The last time I wrote in the DrumBeat blog, it was a warm and summery 75 degrees in Manhattan, and Central Park’s trees were overrun with newly grown leaves. Today, it is barely the other side of freezing, the city’s sidewalks are littered with discarded Christmas trees, and I am reviewing my achievements of the past year.
Many of you know about this blog, which I created to increase awareness about marketing trends influencing people with disabilities. But since June 13th, over six months ago, I have not actively blogged while I traveled through Turkey and the Netherlands, and then took on a full-time faculty role as a marketing professor at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.
When I accepted the opportunity to teach several marketing courses at Gallaudet, an internationally-known university for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, I had grand, exciting plans to combine my academic teaching with my consulting and blogging pursuits in the disability marketing space. I was scheduled to teach three courses on Mondays and Wednesdays during the fall semester. With Tuesday budgeted for class preparation, grading, and student meetings, I targeted Thursdays and Fridays for consulting and blogging.
Professors in many colleges and universities pursue off-campus interests to enhance their teaching. It’s a powerful, effective way to bring the real world into the classroom (and vice versa). Yet, as Dwight Eisenhower famously said, planning is everything, but when the battle is joined, plans are useless. I knew that, as a first-time teacher, I would learn new work habits that my 20 years in the business world have not yet taught me. What I wasn’t prepared for was the sheer scale of the freshman professor’s learning curve at Gallaudet.
I sometimes got blank stares from students when I threw a question or two in an attempt to stimulate class discussion — when awkward silences followed, I gamely retreated to my pre-planned lecture. I attempted to wake up bleary-eyed freshmen at my 8:30 a.m. classes with some amusing icebreakers: sometimes they worked, sometimes not. Most important of all, I needed to bring my sign language skills to the rigorous level of academic inquiry demanded in Gallaudet’s classrooms. How else could I sign “departmentalization” when teaching a class session on a corporation’s organizational structure? Sometimes I ended up signing “good” (as in “VERY good!”) when I meant to sign the common Economics 101 term “a good.”
As Ellen Gordon Reeves, an erstwhile stage performer and author of a highly recommended book on job hunting and preparation, said in response to a question about education and creativity, “Teaching is performing.” It’s not just parroting the material in the textbook. It’s making the course content come alive in the classroom.
I quickly re-prioritized my goals to focus on learning what it takes to be a good professor. As a consequence, I cleared out my consulting obligations and put my blogging on hold. Teaching is an awesome responsibility: learning is the gateway to success for students, and teachers facilitate this learning. Now, a little wiser with my second semester on Gallaudet’s faculty, I am re-starting my consulting role, and getting back into blogging when the occasion calls for it.
The students have been the most amazing part of my experience during my first semester at Gallaudet. They are a wonderfully diverse microcosm of the worldwide deaf community: undergraduates and graduates with varied levels of hearing loss, from vastly different cultures around the world such as India, Ghana, France, and Gallaudet’s home country, the United States. I learned a great deal from the students during my first semester — enough to realize they learn differently, and thus requiring different ways to be taught the same material.
My students work hard to achieve a common goal: to get a good job in the real world when they graduate. Some students have asked me how they can get a job if their deafness makes it difficult for employers to want to hire them. I tell them the most critical element of their job search is the skill set they bring to the table. Employers that evaluate candidates on their skills, rather than on their limitations, are more open to hiring deaf and hard-of-hearing people.
Yet, according to Think Beyond the Label, we still need more of these types of employers. There is a persistent habit among many recruiters to focus — consciously or unconsciously — first on a potential employee’s disability before evaluating his or her skills and qualifications.
So whether we, as people with disabilities, like it or not, we have to advocate for ourselves. We must learn to effectively sell ourselves to prospective employers on our skills. By bringing these skills out in front before our prospective employers, we stimulate interest and improve our chances of getting job offers. Over time, this opens employers’ minds to what people can do with their skills, regardless of their ability or disability.
It works to everyone’s mutual benefit: employers get the people they want based on their skills, and people with disabilities find better employment.
In that spirit, my best wishes to each and every one, of all kinds of abilities, a happy and successful 2013!