Anyone who spends time in a classroom environment knows class dynamics will be different every time. It doesn't matter if we are students or instructors; the people with whom we share an educational experience have tremendous influence over the outcome of our time together. As an instructor at the Defense Financial Management and Comptroller School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, I typically see students come through our school house four times a year for the 14-day Defense Financial Management Course, and we take our 4-day Defense Decision Support Course (DDSC) on the road about eight to ten times a year. During a DDSC we taught at the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) at Fort Lee, Virginia last fall, our class dynamics were impacted by a new variable none of us had ever encountered before in any of our courses.
Among the 37 course participants at DCMA was Mr. Atheel Mary, a gentleman who is deaf, relying primarily on sign language interpreters to communicate. Please read on as we provide an account of how we came together to accomplish our course objectives, making only minor adjustments in our lesson delivery to adapt to his needs, and leaving a lasting impact on all who were there to watch it unfold.
As we set up the classroom in the morning on day one of our course, pulling together paperwork and arranging chairs and tables, one chair by itself facing the first row of tables looked out of place to me. I grabbed it and was carrying it to the back of the room when our course director informed me that it needed to stay there. At that moment, I noticed two people in the room using sign language. I realized then that the extra chair was probably intended for the sign language interpreter. We had two interpreters in class with us; two wonderful ladies, Heather and Kathy, who would be taking turns interpreting for Atheel every 20-30 minutes. The room quickly filled with people, and course participants were finding their seats. It was time to get started. We always begin our courses with administrative announcements, an overview of the coming days, some general information about who we are as a school, and we briefly introduce ourselves; first the instructors and then each student. I was watching the interpreters sign as everyone spoke, and when it was Atheel's turn to introduce himself, the interpreter spoke as he signed. Everything went smoothly. However, during a short break after our initial introductions, Atheel approached me with Heather. Heather mentioned that I was speaking very fast when I introduced myself which made it difficult for her to interpret everything that I was saying. I promised to make a conscious effort to slow down. I knew it was not the first time someone pointed this out to me, so it would be the perfect opportunity for me to practice doing just that.
At the end of the overview and introductions, we break the students up into smaller seminars to work through group activities that are part of the decision support curriculum. These seminar assignments are done ahead of time, keeping groups as diverse as possible...