type of person who can change the lives of students.”
Lane is currently interviewing with schools, and as part of her Golden Apple Scholarship, will commit to serving high-need districts in Illinois for the first few years of her career. She expects to give itinerant teaching a try at some point, as well.
As the new alum closes-in on her first professional position, she shared some advice for current and aspiring education majors at Illinois State. “ISU’s teacher education program really tries to prepare their teacher candidates to be the best that they can be. They know what they’re doing. They are here to help. Regardless of how hard it may get sometimes, it is important to realize that when you’re done, you’ll be better for having stuck it out. If you always keep the end goal in mind, you’ll stay motivated.”