Deaf Teacher Teachs Sign Language in ASL at Houston, TX High School – By Silesha Walker

Tuesday, December 04, 2012 By Silesha Walker, Westside High School
Matthew Martinez, who was born deaf, teaches his American Sign Language course at Westside High School. "Deaf people can do anything except hear," Martinez said, quoting former president of Gallaudet University, I. King Jordan. - Silesha Walker

Matthew Martinez, who was born deaf, teaches his American Sign Language course at Westside High School. “Deaf people can do anything except hear,” Martinez said, quoting former president of Gallaudet University, I. King Jordan. – Silesha Walker

Walking into one of Westside High School’s hallways, you’re greeted by a green canvas exhibiting the school’s fine arts programs, students talking while walking to class and one teacher that sometimes go unnoticed.

Though his class is in the beginning on the house’s hall, his quiet nature is a complete contrast of the bustling high school environment. Matthew Martinez, the ASL teacher at Westside High School, does more than teach American Sign Languages, he lives it.

Martinez was born deaf.  Though both his parents are not deaf, his cousin and older sister are both of the deaf community. Martinez said he learned signing as his first language and was able to communicate with his family.

“My father already knew signing before he was married to my mom,” Martinez said.“When they found out that my older sister and I were both deaf, they started to learn American Sign Language right away.”

Martinez says he is fortunate, because a lot of parents with deaf children tend to not know sign language or do not bother to take it all. His parents also kept him and his sister engaged in activities happening in the deaf community.

“They also always sent us to deaf community gatherings such as church, camp, theatre, picnics, etc. when we were growing up,” Martinez said. “I always enjoyed going to the deaf community because everybody’s signing.”

Though the deaf community surrounded Martinez, he didn’t attend an all-deaf school growing up. Instead, he attended a public school that provided an interpreter and deaf education program in Dallas.

Growing up for Martinez seemed normal enough with extracurricular activities and maintaining his grades just like every other students, there were times when being deaf came as a hardship for him.

“I remembered when I was a little boy and I ended up someplace isolated, lost, scared and no one able to communicate with me for few seconds,” Martinez said.

There are other things that come to a struggle to him in his everyday life that those of hearing take for granted at times.

“When something is not fully accessible, that bothers me a lot,” Martinez said. “For example, no interpreter provided, no captioning/subtitles on TV shows, advertisements, internet or movies.”

Martinez says that he being deaf is in fact a challenge, but more so for other people rather than himself.

“I have to admit I sometimes meet ignorant people,” Martinez said. “I have no problem to teach and work with them.”

That inspired Martinez to become an ASL teacher in the first place. His niece, who is also deaf, also played a major role in his wanting to be a teacher after trying to find the best education for her.

“My main goal is to provide my students the understanding of the social, political and historical of the deaf world,”Martinez said.

Though his teacher life is quite different from his every day life, Martinez still performs he duties needed to be an adequate teacher. He’s active in the demand of faculty meetings, Open House, and other things of the like in spite of being completely deaf.

“The interpreter is provided when we are having a faculty meeting, open house, graduation, etc,” Martinez said. “The main office also passes out memo pads for every teacher and other staff members so they can communicate with me whenever they need to.”

Instead of there being a disconnect and communication level with his students, it is actually stronger than most teacher-student relationships.

“Mr. Martinez is definitely one of my favorite teachers. The way he teaches gives a more in depth idea of the language, rather than just remembering vocabulary words like in other foreign language classes,” student Jessica Meents said.

Staff members find Martinez to be an inspiration and also embrace him as a valuable member of Westside’s family. ‘

“I admired him for not using his inability to hear and speak, as a handicap, to be able to teach,” Westside teacher Sandra Vargas said. “Over time he has made me want to learn the language of sign. It’s silent, yet it speaks loudly.”

In his journey of being a deaf person in a hearing world, he has used the hardships he’s faced to become the person and teacher that he is today.

“I was told that I can’t become a teacher or working with hearing children because I am deaf,” Martinez said. “For long time ago, I had to learn that I don’t have to be stuck in an environment full of non signers. I have to move and find a right place for me and myself.”

When asked what he would want those of the hearing world to know in order to be more sensitive and accommodating to the deaf world, Martinez referenced a quote from former president of Gallaudet University, I. King Jordan: “Deaf people can do anything except hear.”

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